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Sales ManagementThe Double Whammy of Promoting Salespeople based on Sales Performance

The problem is as follows: you promote your best salesperson to sales manager; however, once they start working in their new role, you find they’re actually a bad sales manager.

Now, you’ve not only gained a bad sales manager, but you’ve lost one of your best salespeople.

It’s a double whammy, and it can be one of the biggest (and most expensive) problems your organization faces.

Zero Correlation Found between Sales Performance and Sales Management Performance

You may be inclined to think that your best salespeople would naturally make great sales managers. Unfortunately, the data reveals a different story.

Based on our 35 years of historical data and research, we can confidently say that we have found zero correlation between top sales performance and top sales management performance. Zero!

This is an example of why it’s so important to look at what the data is telling us. In some cases our intuition just doesn’t hold up, like when we assume great salespeople must make great sales managers.

Here are a few statistics from the data:

  • 50% of a company’s salesforce has strong leadership potential for sales management roles
  • Among top 25% of top sales producers, only 10% have the potential to be strong leaders in sales management
  • Among the low potential sales people, only 5% have leadership potential

As you can see, you cannot predict management performance from sales performance. In fact, the top sales producers have a lower likelihood of being strong leaders than the average across the company.

Selecting Sales Managers with Power and Patience

Top salespeople are often strong personalities who like to do things themselves, lacking the patience to get things done through other people. They typically show the “power” attributes of personality, such as competitiveness, goal orientation, achievement, drive, energy, and ambition.

On the other hand, good sales managers typically show strong power and strong patience attributes. They have the patience to delegate tasks and trust their team to work toward their goals.

So while a salesperson should be at least average before being considered for a sales management role, you don’t necessarily want to promote your top salespeople. They may be most effective right where they are – in sales.

Top Two Challenges in Changing Organizational Promotion Processes

When companies realize they are losing their top salespeople and gaining bad managers, it can be an uphill battle to change the promotion system to eliminate the problem.

Here are the top two challenges you must overcome to avoid falling into this trap:

  1. Dangling the Carrot of Sales Management Promotion

The problem often starts in the hiring and recruiting process. When companies hire new salespeople, they may dangle the carrot of a sales management position in the interview or on-boarding process. This sets up an expectation right away that the career path in the company is salesperson to sales manager.

As a result, the best salespeople are thinking about moving into a management role because they see it as the next step in their career – even if they don’t have the potential for management.

  1. A Company Culture that Stigmatizes Being a Career Salesperson

If you have a corporate culture where the career path is to move from salesperson to sales manager, it stigmatizes the sales role for those who are best suited to remain in sales. Rather than disturbing the best salespeople and telling them they can or should be a sales manager, the company culture must shift to show how much career salespeople are valued.

Solutions for Avoiding this Double Whammy

Once you’re aware of this issue, you can take a number of steps to improve the succession plan within your company, change your company culture, and refine your selection process.

Create new best practices that reward excellent career salespeople without moving them into a management role. Remove the stigma that not being a sales manager – or trying as a sales manager and moving back to sales – is “failing”. You may also consider instituting a mentorship program where the top salespeople can become mentors for newer salespeople, rather than becoming sales managers.

Hand in hand with changing the company culture is changing the narrative you tell candidates and new hires. Don’t give the impression that the career path is from salesperson to sales manager in your organization. Make sure they know that being a career salesperson is acceptable and encouraged.

To select effective sales managers, companies need to build a tool into their selection process that assesses the management potential of candidates. Using this strategy, you will know from the beginning which of your salespeople is more likely to be successful in a management role. Then, you can only suggest management positions to those specific individuals and avoid disturbing your great career sales professionals.

These changes may not come overnight, but once you commit to them you will find that you are no longer losing your top salespeople and gaining bad sales managers in the process!


Self Management Group can help you select the right salespeople and sales managers with our validated selection tools and profiles, such as the POP™ for selecting competitive salespeople or our Management Pro™ for predicting management performance.

Get a free trial of our assessment tools!

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John Marshall

About John Marshall

John is the President and Founder of The Self Management Group, and has a doctorate in psychology from York University where he also worked as a lecturer. For over three decades, John has helped hundreds of organizations develop into self-managed, high performance cultures. Using advanced statistical methods and principles, SMG has become a leader in applied research and using predictive analytics to assist organizations in attracting, selecting, and developing top performers.

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