Recently, I came across an article that took a shot at the sales profession.  Sadly, that’s not all that unusual, given all of the misinformation and personal prejudice about the profession.  The article took a direct shot at the managerial skills of salespeople, as this quote states: “When salespeople become managers, they often do a horrible job.” That’s quite a statement!  It was followed by this:

“Top-performing salespeople get promoted to become sales managers, but don’t actually know how to manage. The result is a disaster—productivity takes a dive, disgruntled salespeople start heading for the door, and the new managers themselves burn out.”

That sound you just heard was the sound of me groaning.  The funny thing is this: The writer, with an obvious bias against salespeople, almost got it right.  He just needed to remove the word “sales,” and in two places replace it with the word, “people.”  Watch how it reads now:

“Top-performing people get promoted to become managers, but don’t actually know how to manage. The result is a disaster—productivity takes a dive, disgruntled people start heading for the door, and the new managers themselves burn out.”

Now we have ourselves a BLArticle®!  It’s a plotline that has played out for decades and it continues. Top performers, possessing powerful skills that have allowed them to excel, are tapped to become managers based on production… but not necessarily leadership skills.  That wouldn’t be so terrible if these new managers were actually trained as managers and taught leadership skills.  That is rarely the case, and basic management survival skills, which are not instinctive, are lost.

The real irony is that the performance skills that made these people successful are often “unconsciously competent” skills. This means that the new manager is often unaware of the how he or she has been able to achieve this success, and therefore, is unable to transfer these skills to others.  This leaves us with top-performers, with no management or leadership skills, unable to transfer the skillset that got them promoted in the first place.  No wonder they burn themselves out!

The good news is that the solution is not all that complicated.  Please note: I do not believe that training can solve everything, but in this case, it’s the perfect solution.  Not all training programs provide a standard set of skills, but for this scenario, the more generic, the better.  That’s because many management skills, like giving recognition, delegating, and improving job performance, are fairly generic by nature.

The key, however, is to merge these generic skills to real-world scenarios, and not only role-play, but allow the participants to set up actual, real-life applications.  I prefer programs that allow participants to master one set of skills at a time in training, apply these skills outside of training, return at another date for feedback, and work on another set of skills.  That means a commitment to multiple program deliveries over a shorter period of time.  That also means new managers can immediately apply, and receive, feedback on the skills they are mastering.

The real mockery of calling out salespeople and claiming they make horrible managers is that, in fact, the complete opposite is true.  When I was trained as a management trainer, we were taught a total of 25 different management skills.  The one skill that was missing was how to sell, or as I’ve always defined it, “how to take your idea, plant that idea in someone else’s brain, and make them feel as if they thought of it.”  That could just be the most critical skill to possess, and one of the most difficult skills to teach!  Guess who shows up with that particular skill already mastered?  Salespeople!

So, let’s stop being so negative about salespeople, like using ridiculous stereotypes, followed by misinformation, and let’s remember this:  If you want to reward performance with a promotion to management, don’t forget the training that is required.  This will save your top employees, and it will save the people these top employees have been tasked to manage.



  • Don’t forget to make sure your local Barnes & Nobel or FedEx is carrying Why People Don’t Believe You, and while you’re at it, pick up a copy!

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