When Sales Promotions Don’t Work Out

10 Sep

So often you hear of sales people failing to make the grade after being promoted.  Why is this?  Are sales people simply not cut out for more senior positions?  Are the skills that make a sales rep. shine no longer valid as the promotions come?

Over the years I have witnessed sales people struggle mightily after promotions.  Usually they don’t fail, but they are not able to make the same outstanding contributions as a manager as they did as a sole contributor.  To understand this you should first think through how the roles change from sales rep. to field sales manager, to regional Director/VP.

Sales Representatives – The core them of any sales position is making the sale.  While each industry commands different responsibilities and practices, the primary focus is common to all – to successfully complete the sales.  This includes;

  • Making initial contact with prospects, qualifying prospects.
  • Meeting with prospects to identify, understand and seek concurrence of prospect needs AND the implications of not addressing those needs.
  • Maintaining continuous communication with prospects throughout their buying process, while building a coaching network.
  • Continuing to pursue the sale in the face of rigorous resistance.
  • Identifying & communicating the benefits of addressing the prospect’s needs to decision makers and key influencers.
  • Closing the sale.

So along comes the first promotion…field sales manager.  So the refined skills that made the sales rep. a stand out are a good basis to work from but look how the job changes.

Field Sales Manager – The theme of this position is driving the team to sell.  The sales manager cannot personally ensure goal attainment, they must reach goals through the efforts of others.  The first level sales manager is a player coach.  The best usually invest about 30% of their time helping close the most valuable prospects, and then invest 70% of their efforts ensuring that the team results are maximized.  This job is very complex.  It is most natural for a newly promoted sales person to mismanage their time.  They may very well spend 70% of their time helping close business and only 30% of their time developing the team.  This will most often result in a sales plateau.  So in addition to the skills listed for sales rep the sales manager has additional skills required,

  • Concern for Order – Like Stephen Covey documents in his 7 Habits book it is very easy for the manager to run from task to task trying to meet all due dates while investing what little time is left helping close business.  An effective manager will arrange their calendar to ensure they are spending time with all team members.  Maybe not equally the team results will drive more success than the manager’s personal sales contribution.
  • Coaching and developing others – This is more difficult than it sounds.  Many of the skills that made them successful as a sales rep have moved from conscious efforts to subconscious habits.  It is a difficult transition to move from doing to helping others do.
  • Creating & maintaining effective work teams.  This includes internal team members as well as collaborating with other symbiotic departments.

Okay, let’s say our candidate is an incredibly entrepreneurial and is able to make the transition from rep to sales manager.  What’s next?  Regional Director/VP.

Regional Director/VP – The core theme changes from driving a team to sell, to managing a larger organization.  The job has taken a turn towards analytical thinking, matching resources to potential, creating efficient infrastructures of materials and organizational resources to support the regional sales efforts.  The RVP does not create the sales strategy, but uses their skills to ensure execution of the plan.  The RVP must communicate upwards to clearly and honestly keep senior management appraised on forecasts, product and customer input.  Additionally the entire region looks to this person as the Company’s idea of how they define leadership.

  • Analytical Thinking – The RVP must be able to rise above the level of any one particular customer or prospect.  They must look at the sales pipeline as an aggregate indication of the effectiveness of all teams.  They must be able to translate pipeline analytics into action plans including training, product/service redefinition and as a tool to coach & develop their sales managers.
  • Using Business Expertise – By now the successful incumbent has accumulated enough industry, product and customer experience to understand not only what the sales pipeline looks like…but is able to anticipate what it should look like and is able to formulate tactical plans to guide the regional to sales plan attainment.
  • Enabling the team – The incumbent is accountable to communicate to senior management exactly what is needed in order to make plan.  When sales teams face obstacles they rely on the RVP to identify & acquire resources to help them overcome these roadblocks.
  • Training and developing people – The RVP must make themselves accountable not just to their direct report’s development, but for every member of the regional sales team.  Keeping up routine inspection of individual, team and regional pipelines can help the RVP see trends.

So why do people struggle as they move along this track?  Well, I’ve worked within some very large sales organizations and made it to top sales officer.  From my perspective the failure of people falls on the shoulders of their employer.  Field sales is one of the only departments where you sit miles away from your boss.  You do not get the daily coaching sessions.  The accidental conversations that take place in the hallways simply never occur in field sales.  To make matters worse I have not seen leadership training offered to newly promoted sales managers.  There are not training courses on how to interpret the sales pipeline.  How to create developmental action plans around the analytics of the pipeline.  We do a disservice to the organizations most valuable commodity…people.  Not only do we leave the newly promoted manager swinging in the wind…but we withhold excellent leadership from the sales people who depend upon their manager to help them succeed.

I know this is ending up in a rant…but if you want different results perhaps you need to do things differently.

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One Response to “When Sales Promotions Don’t Work Out”

  1. Christian Maurer September 11, 2009 at 6:47 am #

    I fully agree with your analysis. However I would like to let you know, that the trainings you suggest do exist Please contact me if you want to know more.

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