Monthly Archives: February 2013

Never promote your best salesperson

Company and organization leaders in all industries far too often choose their “best salesperson” for the manager role. In this instance the “best salesperson” refers to the best employee in terms of efficiency, productivity and output. This is not just specifically applicable to sales teams, it refers to other disciplines also, such as promoting the best designers to design managers or promoting the best engineers to engineering managers. The logic and thinking behind this is that because they are great at selling or performing in their current job, they’ll also be a great manager. Unfortunately, this is seldom the case and can end in disaster.

Scott Hudson, Vice President-Sales and Marketing at HR Chally says, “85% of sales superstars fail in sales management.” – Source: Dave Stein

The problem with promoting the best employee is two fold. Firstly, the skills that make the best “salesperson” are different to the skills required to be a good leader. Secondly, you lose your most productive employee by promoting them to a managerial role. So what’s happening is you’re losing your best employee and gaining a bad manager. It is quite possibly the worst outcome for an organization and can cause a lot of problems.

“The characteristics of a good salesperson are money motivated, large ego, and a bit selfish,” says Greta Schulz, founder and CEO of Schulz Sales Consulting. “These are the opposite of what a sales manager should be.”

When looking at employees, they are measured on productivity, efficiency and their own personal output. On the other hand, managers need to have strong people management skills and be able to motivate people to achieve targets. They are measured on team performances and on their ability to motivate their staff to succeed.

Typically there are three misalignments that make promoting your best salesperson to a manager a bad idea. They are:

  • Transition from peer to superior – This can destroy a team if not managed properly. When the best sales person gets promoted to a managerial position they are making the transition from co-worker or friend to manager/supervisor. This can be difficult for both the person being promoted and the team as a whole. If this transition isn’t managed and dealt with by both parties problems can arise.
  • Difference in performance measurement – For employees their performance is usually measured on personal achievements and output. This changes once someone get promoted to a managerial role. Their performance is measured on the team’s output and how they motivate the team to perform. This requires a change in focus from individual sales and performance to concentrating on getting the most out of the team as a whole. This can be difficult for someone who is used to always focusing on their own performance.
  • Difference in compensation – Top sales people get rewarded with large commissions because they are able to bring in the large sale numbers and big deals. When they get promoted to a manager postion often their commission and compensation structure is based on the teams performance as a whole. At times a manager’s commission could be less than that of the best sales person. This could demotivate the newly promoted manager and cause the team to suffer as a whole.

At times as a leader, the best salespeople in your team will come to you asking for promotions to manager positions. You want to ensure you are able to handle these situations properly as you want to keep your best salespeople motivated while at the same time promote the right people to managers. Here are two ways to deal with this:

  • Explain to them clearly what the manager role entails and how it requires a very different set of skills compared to the skills that make a great sales person. This alone at times is enough to make some people realize they may not be the best fit.
  • Provide dual career paths which is explained in an article in the Harvard Business Review Blog.The article quotes Sandy Cantwell, Vice President of Sales Operations of Carinal Health “This enables our sales organization to keep many of the best and brightest salespeople who are most valuable as individual contributors. You can succeed by becoming a manager or by becoming a ‘super salesperson.’ We have a formal career road map for both management and individual contributor roles. Our top sales role, the Strategic Account Vice President, is roughly equivalent in level to a Regional Vice President on the managerial side.”

Organization leaders need to remember that it is important to identify who your best sales people are and also understand that the best sales people don’t always make the best managers.  

Employees leave managers, not companies

Today I found out one of my good friends left their position at a well known technology company that many people would “kill” to work for. I asked him why he left, expecting an answer like “I needed more of a challenge”, or “I outgrew the position and there was no where for me to grow”, but instead he said “I couldn’t work with my boss”.

As he said this I thought about all the people leaving their positions because they simply couldn’t work with their manager. The work was stimulating, the team was great but their manager was unbearable to work with. In these situations, what seems to happen is companies lose good employees on a regular basis and all the managers sit around a conference table trying to address employee attrition, developing strategies for employee retention.

Employee retention is a real problem that all managers face. The key to being able to keep the good employees is not so much the salary you offer them or even the actual work, it is more about how you manage them and how they feel working under you as their manager. Do they feel valued within your team? Do you provide them with timely feedback? Do they feel your support as a manager leading their team or company?

Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist who was best known for creating Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which can be seen below.

Source: Diana Vanbrabant

As a manager we are able to affect three levels of needs within this hierarchy – safety, love & belonging and esteem. These 3 levels represents different elements within the workplace. The first level – safety refers to job security, career progression as well as health benefits and perhaps even gym membership. How do your employees feel about their job? Are they constantly afraid of cuts due to the recession? Do they know that as a manager you care about their wellbeing as well as their work?

The next level is love and belonging. People want to feel as if they are making a difference and are part of something bigger. As a manager how you approach giving out tasks, mentoring employees and interacting with them show how much you value their work. It is your duty as a manager to show employees how their work is making a difference and is part of a much larger plan. The worst thing for an employee is for them to think they are just another cog in a machine.

The last level is esteem. This refers to confidence and respect. It is important to manage your staff in terms of how they feel towards the work and to their peers and managers. Respect within the workplace is extremely important and can be the difference between keeping a good employee or losing them. Training and development when necessary is a good way to boost confidence and equip staff with the right skills. Investing in your staff to help them upskill benefits both the company and the employees. Zig Ziglar once said that there was only one thing worse than training (or growing) your staff and having them leave, and that is not training or developing them and having them stay.

A Florida State University (FSU) professor and two of his doctoral students have conducted a study which highlights the impacts of an abusive or poor manager/boss. They surveyed over 700 people who work in a variety of jobs and asked for their opinions of supervisor treatment on the job.

The study revealed these results:

39%: Their supervisor failed to keep promises
37%: Their supervisor failed to give credit when due
31%: Their supervisor gave them the “silent treatment” in the past year.
27%: Their supervisor made negative comments about them to other employees or managers.
24%: Their supervisor invaded their privacy.
23%: Their supervisor blames others to cover up mistakes or minimize embarrassment

Source: Florida State University

These points act as a good checklist to see how you are managing your staff because at the end of the day employees leave managers and bosses, not companies!


7th Feb 2013 – This article made it to #1 on Hacker News. Here is the thread so you can see the discussion that went on –