Why Successful Sales Reps Don’t Always Succeed as Sales Managers

Sales rep on path to become successful sales manager or sales coach

Your top-performing salespeople close deals and thrive in their roles as sellers, so it’s often thought they’d also be successful as sales leaders. We’ll explore a few reasons why this isn’t always the case, as well as what it really takes to be a great sales manager. Sales representatives and sales managers each have vastly different competencies that spell success in those roles.  

Sometimes sales leaders believe all their top-performing reps are on the career path to management. Promoting top sales reps to managerial positions usually happens as a reward for their great sales performance. It’s important to assess individuals based on the required skills for success as a manager instead of promoting based on sales merit alone, because reps and managers serve different functions and play two totally different positions in the sales game.  

The Best Coaches Weren’t Always the Best Players

We’ll use a sports analogy throughout this article to paint the picture of how a star player (or top sales rep) and coach (or sales manager) each have important roles to play on a team. These roles don’t always overlap or transition very well from one into the other. Why? Because coaching the game and playing the game are different activities that require different skills, mindsets and sometimes different personalities to flourish in those respective positions. 

Coaching the game and playing the game are different activities that require different skills, mindsets and sometimes different personalities to flourish in those respective positions. 

An Uneasy Transition from Rep to Manager

It’s not an easy transition to go from being in the game to coaching from the sidelines. When you try to get people to do what you do, instead of coaching to the fundamentals or coaching to an individual’s strengths on your team, it’s detrimental. This sets a team up for failure as one tries to make a bunch of mini mes, and a top-performing rep’s selling style may not work for other reps.  

Common Pitfalls

Sales reps assume others are motivated the same way they are. We know that’s simply not the case because team members have distinct types of motivation levers. Sales reps aren’t always looking at the bigger picture or thinking about the next quarter to prepare your team. Reps may have a hard time trusting other people to run a deal for them. It’s easier for them to hit their numbers when they’re in control. With a team goal to manage, there is a lot less control over hitting that number.  

Becoming a “Super Rep” Instead of Managing

Great sales reps struggle with understanding why other reps can’t do what they do, and often have trouble coaching because of that. Or newly reps-turned-managers end up fishing for their reps instead of teaching them to fish. This makes it hard to dissect what they’ve done to win and turns into ineffective coaching. It also limits sales growth by depending on the “super-seller” manager to actually close deals. 

Consider the Mindset Shift Reps Must Adopt to Manage

Championship-level athletes who dominated their sport rarely retire and become coaches because they have a hard time translating their talent and work ethic into coaching strategies. 

They would have to work with a team with varying abilities, which requires a mindset shift of top sellers to transition into effective and successful managers or coaches.

What It Takes to Be a Successful Sales Manager

A great sales manager’s skill set goes beyond understanding how to sell well. A team of people is involved, as well as decision-making and the ability to see the big picture. A sales manager acts in the best interest of others versus only making sure their own individual goals are met. It’s common to look for top salespeople to promote to managers with the hope they’ll perform in this position just the same. Because of this, it’s better to consider a more strategic and objective route to recruiting or selecting a sales manager. 

A Sales Manager’s Success

Being a great sales manager involves giving a team the tools to be successful. It’s creating a process that’s predicable and repeatable, yet unique to every situation. Managers need the ability to shape an organization, choose the right strategies for their team, set goals to define the culture, and lead people to success. They may have to give up things that made them a success as a rep to fare well as a manager. 

What to Look for in a Sales Manager

Great sales managers care about their team members and want them to win. They maintain a level of optimism because they have such an influence over others (like a team of people). Look for individuals who possess the right competencies you’re looking for in a great sales manager. Are they good coaches to other people on their team? Do they help others to be successful? Do they hold themselves accountable? Do they take responsibility for things? Do they come to the table with suggestions? Are they driven by a need to influence? Look for people who are driven by helping others succeed, strategic and methodical. 

Look for people who are driven by helping others succeed, strategic and methodical. 

Traits and Mindsets of a Sales Manager

  • Interested in developing others
  • Proactive about making improvements and recommendations 
  • Has a need for achievement 
  • Competitive 
  • Patient 
  • Curious  
  • Influential 
  • Critical thinker 
  • Data-driven 

Should You Automatically Promote Your Top Seller to Manager?

Organizations have a belief system that high-performing talent in one area of a team automatically translates to high performance in other positions or areas. Many sales leaders believe sales managers must come from the trenches as a sales rep to effectively manage a sales team. An individual on the track to management needs to have the ability to choose the right strategies for their team.  

Assess Individuals for Manager Traits

As we’ve mentioned, many companies operate in a way where they automatically promote their top performers into leadership positions, which can set newly promoted people up for failure. 

The best organizations assess candidates using objective decision criteria to determine if a sales rep will be a fit as a sales managerWith an objective approach, assessments help to identify where the gaps are before deciding whether to move a sales rep into a leadership position. 

Before making a move, make sure your top sellers are ready for the next step you have in mind for them to be sales manager. They need the right mindsets, attitude, personality, and competencies to make that transition successfully. We’d love to help you develop and streamline your sales team. 


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