How To Promote A Salesperson To Sales Manager Successfully

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Want to promote your top producing sales rep to sales manager? Wait! You will fail unless you meet these four keys to success. Here’s how to promote a salesperson to sales manager successfully.

Your Sales Manager is Critical to Your Success

How to Promote a Salesperson to Sales Manager Successfully - Sales Management Tips from B2B Sales Connections

Sales is the lifeblood of any business.  After all, you can't have a bottom line unless you have a top line.  That is why many consider sales to be the most important functions with any company, and the sales manager plays a critical role within it.

In fact, the importance of the sales manager's job function cannot be understated.  The sales force drives the company's revenue and it the sales manager's job to drive the sales force. 

If the person who is handling the sales manager's job function does not perform, the company does not generate cash, and the company does not survive!

What Are Your Options for Sales Manager?

Given the critical importance of the sales manager's job function, it's important to fill it with the right person. 

In many companies the business owner wears many hats, one of which happens to be the sales manager.  The business owner, however, while juggling too many balls in the air, spreads their time too thin.  They become a slave to many tasks, but the master of none, the least of which is sales manager.

In other organizations, the job of the sales manager is given to the sales person who previously has had the highest sales results.  A direct sales position is quite a different role than that of a sales manager, however.  It requires a completely different skill set to be successful. 

Simply put, although the role of a sales manager may be easily defined, and its importance to the organization clearly understood, the skills required to be a successful sales manager are not. 

Should You Promote Your Top Gun to Sales Manager?

Even with a poor track record for success, many organizations continue to fill the role of sales manager by promoting someone from within their own sales team.  However, most simply don’t know how to promote a salesperson to sales manager. And when they don't do so properly, it leads to disastrous results.

Their top producer is no longer selling and profits drop.  Their sales territory loses proper coverage as the rep focuses on the transition into management, and as a result, good customers become disillusioned and leave to go to the competition.

Why Do Sales Rep Promotions to Sales Manager Fail?

This biggest reason for this failure is that most of the time the newly promoted sales manager may not have had any practical training on how to manage a sales team properly.  Without the proper training, they do not possess the necessary skills or tools required to manage this critical business function successfully.  

Also, they may not have the right personality traits required to be a successful sales manager.  Face it, the ability to sell does not automatically translate into the ability to manage!  A sales manager needs to be able to take all the crap and none of the glory, so to speak.  A top sales rep, however, is just the opposite.  Often, they produce at the highest levels more for the recognition it brings than the commissions they earn.

Having said that, a top sales rep is accustomed to earning top dollar.  While they may be incented into management with a higher upfront salary, their overall incomes often drops however, because the performance based side of a typical sales managers compensation plan won't allow them to earn what they used to as a sales rep.

There is No Going Back to the Sales Team

Because of these reasons, the new manager becomes frustrated with the new challenges of sales management.   That anxiety continues to build as more and more pressure is applied by senior management due to the lack of results. 

Eventually the decision is made on everyone's part to make a change. The former top producer won’t ask to return to their original sales role, however, because it would mean admitting failure in front of the company and they can't save face with their peers.  Many end up just leaving the organization, returning to selling for a competitor or in another industry.

The end result is the worst case scenario; the company still does not have a sales manager and they lost their top sales person in the process.

How to Promote Your Salesperson to Sales Manager Successfully – 4 Keys to Success

So, given all the possible reasons for failure, is it even possible to promote a sales rep to sales manager successfully?  Absolutely!

Earlier in my career, I was a top producing sales rep who was promoted into management.  I was one of the few who made this transition successfully, eventually developing into a top producing sales manager as well. 

Why Was I Promoted to Sales Manager Successfully?

Looking back, I think there were four basic reasons why I was able to make this move, where so many others have not.

  1. I had a very strong desire to move into management.  In fact, I approached the company with my aspirations, as opposed to them approaching me.  A new manager should never be begged or forced to move into management, they should want to do it.
  2. I had the right personality that was a good fit for management.  In fact, I was formally assessed using sales management assessment testing to ensure that I had the personality traits and aptitudes that are required to be successful in management.
  3. I did not have to take a pay cut to go into management.  I was compensated based on the team's performance, with the opportunity to earn a higher income as a successful manager than I could previously as a successful sales representative.  This motivated me to develop 10 more independent top producers, as opposed to taking the easier route of just selling on their behalf by myself.
  4. I did not initially have all the skills of a sales manager.  Therefore, I was given practical sales management training such as that found in my book, 'Action Plan for Sales Management Success – Not just what to do but how to do it'.  More importantly, I was properly mentored throughout my development as a sales manager afterwards.  In other words, not only did my sales management training include structured knowledge and experience based training, it also went outside the boardroom to include ongoing sales management coaching to build competency through practice after it was complete.

How to Promote a Salesperson to Sales Manager

Yes, you really can beat the odds and promote a sales rep to sales manager successfully.  You just need to plan for their success as a sales manager keeping in mind 4 key areas:

  1. Desire to advance
  2. Aptitude for management
  3. Compensation
  4. Training and Coaching
How to Choose a Sales Training Program (Includes Decision Matrix Template)

    The Bottom Line

    If you don't have the expertise internally to address these four areas for your new sales manager, then hire an organization who does to do it for you.  In the end, you will be glad you did.  As I said, looking back, I really believe that if any of these four keys to success were missing, I would have just been another sales rep who couldn't cut it as a sales manager.

    Remember, no puzzle shows the beautiful picture unless you use all the pieces.

    Aim Higher!

    Susan A. EnnsB2B Sales Coach and Author
    Schedule a free sales coaching strategy session with Susan here.

    A version of this article was also published as “Sales Leadership: 4 Keys to Successfully Promote a Rep to Sales Manager” with permission on

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