Why Is Promoting a Top Salesperson to Sales Manager a Bad Idea? The Same Reason You Don’t See Barry Bonds Working as a Hitting Coach

We work with a lot of successful companies at Randolph Sterling, many of which grow very quickly. One particular company we worked with went from one small office with three sales reps, to four offices with 12 sales reps two years later, to eventually 8 offices with 28 sales reps. The president and vice president of this company had no problem managing one office plus their other duties in running the company. However, when they got up to four offices, it got more difficult as they seemed to be spending all of their time going up and down route 95 traveling between New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC to manage the respective sales teams. When they got to 8 offices, it was just too much for them so what did they do? They promoted the top salesperson in each office to a sales management position.

The plan was a complete failure. The managers, who continued to work their sales territory because the president didn’t want to lose that revenue, continued to grow but everyone else stagnated. Most of the #2 guys in the offices eventually left.

How could this happen? These guys are great reps, they should be able to help these other guys out to be better too, right? A great theory but rarely does it work in practice. The reason why is similar to the reason why many great baseball managers were not the top players of their era—the skills to be successful are different.

Look at long time St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. Never a great ballplayer, (a career .199 batting average over 10 years and 132 games played) but his ability to communicate with his players, to study their strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of the opposition in order to put his team in the best position to be successful, and to work with upper management to communicate what he needs to win championships, allowed him to become one of the winningest managers in major league history. Do you think a guy like Barry Bonds, arguably one of the best hitters in baseball history (we will save my opinion on his alleged steroid use for another time), honed his communication skills to allow him to hit so many home runs?  Guys like that usually have very little patience for the guy at the end of the bench who you may need to call on when a starter gets hurt. Their attitude often is “I could do it so why can’t he?”

The story is many times the same in the sales world. There are some very successful sales managers who have been tops in their company and others that the dual role of sales rep and sales manager very well, but these are rare occasions. When looking to hire a sales manager, think of the skills that you want in that person to be successful…does the top rep have those skills? Does he want the job (and the possibility that he will be making less money?) Is there someone else within the organization who may fit those skills better? Maybe it’s the solid, mid level rep who always takes the new guy out to show him the ropes to make him feel part of the team? Maybe you should outsource some of the sales management functions?

There are several options for this very uniquely skilled position. Take the time to find the right fit, not simply the right now fit.

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