Six Reasons Not to Promote your Top Reps to Sales Management

In many companies, it is commonplace to promote successful reps into sales management roles. To be fair it is instinctive to reward your most successful and reliable people reps with a promotion and who better to take on more responsibility in the sales organization than someone who understands how to sell a lot? But our research shows that more than 75% of reps promoted to sales manager will not last 2 years in the role and will return to a sales position. Given the high failure rates of sales managers promoted from reps, does it really make sense?

Here are six reasons not to do it:

  1. They are vastly different roles. A sales role involves hunting for opportunities, qualifying and/or developing relationships, listening, negotiating, and closing. Sales management involves activities such as interviewing, hiring, developing, training, cheerleading, managing, firing, tracking, forecasting, analyzing, and planning. An understanding of both makes someone more successful in either role, but a day spent in each seat means a day doing very different things.
  2. Many aspects of managing people (aka cat herding) are more complex than selling – most top reps have a system for dealing with the finite number of sales situations they will see. Managing a a team means an infinite number of mechanisms for holding each individual accountable and can change from day to day, depending on the person.
  3. Managing  is not for everyone and requires specific SalesDNA(tm)  (See Hire to Win) – drive, competitiveness, perseverance, optimism and flexibility are all traits one might expect to see in top reps and sales managers, but the focus is completely different and some of this cannot to fixed through training. Management requires a certain type of patience, flexibility, tolerance and communication skill. “A-type” drivers, may be great at telling a team what to do, but may not be suited to helping them get there. Top reps who love the thrill of the kill will miss that aspect of their job if they are focused more on helping others close business. They will miss the time they spent in the field if they now spend a lot more of their time inside overseeing the team and in meetings with their own management.
  4. The best sales reps are used to flying at their own top speed – they are action oriented and used to driving results through their own direct efforts. Assuming leadership means overseeing a team where (on average) 50% of the reps are below targets, and you need to be able to gear up or down to the lowest common denominator, as the case may be. There will be a huge temptation to step in, takeover opportunities and close business for reps on the team, rather than help the reps close and be better closers.
  5. Sales reps innately resist the things that sales managers absolutely need in order to effectively run a team – ie. training, sales meetings, pipeline reviews, documenting opportunities
  6. The cost of incorrectly promoting a top sales rep is massive: poor leadership and loss of a great rep.

To be a great manager you have to be an expert at management, not an exceptional sales person.


Eliot Burdett

CEO at Peak Sales Recruiting
Before Peak, Eliot spent more than 20 years building and leading companies, where he took the lead in recruiting and managing high performance sales teams. He co-founded Ventrada Systems (mobile applications) and GlobalX (e-commerce software). He was also Vice President of Sales for PointShot Wireless.

Eliot received his B. Comm. from Carleton University and has been honored as a Top 40 Under 40 Award winner.

He co-authored Sales Recruiting 2.0, How to Find Top Performing Sales People, Fast and provides regular insights on sales team management and hiring on the Peak Sales Recruiting Blog.