Why Great Salespeople Don't Always Make Great Sales Managers


Could anyone coach Michael Jordan to fly like that?

I've spent most of the past 20 years working directly with the sales organization in a Fortune 100 company. I've noticed a practice that makes perfectly logical sense, but often fails. It's the promoting of the best salespeople into the sales manager role.

Promotion within companies is a form of reward for success. Sales leadership often has the thought the if they could just have that great salesperson replicate their success with others, good things will happen. Then, they often don't.

Sports is replete with examples of great players who failed miserably as coaches. Here's a fantastic list of great players who were epic failures as coaches from NBC Sports. Meanwhile, role players have become some of history's greatest sports coaches. Coaches like Tom Landry, Phil Jackson, and Pat Riley all had lack-luster playing careers, but became Hall-of-Fame coaches.

The question is why are great players (and salespeople) less successful coaches (managers), while middle-of-the-road players (and sales people) are some of the best coaches (managers)?

I have a working theory about this. There are two kinds of players and salespeople. There are the "the naturals" - those with natural gifts that just make them great. Then there "the workers" - these are the people who have to work their hard to make their quota.

The naturals never had to break down what it takes to become a great hitter or a great sales manager. It comes natural to them and they "just do it." The workers spend their playing or sales careers learning every angle of the game to try to gain some advantage and allow them to compete.

The Hall-of-Fame baseball player George Brett has credited the late Charley Lau with coaching him into the hitter he became. Lau was a below average major league hitter, but he was able to guide Brett into becoming a HOF hitter.

If you asked LeBron James or Michael Jordan or Barry Sanders, "How do you do what you do?"  They'd probably shrug their shoulders and say something like, "I just do it."

Charley Lau and Tom Landry were never that guy. They had to break down the game into digestible pieces just to play it. That made them uniquely qualified to help others break it down for players and coach them.

What does the average sales team look like? On a team of 10, hopefully you have one superstar; two if you're lucky. You have two or three good performers. They make quota most of the time with a little guidance. Then you have half a team of people who either have to work really hard at it to make quota or are low performers.

The natural who has been promoted to sales manager tends to go with Ra-ra speeches. Because he or she was a great salesperson, they just needed to be pointed in the right direction. They high-five a lot with their superstars because they "get them." They deal with the good performers because they need them. They're baffled by half their team because they need coaching and they have no idea how to break down what they did as salespeople and transmit it.

Meanwhile, the person who had to struggle as a salesperson understands all the steps it takes to achieve sales success. They note the one thing the great salesperson could be doing even better to take them to the next level. They know how to coach the good performers toward greatness. They identify with the rest of the team. They don't give up or become frustrated with them. They work with those willing to learn and help move them toward being a good performer.

If you look at those two scenarios (and I know there are always exceptions), who is going to have a higher performing team in a year?

Coaching greatness comes from a better understanding of the steps necessary for everyone to get better. Naturals never had to consider all those things themselves and have a hard time becoming teachers since their success was based on instincts and skills their lower performers cannot readily copy.

Am I saying you should never promote your high-performers to sales manager or that average sales people always make great sales managers? Obviously not. I am saying this is a thought process you should consider when hiring sales managers. How good is the candidate at breaking down the sales game and translating it to others who need that coaching?

Michael Jordan couldn't teach others to sail through the air, but a good coach can teach anyone to score and sell.

Ray Davis
The Affirmation Spot

Ray Davis is the Founder of The Affirmation Spot and co-founder of 6 Sense Media. He’s been writing, recording, and using affirmations for 30 years. He's also the author of Anunnaki Awakening. He's been in B2B sales and sales training for 25 years, writing sales courses and curricula at Fortune 100 company.

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