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Do Great Sales People Make Good Sales Managers?

by David Brock on February 17th, 2009
There was an interesting thought posed in LinkedIn today: “Good sales people make good sales managers.” It went on to ask the characteristics of good sales managers. The question struck a chord, a dissonant one, provoking me to respond. I’m sure I have missed a lot of characteristics of great sales managers, and would ask for your addition, deletions, edits. Here’s my response and the list I started with:
Great sales people are sometimes the worst sales managers. Likewise, some mediocre sales people end up being stellar sales managers.
There is a long list of leadership skills/traits that are important for managers. I will stay away from repeating these.
Some specific areas that I think are often overlooked for sales managers:
1. Very process oriented. Today’s sales manager cannot be involved in every deal, issue or transaction. They have to have a strong process in place, make certain their people understand and are executing the process. The sales manager has to continually monitor the process, taking deep dives in problem areas to help their people address them.
2. Disciplined and performance oriented. Closely tied to the previous point, the sales manager must have a strong focus on performance and performance improvement. This requires having the right metrics in place, making sure people understand what they are accountable for, giving them the opportunity to perform, being there to coach them when they have problems, and being prepared to take the appropriate actions if performance problems are not resolved.
3. Loyalty to the organization and their people. The sales manager is often caught between a rock and a hard place—the objectives of the organization sometimes come into conflict with what is best for the team. Effective sales managers are actively involved in setting organizational strategies and priorities (at least in terms of sales) and engage the sales people in executing them–though they may resist—which requires strong engagement and coaching. At the same time, sometimes the “organization” is insensitive to the sales people. The sales manager needs to defend the sales people to the organization, making sure they are heard.
3. Strong business orientation and focus. Make the right business decisions—both for the customer, for the sales organization, and for the business. Understanding how businesses work and what drives them.
4. Incessantly customer focused. If I have to say more, then we really don’t understand the point of professional selling.
5. Incessantly curious—driven to learn and improve. Incessantly curious about solving customer problems. Incessantly curious about the art and science of professional selling—driven to improve the performance of each individual in the organization, the organization as a whole, his own personal performance, and the business. This means they probably spend much more time asking questions and listening then they do talking.
6. Appropriately compassionate. Understand what drives people—customers, sales people, support people, others in the organization. Able to understand their points of view and what drives them. Able to communicate and work with them in a matter that demonstrates respect and trust. At the same time, able to make tough decisions—but with compassion based on the impact on individuals.
7. Able to sublimate their egos. Sales management is about leadership, growing and developing people, growing and developing the organization, growing and developing the business. It is not about how great you are and your past victories. It requires admitting you are wrong when you are. It requires being able to change your point of view.
8. Problem solvers. Driven by solving problems, finding ways to overcome obstacles, not being wed to the past. Creative and innovative in adapting new approaches to address issues and improve the business.
9. High energy. Constantly moving forward, setting strong examples for everyone around. Note, I am not saying high activity, high meeting orientation. High energy is different than meaningless activities.
10. Value, principle driven. Without a strong value system, a manager has no context in which to make decisions and drive the organization. Without sticking to the values and principles, the organization will wander and not produce results.
11. Thoughtful, reflective, good sense of humor. Self explanatory.
12. Able to leap tall buildings without tripping. Sales managers don’t need to have a big “S” on their chests, but they need to inspire and motivate others.
I’m sure I’ve missed some and could go into much more detail on each item. But I look for all of these in hiring great sales managers!
What would you add? Are there any you would eliminate?

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5 Comments
  1. Niall Devitt permalink

    “Today’s sales manager cannot be involved in every deal, issue or transaction”

    In my opinion, sales people who become new sales managers can sometimes struggle in this regard. Instincts such “to control” that perhaps served them well as a salesperson are now a liability as a manager. Wanting to make a name for them selves, they can often resort to what fixed the problem before Sales management and selling are very different roles, requiring completely different skill-sets. That’s not to say that successful transitions can’t be made. But I think it’s important that the salesperson really really wants to manage. Top Salespeople often come from a background of continued success, It’s almost second nature. However as sales managers, they will spend the majority of their time working to resolve under-performance.

  2. Dave Brock's Blog permalink

    Niall, as always, a great comment! Too many new sales managers try to “save the day” by diving into the deals–often screwing them up, or in the least getting in the way of the sales people.

    Spending their time making sure the process is working, coaching and developing their people (so they don’t have to dive into deals) is what the job is about and where they are most effective.

    Thanks for the comment!

  3. Wally Bock permalink

    Good post, David. My experience is that the best sales managers seem to be competent performers who are willing and able to do the necessary supervision. One issue for many top performers, in sales, police work, petroleum engineering, whatever, is that they've made much of what they do unconscious. Unless they can become conscious of it again, they can't coach or train well from that base.

  4. unrivalled consulting permalink

    Totally agree with Niall's pov – my first thought also.

    As always, David has pretty much hit the nail on the head imho, so my mind went in a slightly different direction: surely some of those points DO cross both paths.

    I think David's great article ALSO makes interesting & useful reading if you re-read points 4 through 12 as:-

    REALLY Great sales PEOPLE are:

    4. Incessantly customer focused…

    5. Incessantly curious…(ESPECIALLY!)…spend more time asking questions and listening than they do talking.

    6. Appropriately compassionate…

    7. Able to sublimate their egos…

    8. Problem solvers…

    9. High energy…

    10. Value Priciple driven

    and maybe even 11. Thoughtful, reflective… & 12. Able to leap tall buildings…!!

    Based on this I would then say that the article nailed the differences in points first four points (1, 2, 3 & 3) 😉

    The other 9 are reasons why companies promote to sales manager, but without the first 4 (particularly 1) it ain't gonna work!

    Great discussion article!

  5. Dave Brock's Blog permalink

    Wally, Steve: Great comments. Thanks for contributing to the discussion!

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