The quandary of many sales teams is what to do with the star performers that want to capitalize on their high sales value and move on up in the organization into management and beyond?
Some will undoubtedly have the leadership and management skills to be able to rise to Sales VP and maybe even President, especially if they are supported by the necessary mentoring and training along the way. However, there are likely to be more people wanting to advance into management than there are places available. In larger corporations there are likely to be positions become available for sales managers, or the sales star may have to move to a new company to get a sales manager position, but is this the best use of their talents?
The move into sales management isn’t necessarily the best fit for a star salesperson, as the sales role often has little to do with man management, or many of the other facets of the manager’s role.
As a salesperson they only had their own customers, motivation and targets to worry about, but as a manager they have a whole host of other people’s customers, motivation and targets to worry about. The manager also has to cope with a whole range of other tasks that are probably new to them:
- Interviewing, identifying and hiring the right people for the team.
- Setting Territory plans and sales targets
- Generating Sales forecasts and metrics for senior management
- Managing, motivating and coaching the individual team members
- Attending management meetings and implementing strategy
- Liaising with Support, Marketing, Finance etc.
- Setting budgets and financial strategy
- Purchasing training and other resources for the team
- Fire fighting when things go wrong
This is not an exhaustive list and many of these skills may not sit well with the star performer, who was probably a fairly free agent and was trained more as a hunter than a farmer.
However, the star performer has normally developed a way of engaging with prospects that not only gives them new insights into how to improve aspects of their business, but have developed Coaching-style questions. These enable them to understand things in a completely new way and this often leads to approaching issues differently, leading to the prospect buying their products.
This way of engaging and changing the way a salesperson looks at issues is central to effective coaching and could be one of the best ways to transfer the knowledge that star performers use to achieve their results.
There would seem to be a need for some way to keep the star performers in the field, but give them the advancement and authority they are looking for. This could also be used as a way to introduce them to some aspects of management without the complete immersion that often makes the sales managers job discouraging, frustrating and lonely.
To find a model for this new position we could take a leaf out of the medical text book, where top surgeons and doctors are made Consultants, to keep them using their practical skills, but at the same time lead, mentor, coach and manage a team of medics and ancillary workers.
To many newly promoted managers this is a time of extreme stress, having moved from a position where they were probably exceptionally successful, to a point where they are floundering, with pressure from above to ‘bring in the numbers’ and in many cases, little in the way of training and coaching. Leading the team and securing results, while learning on the job is rarely a recipe for success.
The loss of a good salesperson, who then becomes an inexperienced manager leading the team, isn’t a great situation for an organization and can lead to a steep dip in revenues for upwards of 12 months. The obvious answer is for the new sales manager to receive sufficient training, mentoring and coaching, to give them the time and support to adapt and transition to being a successful sales manager.
There could be an additional step on the ladder, however, where the salesperson keeps a proportion of their sales responsibility, but takes on the responsibility of sales coaching and mentoring maybe half the team. This could have the benefit of freeing the manager from much of the day-to-day sales coaching, while giving the salesperson an introduction to the management and coaching of the team.
With two ‘Consultant Sales Leaders’, (or ‘sub-managers’, or whatever they are called) per team, the sales manager would have a support group within the team and assistants ready to stand-in for the manager at times of holiday, sickness, or other enforced absence. This would also give the organization time to assess the potential and training needs of the future managers and also may help keep the star performers, rather than have them move on to further their careers.