"Don't Let Your Top Salespeople Leave. Give Them a Track to Promotion" - 20/10/21 Edition
Stephen Says Column

Dear Stephen, 

I'm the Vice President of Sales at a manufacturer. We make office furniture that is sold through dealers and specified primarily by the A&D community. For many years, we've had a lot of excellent salespeople whose long term goals were to rise up through the ranks of sales to become a regional manager or sales director and, ultimately, to have a job like mine.  When they did not see that career track they left for our competition.

I know how it feels to start out as a sales rep, raise up through the ranks to become a sales manager and then ultimately to be promoted to the VP Sales position. It sounds like kind of a natural progression – but it really isn’t, because when I was coming up in the ranks, the philosophy was that the best salespeople did not make the best managers. It's a philosophy that is extremely pervasive in our industry. I now see that way of thinking as old fashioned.

The tradition in our industry has been that if someone is consistently a great “individual producer” with strong customer relationships, a company does not want to lose them in that role. These individuals are so talented with developing new business that as a company we don't invest enough time in training these salespeople to become managers or give them the skill-set they need to be promoted. In other words, we fail to train our best salespeople to become the next generation of sales leaders. Often there is more to it than just our ability to train them, sometimes it is the way they're compensated; meaning that since they are so highly incentivized to sell more, (especially in major markets like San Francisco, Charlotte, NC, New York City or Dallas) they're able to make more money as an individual producer than as a manager. Whereas if they were to become managers, often they would have to take on more work and more travel for less money. Despite the compensation, people always want to see growth in their own careers and not just more money, so these great employees often leave us to achieve leadership responsibility elsewhere.

Recently, I've come to the realization that our best salespeople can make the best managers because, today, companies like mine are looking for managers that can roll up their sleeves to build and maintain relationships with our customers. Where I work, we are now less focused on "process" managers and more focused on managers who can lead by example and have existing relationships with customers just like their salespeople. Do you see this happening? What do you think of this hypothesis? Today, I am definitely looking to promote my best salespeople and grow them into managers and I wanted to share my thoughts with you. 


Come Work For Me


 Dear Mr. Manager, 

What you are describing, in terms of the next generation of regional managers, is exactly what our customers that we recruit for tell us that they are looking for!

While process management skills are important, or else a sales division or company can fall into chaos, for too long we've seen process managers, particularly in our industry, bury themselves in process and lose track of who the company's customer is.

These days, manufacturers, dealers and their respective HR departments explain to us that when they are hiring for any type of sales manager position, (and I mean whether the manager is local, regional or national), they are looking for sales leaders who have relationships equal to their best salespeople. To which I usually respond: “So why not promote and train your best salespeople?".

Gone are the days where a sales manager comes to town to work with a salesperson in the field, merely for the salesperson to introduce you, the manager, to the customer. While managers will still work with you and go on presentations, it is expected now that that manager has an equal level relationship to that customer. They are not there to be a token introduction, rather, they should be taking on equal levels of responsibility towards liaising with your customers.

That manager should be helping to close the deal, utilizing not only the salesperson's relationship with the customer but also theirs.

So how do we promote our best sales people? It starts by observing and recognizing the best sales talent in the department, meanwhile training them not only on their selling skills but also their management and leadership skills from Day 1. It also comes from dually incentivizing sales managers for accounts that they actually bring in and work with, just like a salesperson. The irony of this scenario is that furniture dealers do it all the time. Most good furniture dealers have sales managers that have accounts and lead by example. So, yes, in my opinion, manufacturers should be doing more of the same thing. Human resources departments at manufacturers understand this keenly. 

Nowadays, when a company calls us to buy a search for a national or regional sales leader, we always encourage them to examine their internal sales organization for their top sales people. To me, the best salesperson (with no management experience) can very often be trained to be a better manager in your organization than someone who is hired from outside. Secondly, promoting from within is always good for company morale and for human resources, since it shows  employees that they can have a long term, blossoming career within your company.

Far too often we hear from employees who want to leave their company because they don't see any potential growth. Don't let your top salesperson leave your organization, taking their business relationships with them to become a sales manager at a competitor because you were too dumb to give them a promotion! It's as simple as that. 


Stephen Viscusi

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