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Do top sales performers make great sales managers?

As a business leader, your decision to promote a top sales performer to a leadership position could be disruptive to the organisation if not carefully thought through.

As a business leader, your decision to promote a top sales performer to a leadership position could be disruptive to the organisation if not carefully thought through. It is important to note that the skills needed to lead sales teams are very different from those needed to meet individual targets. I, too, made this mistake some years ago, but within a couple of months I recognised the misfit and was able to rescue the situation and repair the damage. Fortunately, the person in question was able to acknowledge that they would not be effective in the role and the situation was handled respectfully. Lessons learned!

For the most part, the gap is centred on people skills, with the widest margin being the inability to lead and inspire teams. Just because someone has good work ethic and is excellent at meeting their sales targets does not mean they will be able to lead others to do the same. Furthermore, it would not be fair to the newly promoted sales manager who is not prepared for the leadership role. Promoting people without providing them with the necessary support, or in so doing place their round competences in a square set of expectations, is bad judgement. I believe and subscribe to the concept of strength-based talent management.

Rather than share the critical skills necessary for the modern sales leader in this article, I will address four areas that can be most problematic, based on my experience.


The ability to meet sales targets as an individual is dependent on the sales professional’s own efforts to manage time, quotas, meetings and pipeline, as well as other key success factors. This is all on them, so they are responsible for their own outcome. Being responsible for a team means that the sales manager now has responsibility for the combined performance of the entire team, making sure each person does well using their unique strengths. Some managers do not have the skill to do this. Leading people to perform optimally requires that the right formula is found to enable their self-direction so that they demonstrate that critical commitment to excellence. The sales leader empowers team members by providing the right tools in an environment of accountability. There is usually heavy reliance on providing support because the team must know that the manager has their back through good times and bad.


When I was a child, my grandmother regularly made reference to “Boaty”, which means you play your cards well on two sides (no interpretation please!). The sales manager is the conduit between the company’s senior leadership and the sales team. In short, that person inspires and leads a highly motivated team to achieve the goals and objectives of the organisation. Sometimes there are hard decisions to be made and depending on what’s happening in the internal and external environments, the manager must have a very strong command of issues, challenges and opportunities. The sales team leader must apply critical thinking without emotion to lead and influence both groups of stakeholders; the sales team and senior management — in the interest of the organisation. Sales professionals are by nature very emotional beings. They feel and respond differently from many other professionals. For instance, when they are unhappy about things, it could be blown out of proportion if not managed carefully. A manager with good intent could find themselves being loved by one and hated by the other if he/she does not find that balance.


The modern sales manager spends about 30 to 45 per cent of time coaching team members. This particular activity can make or break a sales leader. The process of coaching propels salespeople to tap into undiscovered strengths and talents which then enable personal growth and learning. Therefore, coaching helps people to become better than they thought they could be.

Administration is also an important function because sales managers are data and information hungry. Dashboards, charts and trends are their survival tools. Mobile-enabled sales force automation tools are recommended. If the sales leader spends most of the time, head deep, into report preparation, the numbers will suffer, because the sales team who need the leader’s attention will be ignored. Administrative duties are important, but developing the sales team members to be their best is even more critical.


It is not unusual that someone who is good at creating personal sales plans may not be able to lead the sales planning process. Unless that experience was gained through another job or from some training, it is unlikely that a newly promoted sales manager will have the ability to take that 360-degree perspective of things and think from idea and strategy right through to execution and evaluation. This skill is extremely important for a sales leader who has to be able to see the whole and then break it down into doable parts that the sales team can understand. The sales team needs to know the why and the vision. It is the sales manager’s responsibility to paint the picture and provide clarity. It is also important to ensure that the team has an input in the how and what when tactical plans are developed. This approach guarantees the team’s buy-in, engagement, and ownership.


So when next there is an opening for a sales manager, be clear about the skills needed for the role and promote or recruit for fit. Not all persons promoted from inside will have all the right competences. However, you can build them among existing team members with leadership potential by ensuring that there is a development path to make the transition as easy as possible and reduce the learning curve. Promoting from within the organisation has many advantages, but it must be done right — in the interest of all involved.

Printed by the Jamaica Observer August 14, 2016
About the Author
Beverley Thompson is a 2015 Stevie Awardee, Business Strategist and Consultant, partnering with companies to help them win in their respective industries. She provides public and customised sales/account management workshops that are steeped in the foundation of value and relationship management. She can be contacted at Email: bwellthompson@ gmail.com

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