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  • Nick Nichols

Develop From Within, Don't Just Promote


As an extended thought from my blog, The Voodoo of Sales Leadership, a few weeks ago, I want to emphasize that I am very much a proponent of promoting from within. I was simply making a point that promoting your top salesperson was not an automatic win…if a win at all.

My entire career, I have believed in promoting from within before resorting to going outside for talent, but there was always one caveat. You have to be willing to invest in your people in order to develop their leadership and management skills before you promote them. We train our salespeople before we give them a territory, so why wouldn’t we train our sales managers before we give them a team? Instead, as virtually everyone already knows, most sales organizations take one of their best salespeople, promote them and tell them to go manage. The thought process here is simple. They can automatically duplicate their success with the rest of their team. Even if that were to work, it’s not effectively managing the team. This blog is not about leadership development or sales management training. It’s about selecting the right individual from your sales team to develop.

Every sales team is different, but if you have a sales team of 10 people, two of them are probably superstars, two of them probably need to be on PIPs (Performance Improvement Plans) and the other six are quota producers, or for lack of a better description, doing their jobs. Some are a little above average; some are a little below average but all six accept the accountability of the job and meet at least minimum expectations. This team needs a new team captain, so who do you choose?

Let’s start with a pretty obvious “process of elimination”.

● The 2 PIP candidates are automatically eliminated. They probably shouldn’t still be on the team much longer, much less leading it…even if they were capable.

● We would also likely eliminate the bottom 3 quota producers. They likely don’t have the skills or are not ready. Plus, the other reps would eat them alive, destroying the productivity of the team.

That leaves the top 5 reps on the team. Now you have to evaluate the most important attribute for the right candidate: desire to lead. Not everyone actually wants the responsibility of coaching and developing our salespeople, taking on their issues and then accepting the accountability to the rest of the organization. The one thing you can be sure of is that if someone doesn’t absolutely want it, they will never be truly successful managing a sales team. Let’s go back to our process of elimination.

● We would all hope that one of our top producers would want the job, but statistically that doesn’t usually happen. Every great sales team needs superstars that just want to be left alone, to a certain degree, to sell and make money. They make up for the underperformers so we can still make our numbers as a team. Also, there is a good chance that the management position could end up being a pay cut for your superstars. On the other hand, if one of them has the desire to be a leader, they will make the trade-off and ask for it. I certainly did. For the sake of this exercise, we will assume that is not the case.

● That leaves us with the remaining 30% of our team, the above average Quota Producers. You can almost always find that one rep that has excellent sales skills, is already helping his team regularly in some way, is focused on building his career and would welcome the chance at promotion. This is the person you want to invest in.

Choose wisely, however, the work is just beginning. Unless you are part of a large company with a Key Talent Program to develop potential leaders, you have some developmental work to do. As I said earlier, this is not about what methodology you use to develop and train your managers, but the key takeaway here is that you do it!

With that said, I would like to close with a “Best Practice” for getting your new Sales Manager on the right track. I assume most of us use some type of Quarterly Goals and Objectives (Gs & Os) for all our people to drive the right behavior and direction for our entire sales team. If not, then that is a topic we can deal with on another day. However, assuming you do, the best way to get your New Manager off to a good start is coaching him through developing the Gs & Os for his new team for the first time and making sure he understands how they tie to his, and ultimately, tie to yours. Everyone must be accountable for their role. Empower him to lead his team and accept that accountability with confidence and pride in his new role.

Congratulations! You just made a huge impact on your team and helped a new leader start his leadership career in the best possible way. Great Job!

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