From Player to Coach: Turning Great Salespeople into Great Sales Managers

Should you take the risk and promote your top-performing salesperson to manager?  

The stakes are high. You’re not only going to lose a great player on the field, you’re also making a bet that their outstanding current performance will translate into this new role.

The debate over whether the best salespeople will make great sales managers has been going on for decades. While in many professions, there’s often a logical career progression up the ranks to management, it’s not necessarily so clear-cut in the world of sales. 

One of the reasons is that many of the factors that make a salesperson a top performer are quite different from what it takes to be an effective sales manager. A few of those characteristics might even hamper their success as a manager. 

But maybe a more productive starting point for the conversation is to consider what makes a great sales manager in the first place. Is it micro-managing, picking up the slack, criticizing poor performance or stepping in to “fix” what’s wrong? 

Not hardly. 

And while there are certainly operational aspects to sales management—staffing, reporting, planning, budgeting and other activities—the ultimate goal for every sales manager is to make sure their salespeople are able to reach their full potential so that they can not only hit their numbers and build a strong, loyal customer base but also be more fulfilled in their work and committed to the business.

In fact, you could say that the great sales managers are those who move people from where they are today to where they want to be. 

Fittingly, that’s also one of the historical definitions of the word “coach.”

 

Why Companies Struggle to Develop Great Coaches 

In a recent Sales Management Association research report on Hiring Top Sales Management Talent, coaching ability ranked among the top five competencies companies consider when evaluating a salesperson’s qualifications for a management promotion. Considering how integral coaching is to the role, this isn’t surprising. But what’s worrying is the fact that firms in the study rated their effectiveness at developing managers’ coaching ability at only 50 on a 100-point scale. 

Where are they going off track? Well, they could be overlooking one the most important factors in coaching success.

No, it’s no some magical skill or technique. While there are some skills every sales manager needs to develop to be a successful coach, coaching ability is more than a skills issue. Values, a genuine belief in people and a desire to help them grow are often far more influential when it comes to a manager’s coaching effectiveness. 

Here’s why: When employees fail to achieve desired results, managers often assume they’ve peaked in their performance and stop challenging them to improve. Once employees discover the level of performance managers will accept, they settle in. We call this the “The Law of Limited Performance.” This limiting loop of beliefs is a self-fulfilling prophecy on both sides of the equation, and it inevitably results in lower productivity and untapped potential.

So while many companies may offer their managers training on how to coach their salespeople, if they miss this key factor, their efforts will invariably come up short.

 

Putting Values and Beliefs in Focus

Being able to run the operation is very different from having the awareness or the critical coaching capabilities to inspire team members to grow, improve and deliver what is possible. 

The question is, how do you develop this core coaching success factor? How can you improve the odds that your great salespeople—or even your great sales managers—can be fully successful in the role?

Any training that you implement should be grounded in helping managers understand and learn how to break The Law of Limited Performance, starting with their own beliefs about their role.

Self-reflection is the first step in making the shift. Here are five questions that will help them gauge their own readiness and begin to understand the mindset, values and beliefs necessary to be an effective coach:

  1. Do I believe the coaching is developing potential in people?
  2. Do I believe I have the ability to be highly successful as I coach?
  3. Do I live by and model values of integrity, honesty and sincerity?
  4. Am I willing to do all the activities required to be a successful coach?
  5. Do I have an unwavering belief in the potential of my people?

 

Coaching is as much about the manager’s own development as it is about developing the performance of their people. The good news is, developing those hi-potential players and managers into great coaches is more than worth it. A Bersin by Deloitte study found that the organizations that effectively prepare managers to coach are 130% more likely to realize stronger business results.

Here’s the even better news: It’s not just business; it’s personal. If you’ve ever had someone in your life who helped you recognize your potential and see greater possibilities, then you know the powerful difference a great coach can make. 

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Mike Fisher

Mike Fisher began his 25+ year career in sales as a college student, selling books door-to-door in the summers.  He was consistently a top salesperson among several thousand students.  Since that time, he has spent his entire career in direct sales, sales management and now for the past 14 years in sales training and consulting with Integrity Solutions.   His energetic and engaging facilitation style is filled with practical insights and ideas drawn from personal and professional experiences “in the trenches.”  Since joining Integrity Solutions in 2002 he has conducted sales and coaching training for a diverse group of clients, including Abbott Laboratories, Sanofi-Aventis, Johnson & Johnson, Coca-Cola Corporation, Gerber Life, Enterprise, First Bank of NC, BCBS-Alabama, Comcast and many more.