Losing Your Highest Performing Salesperson!

No one wants to lose their highest performing sales people.  Ideally, we do everything we can to keep them challenged, excited, motivated, and contributing.  Often, if we think they are in danger of being wooed away to a competitor or another job, we’ll look at adjusting compensation, incentives or other things.  We do whatever we can to retain these high performers.

Yet there is one hugely stupid mistake we make that causes us to lose too many of our top performers.

We promote them into sales management!

If I had a nickel for every time I saw this happen………  (well you know the rest).

Sales Performers vs. Leaders

Somehow we have the mistaken impression that top sales performers make great leaders.  After all, if they consistently close deals, and make their own numbers, moving them up should enable them to do that with the team.

Too often, what happens is devastating.  These top individual contributors are terrible managers and leaders.  They continue to try to do what made them great as individual contributors, inflicting this on the team. What happens is performance plummets.  The newly minted sales manager fails, many of the people on the team may be upset and leave.  On top of that, we’ve lost our top performing individual contributor!

It’s a double Whammy!  A disaster!

It’s critical to recognize, the job of a front line sales leader is different from that of an individual contributor!  Being a great sales person, most often, is not the critical success factor in being a great sales leader.

As individual contributors, our top performers get things done through their customers.  They are masters of finding great opportunities, working with the customer, creating great value, competing fiercely, and getting the order.

But that’s not the sales manager’s job.  Sales manager’s aren’t accountable for getting the order.  That’s the responsibility of their people.  The sales manager has to get things done through their people.  They have to maximize the performance of each person on the team, making sure each person can hit their numbers and achieve their goals.

Managers do this by making sure they have the right people in the right roles.  They provide the systems, process, training, tools and programs that enable their people to do their jobs.  They do everything they can to remove the roadblocks to their people’s success.  Then they coach incessantly, helping their people learn, develop, improve.

Different Skill Sets

What it takes to be a top performing sales person and what it takes to be a top performing front line sales leader is different!  Sure, every sales manager needs to leverage their rich experience as individual contributors.  It helps them understand and empathize with what their people are doing.  It helps them be more effective in coaching and developing their people.

But the behaviors, attitudes, skills, competencies, and experiences critical for being a top sales leader are very different from those of a top individual contributor.  We need to match the people we put into sales management roles with those things, not just their past performance as individual contributors.

Losing a top performer is tragic.  Losing a top performer by moving them into a management role they can’t fulfill is stupidity.

Afterword:  Over the next few weeks, I will be focusing many of my posts on Front Line Sales Leaders.  Hopefully, I’ll whet your appetites to learn much more. My book, the Sales Manager Survival Guide launched this month.  In the book, I’ll do a very deep dive into every aspect of being a top performing Front Line Sales Leader.  Over the past 9 months, I’ve been obsessed with sharing my experience and what I’ve learned from my clients and colleagues, writing at every free moment.  I’m really excited about the book and the early feedback I’ve received.

david-brockStay tuned for more information about what’s in the book, some special resources that will be available at the web site, and more.

David Brock is president of Partners in EXCELLENCE, a management consulting firm focused on sales productivity, channel development, strategic alliances and more. Read more of his blogs here.

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1 Comment


    Amy Katz:

    David – I could not agree more. I have had this conversation so many times. A great sales person is a great sales person. Perhaps they have the skill set to be a great sales manager too. But it’s so important to understand their skill set and their aspirations. A lot of sales people love owning their market, and being tied to their budget. They have no desire to move up into management, but many times, they are pushed that direction because of lofty financials and the resume building aspect of the move. My mom always says ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ If you have a fantastic sales person, let them shine and enjoy the ride. Thanks for your contribution to ChannelE2E, ABK

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