The allure of a management title, executive perks and authority can be very tempting to a successful salesperson. This is what can happen when their career path leads them where they weren’t expecting to go.
Eliot was a consistent top sales performer. Senior management considered him a superstar. He exceeded his quota by 20% every month, he landed some of the most difficult (and profitable) accounts, and he won the annual Top Sales Achiever award at three different companies.
After several years of stellar sales performance, executives in his division decided that Eliot was ready for the next step in his career. They promoted him to sales manager and put him over a team of 10 experienced sales reps in a fairly productive territory. Over the next 18 months, sales quota achievement and team morale systematically dropped, while customer complaints and employee turnover accelerated.
All of this was confusing to the executive team who enthusiastically supported his move into sales leadership. Most of all, Eliot was devastated. He had never experienced failure in his entire sales career, especially at this magnitude. How could such a successful salesperson go from superstar to failure in such a short time? The explanation is actually quite easy. Eliot could not make the transition from sales rep to sales coach. He was simply not hard-wired for the job.
1. Lack of patience managing sales reps
First, he lacked the patience required for the job. He would quickly grow frustrated trying to teach his salespeople how to sell. After telling (and showing) his sales reps repeatedly what to do in certain selling situations, they still couldn’t do it. They needed more time to develop their skills. He grew tired asking his salespeople over and over again why they were not meeting their quotas. His sales reps eventually gave up and tried to figure things out on their own.
2. Need to save sales when sales reps are failing
Second, he “saved” sales. When he went on a joint sales call with his sales reps to observe them in the field, he would take over the sale. He created a “parent-child dependency” with his sales reps. Rather than allowing them to fail on a sales call and learn from their experiences, Eliot regularly jumped in to save the deal.
His sales reps came to depend on his to close more and more sales – reinforcing his frustration. He closed a lot of sales, but those deals weren’t his to close. Therefore, the sales reps never learned from their mistakes or improved their performance. Instead, they needed him more and more to help them achieve quota. The sales manager dilemma.
3. Inability to coach the sales process
Third, he couldn’t break down the sales process in a way that made sense to his sales reps. Although Eliot was a great salesperson, he couldn’t articulate what exactly he did so well. He was a naturally gifted salesperson with incredible instincts. Regardless of his attempts to coach his salespeople, they never seemed to be able to grasp the concepts and practices that came so naturally to him.
After his experience of diminishing sales and losing almost half of his sales team, Eliot decided to return to his first love. He left sales management and found a position doing what he was really wired to exceed in—sales. This is not an uncommon pattern for a sales manager who is better aligned for selling than managing others.
Delivering tangible results through people is quite different than doing it on your own. Becoming overwhelmed by paperwork, escalated customer complaints, endless meetings and salesperson drama, all without the joy of landing a new customer or the pleasure of building strong customer relationships, some sales managers eventually return to their roots and become a salesperson once again.
This is not a right versus wrong decision, but one that is personal and in the best interest of the individual, their family and the company. The attractiveness of a management title, ultimately, does not outweigh the requirements of the job. In many cases, a company gets a very good salesperson on their team who possesses a strong appreciation for their sales manager.