Eyes On The Prize

Thinking about making your top salesperson a department manager? You'd better look beyond the obvious.
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the July 1999 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Selecting a sales manager may be the second most important decision an entrepreneur will ever make, right after deciding to go it alone. Sound like an easy undertaking? It's not, because of one common misconception: The most obvious candidate--your top salesperson--isn't necessarily the right one.

Why? First, great salespeople don't necessarily make great teachers. They're often better at selling than explaining the process. "They're like baseball players who can hit but couldn't tell anyone else how to do it," says Jeffrey Fox of Fox & Co., an Avon, Connecticut, sales and marketing consulting firm.

Second, salespeople often have big egos. They love to get orders--the tougher, the better--and receive all the credit. Working behind the scenes, mentoring and explaining the process gets in the way of selling. "It's not that they're jerks," says Fox. "They just prefer to go out and sell. That's what they love to do and it's what they do best."

Bill Kelley is an Arcadia, California, business writer and former editor of Sales and Marketing Management magazine.

Best Of The Best

Instead of focusing on your best salesperson, you should look for "a student of selling," Fox says. For example, keep an eye out for a good, solid salesperson who comes to meetings prepared, is interested in sales strategies and asks questions. "You want someone who isn't afraid to ask how to overcome a specific objection or what to do in a certain situation," Fox says. "You want someone who likes learning about sales."

In addition, find someone who has an interest in long-term sales plans and strategies; look for an individual who wants to see how sales fits into the company's marketing program and its overall growth strategy. He or she should be concerned with more than just his or her territory or how an ad campaign might affect his or her sales.

Other key qualities to look for in a sales manager include:

  • A deep, sincere interest in the company. "[The best] individuals look beyond their immediate responsibilities [to the needs of the business]," says Fox.
  • The ability to work well with people on and off the sales force. He or she should be among the first to volunteer to help new salespeople and should show an interest in mentoring and leading, says Fox. "A strong sales manager will remind you of a really good teacher you had," he says. Keep in mind, top salespeople are often uncomfortable with tasks other than selling; a sales manager must be able to be at ease with all departments.
  • Good organizational skills. As a manager, he or she will have more meetings, appointments and paperwork than ever.
  • The ability to work without a lot of praise. Instead of being stroked, he or she will do the stroking. The job requires him or her to make sure others perform to the best of their ability--and to be certain others get the credit.
  • Accountability. Conversely, a sales manager should be able to take the hit when something goes wrong. "If you have a sales manager who takes responsibility for the staff's mistakes," says Fox, "the sales force will crawl through glass for him or her."
  • The ability to perform well under pressure. No other department head will be under the gun so constantly to produce results.

Outside In

The same criteria apply if the manager is coming from outside your company. If you go outside in your search, get sales numbers from candidates, and, if possible, speak to some of the people they managed. Also talk to each prospective manager's former employer and customers. And, as with any position you're trying to fill, find out the reason for the job switch.

Finally, don't rule out your top salesperson. If that individual has enough of these qualities, he or she can succeed. In fact, says Fox, there are many successful sales managers who were their company's top seller. However, he says, there is some truth to the old sales saying, "If you want to lose your best salesperson and gain a lousy manager in the process, make him or her your sales manager."

Next Step

Selling and Sales Management by Robert D. Hisrich, Ph.D., and Ralph W. Jackson, Ph.D., (Barron's Business Library) contains an explanation of what goes into being a sales manager.

Contact Source

Fox & Co., 34 Dale Rd., Avon, CT 06001, (860) 677-4318

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