We’ve all done it.  Promoted a good sales person, often our best, to sales manager.  My files are full of cases where the results were below expectations for everyone involved.  Principals and CSOs are often disappointed in the lack of results. And the sales managers are confused and frustrated with the lack of achievement from their teams.

Here’s a variation that usually produces even more angst.  A good sales person, without any real management experience, is hired from outside the company. They fill a sales manager position.  When these decisions go bad, there are hurt feelings, negative attitudes, and difficult situations. The results can be ugly.

Not that this is always the case.  Many CSOs and executives rose through the ranks in just this fashion, contributing exceptionally at every stage.  But, these cases are generally the exception, not the rule.

The Rule: Good Sales People Don’t Make Good Sales Managers – Why?


1. Expectations

Consider the unique blend of strengths and aptitudes that often mark the character of an exceptional sales person.  Exceptional sales people often have very high standards for themselves and everyone around them.  They are highly focused on the customer, often to the determent of their relationships with their colleagues.  It’s not unusual for your star sales person to irritate and frustrate the people in the operational side of the business, with a brusque and demanding attitude.  After all, they think, I’m extending myself to take care of my customers, why shouldn’t I expect everyone else to do so also?

When they become sales managers, they expect all of their sales people to be just as hard driving and achievement oriented as they were.  Unfortunately the reality is that most of their sales people don’t share the same degree of drive and perfectionism that they had.  If they did, they would have been promoted to sales manager.

That means that the sales manager often is frustrated with the performance and attitudes of his charges, and confused as to how to change them.

2. Independence

An exceptional sales person is often an independent character.  They thrive in a climate where they can make their own decisions, determine their own call patterns, and spend time by themselves.

Alas, they lose almost all of that when they are promoted to sales manager.  They are expected to work a consistent, well-defined work week, to spend a certain number of hours in the office, and to fulfill certain administrative functions.  The freedom to make their own decisions, to determine their own days, is gone.  So, they often struggle with how to adjust to this new work environment and still be productive.

Whereas before they were clearly and independently responsible for their results, now they must achieve their results through other people.  Too often, they default to a view of the job wherein they become the “Super Sales Person.” They take over accounts, projects and sales calls from less talented charges.  This creates frustration on all parts.

3. Optimism

An exceptional sales person has the ability and propensity to see every situation optimistically. They overlooking all the obstacles and concentrate on the potential in every account.  That is a necessary element to a sales personality.  Without it, they couldn’t weather all the rejection and frustration inherent in the sales job.

The personality strength which serves them well as a sales person is, however, a major obstacle to success as a sales manager.  When it comes to hiring a new sales person, they will find themselves viewing every candidate through those same optimistic eyes.

The moral of the story?

While you may think that your best sales person can make a great sales manager, the chances of success are small.  Find a sales manager, and leave your sales person to do what they do well.