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3 Reasons Excellent Salespeople Make Terrible Sales Managers


It’s no secret that salespeople often fail as sales managers. Nonetheless, many of the best reps within an organization often end up in management positions.

Whether you’re actively seeking a role as a manager or have already gotten a promotion, you should understand the most difficult aspects of the transition. Once you know the obstacles in your path, you can navigate around them.

I’ve outlined the three most common reasons newly promoted managers aren’t successful, along with some workarounds and solutions.

1) They’ve Been Trained to Avoid Conflict

Great salespeople instinctively avoid conflict. Sometimes it may make sense to tell the customer they’re wrong — but for the most part, a rep will steer clear of clashing with her prospect. Unnecessary disagreements hurt the rapport and trust she’s built and make them less likely to listen to her on the issues that actually matter.

Unfortunately, this tendency harms salespeople when they’re promoted. To drive progress and growth in their team, sales managers must rock the boat.

Perhaps a manager notices one of her reps using an inefficient process or poor technique. If she’s hesitant to confront him, he’ll assume whatever he’s doing is okay. The bad behavior will become a bad habit. Even worse, it might spread to his fellow salespeople.

Next thing you know, the whole team has been negatively affected by their manager’s reluctance to have a potentially uncomfortable conversation.

Newly promoted sales managers need to abandon the “conflict avoidance” mindset and embrace productive conflict. Without this mental shift, they can’t push their salespeople to their full potential.

2) They’re Too Quick to Rescue Their Reps

When I ask salespeople what frustrates them about their manager, I hear the same response over and over: “I don’t like when we’re talking to a customer and they take over.”

Sales managers: I understand. It’s normal to miss the front-line sales experience, especially now that most of your time is spent in meetings, doing administrative work, delegating, and coaching. In addition, you don’t want your reps to screw up valuable opportunities — so if you sense a deal is going south, you’ll step in and rescue it.

But you have to resist this temptation. Grabbing the reins from your salesperson sends a clear message to both the prospect and your rep that you don’t trust them to handle the meeting. Not only will the buyer lose confidence in them, but they’ll lose confidence in themselves.

By taking charge, you also lose your chance to coach your salesperson. How will you know what they’re doing when you’re not there if you don’t let them sell while you are? The vast majority of the time, you won’t be on the call or in the room. Your reps need to be capable of bringing in business on their own.

When I was a sales manager, I used to bring a coin with me to customer meetings. If my rep started doing something differently than I wanted her to, I’d squeeze the coin. This distracted me from the itch to take over.

Does this mean if you’re watching your salesperson unintentionally sabotage a $200,000 deal you shouldn’t jump in? No. However, don’t jump in as soon as you feel the urge — give it some time. You’ll salvage the coaching opportunity; plus, they may turn the situation around on their own.

Learn more by watching this video:

3) They Hate Giving Up

To outperform your peers in sales, you need tenacity. Most of the salespeople who are promoted to managers are highly determined and persistent. This trait is fantastic, except when they apply the “never give up” spirit to coaching their below-average reps.

I frequently ask sales managers, “Is there anyone on your team who you wouldn’t have hired if you knew then what you know now?”

Everyone’s hands go up. Then I ask, “How long have you known you made a mistake?” They start fidgeting. I hear six, 12, even 24 months.

The point is, sales managers tend to hang to unsuccessful salespeople far too long. If you’ve tried to train and coach someone and they’re not applying your coaching or implementing any changes, you must draw a line in the sand. Tell them, “X and Y need to happen before the end of the quarter, or I have to let you go.”

Besides the negative impact these reps have on your team quota, they’re also horrible for morale.

Let’s say Ben has consistently underperformed for the past seven months. When his manager stands up at the next meeting and says, “We’re striving to hit this ambitious goal and improve our performance even more,” everyone is thinking about Ben. The manager’s public commitment to excellence doesn’t feel genuine or inspiring, because she’s okay with keeping a mediocre salesperson on the team.

The minimum acceptable standard of performance is equivalent to the lowest-performing rep on your team. If you’re not satisfied with that standard, either coach the rep in question or replace them with someone stronger.

While the road from salesperson to sales manager might usually be a bumpy one, some foresight and planning can smooth your way. Good luck in your new role.

For more advice, check out Kevin F. Davis’s latest book, “The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness: Ten Essential Strategies for Leading Your Team to the Top.”

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