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5 min read

Should Top-Performing Reps Become Sales Managers?

Some years ago the sales manager for the automotive dealership I worked with was moving on. This was going to leave a major gap in the leadership of the team as he did a great job keeping the team-driven and focused. As time passed speculations arose as to who would be the likely candidate to take his place.
Most of us assumed that either Curtis or Nigel (not their real names) would be the best options because they always hit their numbers or were very close to it in most instances. We were extremely surprised when the announcement was made that neither of them was chosen and the new sales manager was not a top performer but performed well enough at a consistent level.
I remember having the opportunity to ask the outgoing manager, how did he and the management team come to that decision and he highlighted two things;


One of his main concerns with the two top candidates was their ability to lead the team. Lead from the standpoint or understanding that the role no longer focused on them, but more so on the team. Because of things he observed during his time managing both Curtis and Nigel, he did not believe they were the best fit for that role.

However, he noticed that Lester (his third option - also not his real name) had the knack of getting everyone involved and pulling them together. He also observed that even though Lester was not a top performer, his teammates would still go to him for advice, support and guidance in getting the job done. This to him stood out as someone that can be developed into a leadership role.
Lyndon, when your team does well it's their achievement, when they don't do well, it's your fault" - Fenwick Reid (Executive Chairman)


Team Focused

The other observation was that Lester seemed ready to accept the responsibility of team failure and mentorship more than his other two colleagues. Both Curtis and Nigel had a fixed focus on individual achievement which he felt was fine and an asset to the team and company. However, it was not what was required for the role of a sales leader.

I remember some years after in another position Mr Fenwick Reid, CEO of Massy Technologies InfoCom (Trinidad) Ltd. at the time said to me, "Lyndon, when your team does well it's their achievement, when they don't it's your fault". He reiterating the importance of my role as sales manager and who would be the first person held accountable for poor performance. If that's not a responsibility you think you can handle, then you will need to reconsider the position you are in.
These two points stood out to me a lot and as I moved through different companies I saw similar choices being made at different levels which led me to believe that top performers do not always make good sales managers/leaders. 
But, what if a top performer wants to transition to the role of the sales manager?
Should they be overlooked? The short answer is "NO".
Although I have not seen it and most experts have indicated that it's not the best approach, it does not mean that it cannot happen. Here are a couple of things that can help top performers transitioning to a leadership role.

1. Leadership

An assessment should be done with this person assessing his/her leadership capabilities. This will help set the stage for the type of development plan the company has to put them on.

2. Middle Management Leadership Training

This is extremely important as it relates to the development of both the manager and the team. Top performers often have a singular focus which is on their numbers, commissions, etc. Bringing that mindset into a team has its pros and cons and mostly the cons prevail. This can lead to a drop in performance in the team and possibly attrition.
Just look at Brian Lara & The West Indies
I've learned never to use a broad brush on anything as it relates to people, there will always be that one person that stands out by balancing their goals and ambitions with that of managing a team. Companies can and should give a top performer an opportunity to grow as a manager but never think that because they are leaders in sales it would mean that they would be great at managing. A good example of this is Brian Lara's performance or success as a captain of the West Indies team.
Shelve the ego!
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Lastly, top performers really wanting to make this transition must understand two things.
1. The first is their income: Top performers in some instances stand to make much more than their managers. While managers do have attractive packages, it's the sales professionals that tend to walk away with the suitcase of cash. Managers driven by money do not always do the best jobs and tend to sometimes compete with their reps on deals.
2. The second being their ego: The feeling of being number one is great but now it's about getting other people to that level and taking the responsibility or embarrassment of failure on your shoulders.
Building a high performing team takes patience, time, strategy, selflessness, and most importantly commitment. Once you have those attributes, then you are ready for a great career as a sales leader.
Have you had any experience of a top performer becoming a great manager? I would love to get your feedback in the comments.
Founder | Lead Consultant of OPAAT-SWY Consulting Ltd.