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Star Search

A stellar salesperson does not a stellar sales manager make. So . . . who does?

In assembling an ace sales team, you promoted your finest salesperson to sales manager. She's smart and assertive, and unfailingly gets clients to sign on the dotted line. Fast forward several months: That employee is threatening to quit, morale is hovering around zilch, and you're dazed from the fallout. What went wrong?

"It's rare that a superstar salesperson makes a good sales manager," says Herb Greenberg, co-author of How to Hire and Develop Your Next Top Performer: The Five Qualities That Make Salespeople Great (McGraw-Hill). The "blood running down their chin" drive of top sales performers isn't what makes a great leader, he adds. "Think of the biggest sports stars. How many have gone on to become great coaches? Not many."

That's because the skill sets for each role are different. Super closers are motivated by their egos, which help them deal with rejection while simultaneously pushing forward. They also have a thrill for the chase and the high of closing a big deal, and a restlessness that keeps them in motion, not sitting around cubicles. But put those people behind desks, reading reports and delegating closes to others, and they become ineffectual mopes.

"I see salespeople get promoted to positions of authority because they were star performers," notes Jennifer White, author of Drive Your People Wild Without Driving Them Crazy (Capstone/Wiley & Sons). "They really liked being the superstar, but the natural progression is to climb the corporate ladder. So they do, and they're miserable because of it."

Qualities of a Successful Salesperson
Is aggressive
Is a winner
Is personable
Can prioritize
Is product-smart
Is a good listener

Qualities of a Successful Sales Manager
Gets things done through others
Hires effectively
Is company-focused
Has no knee

Your ideal sales manager may not be a current employee. "It's better to look outside the company for new talent," says Stephan Schiffman, president of D.E.I. Management Group, a sales training company in New York City that has worked with more than 500,000 sales professionals since 1979. "Outside hires bring fresh ideas to an organization. In the highly competitive world of sales, this is key."

When you search for new sales manager talent, look for these indicators of future failure or success:

Enormous egos need not apply. The sales manager's job is to motivate, not overwhelm. "Never hire a sales manager with a big ego," says White, "because it'll bite you every time."

Experience counts. Find someone who can get up to speed right away. "Don't hire someone thinking you'll train them," White says. "You won't. You don't have time for it."

Look for leadership and mentoring skills. "A good manager has lots of patience and follow-through ability," counsels Greenberg.

Company fit. Seek out a manager comfortable in an entrepreneurial environment. White suggests asking prospects how they handle chaos and a fast-moving organization.

Details, details. Managers are responsible for running reports and knowing how to analyze outcomes. Says White, "Hire someone who understands the numbers and can drive the right results."

Ability to delay gratification. Sales is about the immediate yes. Sales management is about mentoring, supporting and cajoling until you get it.


Kimberly McCall is president of McCall Media & Marketing, a business communications company in Freeport, Maine.

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This article was originally published in the August 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Star Search.

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