From Sales Person to Sales Leader – Can They Do It?

David Brock had a great post up yesterday about whether or not you should promote your best sales people to be sales managers.   It’s a good post, you should check it out.

As usual David get’s it right.  It depends.

According to David most people think it’s a bad idea.

Most people come down on the side that this is a terrible strategy, not only do we lose our best sales people, but they are bad managers–demotivating the team, causing problems, and all sorts of things.

This type of thinking kills me.  It tells me the sales managers or sales leaders who think this way shouldn’t be sales managers or sales leaders, because they lack the very thing needed to be a sales manager or leader — leadership.   Good leaders DON’T makes sweeping generalizations like this one.

The best candidate for the sales manager job is the best sales leader, regardless of whether or not they are your best sales person.

Hiring for leadership positions has been one of my biggest pet peeves as I see company after company hire leaders for all the wrong reasons and none of the right reasons.

There are two roles in business, the doers and the leaders.   That’s it.  The doers are the people who get stuff done. They are your sales people, your artists, your accountants, your HR partner etc.   The doer’s do the job.  They get their hands dirty.   They are the people who make the company go. They are on the front line.  The other role is the leader.  It is the leaders job to motivate, coalesce, encourage, support, and direct the doers.  The leader role is VERY different than the doer role and the transition isn’t for everyone.   Some people are doers and some are leaders.  The key is to figure out who is who.

Who should you promote into sales management?   Your best LEADER.      Not, your best sales doer.

This sounds easy, unfortunately not.  Most of us think in terms of doing.    Therefore we don’t evaluate roles in terms of leadership, but rather in terms of doing.  This way of thinking defaults to putting doers in leadership roles.

I’ve been in sales leadership for 12 years.  I’ve led big and small teams, local teams, national teams and international teams.   During my career, I can not think of a single interview process that focused on trying to determine my leadership skills.  I’ve never been asked how I lead, if I have a leadership philosophy, what my approach to leadership is, how I motivate teams, what my success planning process looks like, how I promote, or if I have an employee development approach.   Rarely, have my interviews focused on identifying leadership traits, qualities  and approaches.   Instead, they almost always focus on doing; how will I make the numbers, what do I know about the industry, what contacts do I have, what would I do with someone who wasn’t make their number etc.   Based on my experience, few companies are equipped to hire leaders.

When looking to promote or hire a sales person into sales management the question shouldn’t be, are they my best sales person (doer) but rather, are they my best leader?  If the answer is yes, hire away.

Don’t hire doers to be leaders and leaders to be doers.   They are two entirely different roles.

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