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Losing Your Highest Performing Salesperson!

by David Brock on May 6th, 2016

No one wants to lose their highest performing sales people.  Ideally, we do everything we can to keep them challenged, excited, motivated, and contributing.  Often, if we think they are in danger of being wooed away to a competitor or another job, we’ll look at adjusting compensation, incentives or other things.  We do whatever we can to retain these high performers.

Yet there is one hugely stupid mistake we make that causes us to lose too many of our top performers.

We promote them into sales management!

If I had a nickel for every time I saw this happen………  (well you know the rest).

Somehow we have the mistaken impression that top sales performers make great leaders.  After all, if they consistently close deals, and make their own numbers, moving them up should enable them to do that with the team.

Too often, what happens is devastating.   These top individual contributors are terrible managers and leaders.  They continue to try to do what made them great as individual contributors, inflicting this on the team.  What happens is performance plummets.  The newly minted sales manager fails, many of the people on the team may be upset and leave.  On top of that, we’ve lost our top performing individual contributor!

It’s a double Whammy!  A disaster!

It’s critical to recognize, the job of a front line sales leader is different from that of an individual contributor!  Being a great sales person, most often, is not the critical success factor in being a great sales leader.

As individual contributors, our top performers get things done through their customers.  They are masters of finding great opportunities, working with the customer, creating great value, competing fiercely, and getting the order.

But that’s not the sales manager’s job.  Sales manager’s aren’t accountable for getting the order.  That’s the responsibility of their people.  The sales manager has to get things done through their people.  They have to maximize the performance of each person on the team, making sure each person can hit their numbers and achieve their goals.

Managers do this by making sure they have the right people in the right roles.  They provide the systems, process, training, tools and programs that enable their people to do their jobs.  They do everything they can to remove the roadblocks to their people’s success.  Then they coach incessantly, helping their people learn, develop, improve.

What it takes to be a top performing sales person and what it takes to be a top performing front line sales leader is different!  Sure, every sales manager needs to leverage their rich experience as individual contributors.  It helps them understand and empathize with what their people are doing.  It helps them be more effective in coaching and developing their people.

But the behaviors, attitudes, skills, competencies, and experiences critical for being a top sales leader are very different from those of a top individual contributor.  We need to match the people we put into sales management roles with those things, not just their past performance as individual contributors.

Losing a top performer is tragic.  Losing a top performer by moving them into a management role they can’t fulfill is stupidity.

Afterword:  Over the next four weeks, I will be focusing many of my posts on Front Line Sales Leaders.  Hopefully, I’ll whet your appetites to learn much more.  At the end of May, my book, the Sales Manager Survival Guide will be launched.  In the book, I’ll do a very deep dive into every aspect of being a top performing Front Line Sales Leader.  Over the past 9 months, I’ve been obsessed with sharing my experience and what I’ve learned from my clients and colleagues, writing at every free moment.  I’m really excited about the book and the early feedback I’ve received.

Stay tuned for more information about what’s in the book, some special resources that will be available at the web site, and more.Book Cover

  1. I blame the “team” metaphor for sports for this. On an sports team, the captain is usually one of the best players.

    Not needed for a corporate team.

  2. David many times the CEO thinks that the top sales manager promoted to VP/Sales manager is still going to continue selling and manage the salespeople.

    • Yes, it’s really short sighted thinking on the part of CEOs. Both jobs are full time, yet somehow the CEO thinks the sales manager can do both. What happens is everything suffers.

      The very worse thing a CEO can do is make a sales manager have a personal territory.

      The worse thing a sales manager can do is think his job is closing deals. His job is to maximize the performance of the sales people.

  3. Nicely done.  

    Shared it with our audience at Franchise-Info, which will get you more views on LinkedIn.

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