Most of us are aware of the Pareto Principle. Not to be confused with the Peter Principle – where employees are promoted to their level of incompetence. The Pareto Principle is the 80/20 rule and it applies to selling in that 80% of the productivity will come from 20% of the sales people. It is from that 20% where we find a pool of candidates to promote to sales management.
This 20% is intuitively good at their job. They naturally understand the nuances of political navigation, strategic literacy, objection handling, building competitive preferences, probing for pain, and negotiating for value. However, generally speaking, the 80% do not have this intuition. They need training, coaching, messaging, and process to help them win a complex sale.
This is why I love working with new sales managers! They are fantastic practitioners of their company’s sales process, tireless workers, and can pick apart the competition with surgical precision. They also have a tremendous track record of success which provided them their opportunity for advancement. From my observations, the natural career path of most sales managers is one of internal promotion from the field.
When the 20% are promoted to manage the 80%, the process begins as such. Being the eager leaders that they are and with fresh revenue production pressures, new managers hit the ground running. Without direction to do otherwise, new managers resort to what they do best – selling. Their first instinct is to take ownership of ALLof the deals in their new territory. It is so apparent to them what needs to be done and yet their direct reports seem to be doing the wrong things. The 20% fail to understand why selling doesn’t come as intuitively to the 80% as it does to them. Oftentimes, the new sales manager takes on the mantra, “if you want something done right, you do it yourself.” After all, that attitude worked so well for them when they were a rep.
Over a short period of time, the new manager becomes the de facto new sales rep on every qualified opportunity in his/her territory. This has a terrible impact on the team because the direct reports are getting no coaching and they have been relegated to a sales assistant on their own deals. The impact is even worse on the new sales manager because eventually the enthusiasm for their new job fades into 80 hour work weeks and airport layovers. Disillusionment sets it in. They haven’t learned any new management skills but have taken on much more responsibility. They begin to wonder if they are an example of the Peter Principle.
I see this cycle in many sales organizations. A-players are recruited, promoted, burned out, and leave.
How do we break this cycle? First, it should be the company’s responsibility to bring the new sales manager into the fraternity of leadership. New sales managers need a beginner’s course for management just as they had when they became a new sales rep. Second, we need to realize the skills that make a good sales rep are not the same of a good sales manager. Good sales managers realize that they need to scale, coach, cultivate, and lead; not parachute in on every qualified opportunity. They understand that the profession of sales is more foreign to their direct reports so they document the best practices that move a sale along the process. They train their reps on how to handle a discovery call, give an effective presentation, and build a business case for their solution. Not do it for them. Good Sales managers coach every deal in their territory – they don’t cover every deal.
To answer the question, do the best sales reps make the best sales managers, the answer is yes. If new sales managers understand that they weren’t promoted to use their skills to close more deals, they were promoted to coach their direct reports on how to be more like them.