Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas were amazing professional basketball players. Johnson is a three-time NBA MVP and Thomas went to the All-Star Game 12 years in a row.

But neither of them was successful as a coach.

Michael Jordan is arguably the greatest player of all time. If the same skills and talents of great players applied to great coaches, then Jordan would be coaching championship teams year after year. But that's not happening either.

Most great players don't transition into great coaches but it's not because of a lack of talent. The same applies to professional selling. Most great salespeople don't make effective sales managers.

Here are five reasons why:

  1. The roles are very, very different--A professional salesperson is responsible for delivering tangible results. Sales managers are responsible for delivering tangible results... through other people. Managing a sales team is a role that engages in dissimilar activities than sales reps such as: coaching, ride-along evaluations, recruiting, hiring, performance appraisals, holding salespeople accountable, and termination. None of these are required for professional selling.
  1. The capacities required for success are different - It's easy to assume that since a salesperson performed so well at selling, that leading a team of salespeople would be the natural next step. The capacities required for professional selling are not the same for sales leadership. One is patience. It takes patience to coach someone on a particular skill for months--not always a strength for many superstar sales reps.
  1. They struggle translating their instincts - A great player often cannot articulate why they are good, let alone transfer their skills to someone else. Great performers in any area almost always rely, in part, on natural instinct for their success. Instinct is very difficult to breakdown into measurable parts and communicate to others. Therefore, it becomes very hard to replicate their success through systematic training and coaching.
  1. The urge to sell supersedes the will to coach - Your new sales manager will be tempted to take over sales calls instead of developing the skills of their players. The new sales manager, still focused on their own individual performance, will tend to step in over and over again to save deals and justify this dependency-causing behavior driven by quota demands. Plus, they would rather carry a poor performing sales rep than go through the tedious process of firing and replacing them.
  1. You'll lose the revenue from your best sales rep - Instead of gaining a great sales manager,you'll lose the revenue from your now former great sales rep. This is an unintended consequence that many organizations often overlook. In addition, some companies believe that their new sales manager will replace their previous revenue stream by scaling the success of the sales team to new levels of performance, which is generally not the case.

Can a great salesperson become a great sales manager? Sure, it happens. More often--a lot more often--the opposite occurs. A high performing rep is rewarded with a promotion into a sales management role that doesn't align with his or her strong sales capacities and natural sales instincts resulting in failure for everyone (including the bottom line). In fact, moderately successful sales reps who love to sell, but who are not natural born superstars, make some of the best sales managers. They love professional selling and enjoy participating in the success of others.

So, before making what appears to be an obvious choice for your next sales manager, reevaluate your criteria. You may find that your fourth place sales rep is a much better choice.

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Published on: Aug 26, 2014