Should You Promote Your Best Salespeople to Management?

Traits of a Good Sales Manager

We’ve seen it happen time and again: firms are wowed by their top sales performers and all rational thought gets thrown to the wind. These are the salespeople who have little concept of quotas; they push and push until their numbers, placements, and billings are towering over the rest of your sales team. You can’t help but be impressed and inspired.

They get promoted. And then the unexpected happens: these astonishingly high-performing sales-oriented workhorses get stuck in a rut. As a salesperson they excelled. As a sales manager they struggle. It’s all too common of a story.

So, which salespeople actually make the best sales managers? Here are six traits you should look out for.

1. Big Picture Perspective

Your typical salesperson is consumed by quotas and numbers. They are laser-focused on each individual client in their network. They know exactly where they rank against the rest of the salespeople in your organization.

But for a strong sales manager, success is about more than numbers and granular details.

They have to be able to see the big picture. They should understand the sales lifecycle and how that has the potential to affect the pendulum swing of numbers from month to month. They should be attuned to how the energy of their team ebbs and flows in correlation with those lifecycles. They should easily perceive patterns in month-over-month and year-over-year performance and be able to predict future patterns accordingly.

Only when they possess this big picture perspective can they effectively guide their sales team along the path to success.

2. Team Oriented Approach

Similarly, in a management position, a salesperson has to be able to step out of the inclination to focus solely on themselves. Sales managers must be team players by nature.

One of the most important aspects of leading a team is earning the trust of those team members. That takes transparency, integrity, and empathy. A strong leader should be comfortable getting in the trenches with the team to get the work done.

Empowerment is also critical in motivating team members. Essentially, this is the opposite of micro-management; trusting and allowing salespeople to make their own decisions about how they work to achieve success. Although parameters and feedback are equally important, there is a fine balance that only the best sales managers know how to maintain.

3. Teaching Skills

You’ve probably known salespeople who are absolutely outstanding at their jobs, consistently exceeding sales goals and ranking first every year. But when it comes to asking them about their strategy, they can’t easily explain how they do it. It’s a mystery to them. It’s almost supernatural.

It should come as no surprise that these types of salespeople don’t usually make good sales managers. No matter how good they are at selling, if they can’t teach how they do it, the people they try to teach won’t be able to achieve the same outcome.

Consequently, firms should be aware that the best managers aren’t always the best sales reps. Instead, they should show signs of being able to coach and guide a team towards success, clearly explaining and teaching effective tactics and strategies while providing valuable feedback along the way.

4. Interpersonal Skills

Great communication skills are non-negotiable in a successful sales manager. Communication is the foundation to building solid relationships, illustrating key sales strategies, and cultivating positive team morale.

The interesting part about these soft skills is that they look different in each person. While it’s often accepted that some of the best salespeople are extroverts, the same does not hold true for sales managers, where introspection can often be a valuable trait that supports effective communication.

Beyond communication, a sales manager should be adept at building enthusiasm, even in the face of challenges. A positive attitude can be infectious, not to mention a key element to motivating a team.

5. Natural Ambition

The absolute worst case scenario for promoting a salesperson to a manager is when there doesn’t seem to be a better alternative. They get the position because no one else is willing or able. In this situation, the manager is almost always void of ambition, which ultimately means they are under-equipped to actually lead a team to success. We trust you know better than that, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t seen it happen.

As a salesperson, they may not have always achieved the number one ranking but that doesn’t mean a sales manager shouldn’t be competitive. Drive and ambition are what fuels an individual to meet goals, and whether it’s for themselves or for the team, that fuel is essential. Ambition is complemented by a great work ethic. These people aren’t clock-watchers. They do what it takes to get the job done, but also know how to combat burnout.

One last essential note here – many salespeople are monetarily ambitious, but depending on the firm’s compensation structure, it’s rare that managers will earn more commissions than a salesperson. This means a successful sales manager must be willing to take the sacrifice to their personal income in favor of team-oriented goals. It’s a big step, but if they are motivated by more than money,  their ambition should serve them well.

6. Attitude of Growth

We’ve all seen certain people who get completely dejected by failure. It mentally and emotionally paralyzes them. This lack of resilience is a recipe of disaster in a sales manager.

Instead, promote the salespeople who thrive under pressure and strive to overcome challenges. They are the problem solvers, the ones who love to learn. The best sales managers are the ones who believe wholeheartedly that failures are opportunities for growth.

Furthermore, today’s organizational environment is one with a rapidly evolving marketplace, dependent upon technological breakthroughs, shifting consumer habits, and the increasingly challenging talent shortage. The ability to adapt is a critical ingredient for  the ability to lead a team through every possible situation.

Should You Promote Your Salespeople?

Ideally, these six traits should make it clear in your mind exactly which salespeople on your team would perform well as a sales manager. This foundation of characteristics sets the stage for your managers to lead a team to great heights. In addition, personnel fitting this profile will  successfully leverage the tools and resources you provide them, such as job boards, social networks, ATS’s, and sales intelligence tools like ours at DiscoverOrg.

Individual Contributor or Sales Manager? See What Tools are Driving Efficiency and Revenue.Download the 2015 TOPO Sales Technology Report Today!


Steven is responsible for Enterprise Sales at DiscoverOrg. Steve has grown with DiscoverOrg with positions in Research, more