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It is a common practice among organizations to promote top performers in their workforce to senior positions while simultaneously eliminating non-performers. This trend has led people to believe that can start at the entry level and rise through the ranks to the highest possible position based on their performance. While this approach is applicable to some jobs types, the notion that a person can perform well in a senior position because they performed well in a lower position is a subject of ongoing debate. The debate is especially pronounced when the positions of a salesperson and a sales manager are under consideration. More often than not, organizations, including well-established ones promote their salespeople to management positions based on their performance in their previous job designations. While the trend is plausible, it leaves experts questioning the wisdom of such organizations. This essay concerns itself with addressing a question that lingers on the minds of many people with regards to this issue. Does a successful salesperson become a successful sales manager by default? The essay addresses this question by comparing and contrasting the attributes of successful salespersons and successful sales managers with the intent of evaluating whether it is the similarities or differences that carry more weight.
Many people consider the job of a salesperson to be closely related or even similar to that of a sale manager. It is easy to make the assumption that sales managers do the same work as salespersons, only that they do it at a higher level. Contrary to this assumption, this notion is untrue. The two positions share only a few similarities as discussed below.
The first similarity between the qualities that make a good sales manager and a salesperson is that they both must possess a strong ego drive (Chitwood par. 12, 19). Both positions require a strong personality, which enables the concerned individual to handle the processes and activities involved in their job with confidence. The strong ego drive, however, works differently for each job category. It gives the sales manager the ability to manage effectively and guide the team of salespeople assigned to them with confidence (Chitwood par. 19). For the salesperson, the ego drive gives them a high sense of self-worth, which enables them to interact freely with people of from all walks of life (Chitwood par. 12). Thus, although both good sales managers and salespeople possess a strong ego it serves them differently.
The second similarity between the two job designations is that both are result oriented. Chitwood (par. 1) notes that the toughest job in the business realm is that of a frontline sales manager. This argument stems from the idea that in sales management, the success of one’s work is pegged solely on the results they deliver. There is absolutely no middle ground on the issue because once the organization sets a target, the manager and their team either reaches the target or he does not. The same circumstances surround the work of a salesperson. They are evaluated based on their ability to meet set targets. Therefore, a good sales manager has to be result oriented. Similarly, a good salesperson is always result oriented. However, like in the first example, the measurement of results in the two job designations differs. A sales manager enhances results by encouraging and guiding people to deliver while a salesperson knows that results depend on their individual effort. Thus, although the two job categories share this attribute, the manner in which it is approached in each case is different.
The first difference between a good sales manager and a good salesperson is that the manager values and fosters teamwork while the individual salesperson believes in independence. The manager approaches their work from the team perspective because they understand that the overall result with which their performance is evaluated depends on the individual efforts of all the salespeople under them. Consequently, the manager considers each salesperson as a teammate and makes their contribution by passing all the knowledge, skills and motivation they possess to the salesperson selflessly (Chitwood par. 20). The salesperson, on the other hand, understands that without results, there is no place for them in any organization. As such, they have to work independently to deliver results even if the sales manager fails to do their part. Barchitta (65) likens the effort of salespeople to the individual effort of a player in the field, especially in sports such as athletics. The effort of each player eventually contributes to the overall performance of the team, which is the organization, but each player knows that their ability is measured based on their individual performance.
The second difference between the two is that whereas the sales manager handles salespeople with patience, the salesperson tends to be a seeker of instant results because at the end of the day, they either attain the set target or they do not. The manager needs some element of patience because they understand that as they horn the skills of their teams through mentorship and teaching, the results cannot be instant. Rather, the results are gradual and long-term. For the salesperson, every single day stands on its own. The results of yesterday cannot be used to justify the failure to meet the target of a subsequent day. Thus, the salesperson seems to be in a constant state of urgency.
The third difference between the two is that while a salespeople place their interests before the interests of any other entity including the company they work for, the sales manager places the interests of the company and those under them ahead of their own. This difference marks a sharp contrast between these two job descriptions. Salespeople are prepared to go to any extent to reach their targets without caring about the consequences of their actions. This attribute makes them competitors in every respect. The case is different with sales managers. Although they seek to meet targets, they have to do so smartly because they have to balance the well-being of the company as well as that of the salespeople under them.
Finally, Barchitta (67) notes that salespeople are action oriented while sales managers are diplomatic in their approach. The salesperson deals directly with clients, and all they do is to sell. Sales managers, on the other hand, have to consider many factors in the process of seeking to meet their targets. Firstly, they have to assemble a team of good salespeople. Secondly, they have to train this team in the best possible way if they are to achieve any notable results. In the process, they also have to strike a balance between their needs, the needs of the company and those of their teams. Thus, the job of a sales manager is by far more complex and demanding than that of a salesperson. As such, it is not prudent to assume that the top performing salesperson can be promoted to the position of a sales manager and start delivering instant results.
According to Barchitta (66), a sales manager is like a coach while top performing salespeople are like star players. Not all star players end up making great coaches. In fact, only a few outstanding players make the transition successfully to become good coaches. The reason behind this contrast is that the attributes that define a wonderful salesperson are quite different from those that make a great sales manager. Additionally, even in cases where the two job designations share common attributes, the shared attributes apply differently to each case. Therefore, the skills that are applicable in one job designation cannot be transferred to the other. A successful salesperson can only become a good sales manager if they previously had the skill set that makes one.
In conclusion, it is has been shown beyond doubt that whereas the promotion of individuals based on their performance in lower positions is good for some jobs, the case is different with sales. Great salespeople do not necessarily become good sales managers. As such, organizations should understand this important fact to help them tread cautiously whenever they want to promote their low cadre employees to senior positions, especially in the department of sales management. They should also understand that some average and above-average salespeople can become wonderful sales managers if given the opportunity.
Barchitta, Paul D. A Salesman Walks into a Classroom: The art of Sales meets the Science of Selling, Bloomington, IN: iUniverse Publishing, 2013. Print.
Chitwood, Roy. “Top salespeople may not be best sales managers.” Max Sacks International. Web.