I've had the good fortune of employing some incredible salespeople over the years. They were so adept at managing client relationships that I just assumed they would be great team managers, too.

Well, I was dead wrong. My assumptions about how the best managers come to be weren't accurate. At all.

Your best salespeople can fail miserably as sales managers. Or they can grow to become spectacular sales managers.

The choice is yours.

Here are four ways you'll need to set up your new managers for success.

1. Teach them the skills they need

It's been said that leaders are born, not made. That's ridiculous.

The skills that make great leaders aren't the same ones that make great salespeople. A top manager needs more-than-excellent people skills. Managers need to sell ideas, concepts, and process.

This is important to understand. It's easy to assume that a great salesperson will transition into a great sales manager. Don't assume. Just don't.

There is risk involved for both you and your new sales manager. The transition from salesperson to sales manager doesn't always work. And if it doesn't work, you really can't reverse it.

Luckily, you can mitigate this risk through leadership training.

2. Train for leadership

For most salespeople, this is their first course in people management. New managers have no idea what they don't know.

There are plenty of places to learn leadership skills. But over time, we've learned the value of bringing management training specialists into the office to help develop the right skills in new sales managers.

We've been using a company called Intelligent.ly to train first-time managers how to manage. This has helped our sales managers learn about important management functions such as:

  • Communication
  • Motivation
  • Delegation
  • Mentoring
  • Recruiting

3. Give them a strong team

One of the worst things you can do is give your new sales manager a totally inexperienced team. Resist the urge to create a new team consisting of all new hires.

Here's what I mean.

At my company, WordStream, once we have eight to 10 new salespeople onboarded, we really need to think about breaking some out into a new team. Fifteen to 20 sales reps on a team gets unmanageable (the actual number may vary in your company, but the point is that you don't want your teams to become too huge).

You probably don't want to rock the boat by breaking up existing teams that work well together. But trust me when I say it's better in the long run to avoid creating a new team out of the last 10 people you hired just because it's time to create a new team.

You need the leadership of your more experienced employees to support your sales manager in his or her role.

And that's what it's really about: supporting your sales managers, whether they're promoted from within or headhunted.

4. Offload sales training

Our sales staff essentially needs to know three things:

  • How to sell
  • How to use Salesforce
  • How to close deals

But our salespeople also need to know and understand the product they're selling. That's why we created a role to standardize the product training for all of our sales teams.

Rather than burdening a newly appointed sales manager with having to train the sales team on the product, our in-house product trainer does it. Our salespeople all learn how to sell the features and benefits of our product the exact same way.

This method is so much more efficient. New reps get one really great trainer who has given all new recruits a common experience and the same great information.

It reduces differentiation between teams, and ultimately that means a better experience for your customers, too.

This also frees up that new manager to actually focus on managing the team and performing key functions--from recruiting to mentoring to sales reporting. Crazy, I know!


Promoting employees from within can be risky. But you can help turn your top salespeople into successful managers.

Provide the tools your best people need to succeed, so they don't end up giving their best to some other company.