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The Perils of Promoting Your Best Salesperson

Your ace salesperson thinks he's ready for the next level, but you know better. Here's what to do.

"Building a Winning Sales Management Team"


Your best salesperson has it. It’s why he leads the company in every individual metric. It’s also why he aspires to become an executive.

Which puts you in a bind. “Too often, when a super-salesperson gets promoted to manager, one or more of the following happens,” report the authors of Building a Winning Sales Management Team in the Harvard Business Review. “He expects everyone to produce the same results that he got as a salesperson, but isn’t good at coaching and giving people constructive feedback on how to get there. He avoids administrative responsibilities. He becomes frustrated by the many routine but important tasks that headquarters requires of him.”

So how do you avoid this bind? Four quick tips.

1. Advanced Screening.
Boston Scientific, the medical device company, has a formal program for developing sales managers, according to the HBR authors. The program “tests and trains candidates on competencies such as coaching, performance management, interviewing, and negotiation.” In other words, the program allows Boston Scientific to see which salespersons have managerial skills.

2. Coaching. On TechCrunch.com, Scott Weiss, former CEO of IronPort Systems, suggests providing a “sponsoring executive” who will meet weekly with your promoted sales star and “do frequent check-ins with peers and subordinates in almost a constant 360 degree-feedback loop.” The sales star learns what he’s doing right and wrong and receives guidance on how to improve.

3. Dual career tracks. Don’t make promotions a zero-sum game, where — unless your sales stars become executives — they’ll feel as if their careers are stagnating. Cardinal Health, for example, has “a formal career road map for both management and individual contributor roles,” report the HBR authors. The idea is simple: Give your stars a chance to keep rising without requiring them to become managers.

4. Discuss it. “Sometimes, just talking to the individual about what the manager role entails and what it takes to succeed in the job are enough to encourage an unsuitable candidate to withdraw from consideration on her own,” write the HBR authors.

And yes — all of this requires some extra effort by your leadership team. But that, says, Weiss, is just the price of retaining high achievers. “I know this all sounds like a ton of work,” he writes on TechCrunch. “But some people are just that special and totally worth it.”

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And if you don’t promote your best salesperson? The fear, of course, is that he’ll jump to your competition -- and take a chunk of your annual revenues with him.

To get over this fear, you need to make sure your customers’ loyalties lie with the company, rather than the salesperson.

“After all, the salesperson doesn't create the product or service, and if the customer needs help after the sale, the salesperson is not the one who can provide it,” writes Norm Brodsky in Inc.

“If customers have relationships with people throughout the business and truly understand what everyone contributes, salespeople will have a much harder time taking those accounts with them when they leave.”

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