It makes perfect sense. You’re good at sales. Perhaps, even, one of the best on your team. So, you should be a sales manager. The role comes with more money, greater visibility within the organization, increased power and prestige.
What could possibly go wrong?
Before I answer that question, let me explain the logic of this move. If you’re good at sales, other salespeople on your team will respect you. If other salespeople on your team respect you, you’ll be accepted as their sales manager. If you’re accepted as their sales manager, you’ll be able to lead them effectively.
If A equals B, and B equals C, then A equals C. Right?
Here’s where the logic falls apart. Being good at sales and being good at sales management are two completely different tasks. While it’s true that a sales manager needs to be respected by his or her team, that won’t happen if you don’t have the natural talent for leading them.
Here are five key questions to ask for anyone considering this move:
- Do you love to sell or do you love to lead?
- Do you love the process or do you love people?
- Do you love the spotlight or can you work on the sidelines?
- Do you communicate cross-functionally or does that leave you exhausted?
- Do you leave on Friday afternoon or do you work the weekend?
1. Do you love to sell or do you love to lead?
Birds fly. Fish swim. Rabbits run. It’s not just what they do, it’s what they love. Ask a bird to swim, a fish to run, and a rabbit to fly, and, well, you’ve got a problem.
This first question, in fact the first three questions about whether you should consider being a sales manager, is about the kind of things you love to do. Not like, tolerate, or endure, but truly, deeply love. These are the things you were created to do and any promotion you accept should be fully aligned with them.
Here’s what makes a successful salesperson. They love the hunt. They love the challenge of prospecting, and they love the thrill of closing. This is the air they breathe, the water in which they swim, they way they run. And they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Do you love sales to that degree? If you do, you may not make the best sales manager because you’ll always check yourself into the game to take the final shot, stunting the growth of your sales team. You’ll always hijack a sales call, so you can feel what it’s like to close a big deal again, frustrating new recruits and seasoned sellers alike.
Here’s the first, fundamental truth about being a sales manager. Sales management isn’t selling, it’s helping others sell. This is not a cute play on words, but actual reality. Can you give up the thrill of the hunt for the thrill of helping others hunt without regret?
2. Do you love the process or do you love people?
The second question to ask yourself in considering a promotion to sales manager is this: Are you a people person or are you a process person?
You can succeed in sales, even succeed wildly in sales, by following a defined process. You interact with people, yes, but those interactions don’t dominate your day. They serve to move deals along in the process, a process that you love executing from start to finish.
Sales management isn’t like that at all. It’s people intensive, where process is secondary. The process is always there, of course, behind the scenes, like banks on a river, but the water in the river is the relationships that flow all throughout the day.
Do you love a constant stream of conversation that connects you with others from the beginning of your workday until the end? Do these interactions give you energy, or do they leave you exhausted? Do you Slack or do you find it a nuisance? Sales management is a people first position, and you must love people to excel in it.
By the way, there’s no right or wrong answers to these questions. It’s not right to be a people person and wrong to be a process person. It’s who you are and how you’re wired.
What becomes right and what becomes wrong is accepting a promotion for a role that’s not a fit with your innate talent and natural abilities. Like tires on a car that are out of alignment, you’ll wear out and, maybe even, blowout driving down the wrong road for you.
3. Do you love the spotlight or can you work on the sidelines?
Here’s another area to be brutally honest with yourself in. Why do you sell? People choose a career in sales for four distinct reasons: fortune, fame, freedom, and family.
For those whose primary motivation is fame, success in sales is not about the money. It’s about what the money means. Not becoming a media darling, but receiving personal attention and public recognition.
A person who sells for fame loves being on top of the leaderboard, being awarded prizes in front of their peers, and being praised by their supervisors. This means that if you choose to become a sales manager, you’re consciously choosing to step out of that spotlight and let it shine brightly on others who sell for you and work on the sidelines.
Can you do that? If you sell for fame, maybe not.
4. Do you communicate cross-functionally or does that leave you exhausted?
Let’s shift gears now from love to loathe, okay? The first three questions we’ve been discussing in considering a promotion from individual sales contributor to sales manager have to do with the kind of things that give you energy. This question has to do with the kind of things that take it away, leaving you feeling exhausted.
Loathing something is just as much as an indicator of an innate ability—that is, the lack thereof—as loving something. So consider with me for a moment your enthusiasm for cross-functional communication.
Individual sales contributors rarely interact with other parts of the business. Sure, it happens, but it’s not too common an occurrence. When it happens, it often does not go well, because salespeople are a bit more intense and aggressive than people who work in other parts of the business. And usually that’s okay. Most of their coworkers get it. The hunters get cranky sometimes, but, at the end of the day, we all get to eat.
Sales managers, however, cannot behave this way. Much of their job involves interacting cross-functionally within the organization.
They talk to marketing about inbound leads from the web site and outbound calling campaigns. They talk to implementation about accelerating the deployment of a complex deal. They talk to human resources about sharing commission between two reps. On and on the list goes. Much of a sales manager’s success depends on his or her ability to represent the team well to other parts of the business.
So the question for you is: Can you do this? Not just do it occasionally, but day in and day out? When you communicate cross-functionally in the organization, does it leave you energized or completely exhausted. Do you refer to this kind of activity and political ass kissing?
Do you loathe a core element of what it takes to be successful in sales management? If you do, stay away. It will destroy both you and the people with whom you work.
5. Do you leave on Friday afternoon or do you work the weekend?
This final question is a lifestyle question. Are you at a place in your life where the extra time it takes to be a sales manager is available to you? That’s what I mean by asking about leaving on Friday afternoon versus working the weekend. Not a perfect set of words, I know. But let me explain …
Every successful salesperson I know disappears on Friday afternoon to get a head start on the weekend. And people look the other way. No problem, they’re above goal, they always hit their number, and they always make club.
Part of what fuels their success, in fact, is an endless array of outside interests that require long weekends to pursue, whether it be family activities, flipping houses, or extreme sports. The freedom of sales fuels their commitment to it. They work hard, and they play hard.
That kind of freedom, however, is only available to individual contributors. Sales managers need to be available to all their sellers, the high performers and the low performers (who can’t afford to skip any part of any day of the week), and to their managers, who tend to reach out to them at oddball times (like Friday afternoon).
Consequently, sales managers can’t leave early on Friday, and often find themselves working on the weekend. But they don’t mind it because that’s what they love. Really. They love the interaction that comes from working with a team. It gives them energy. They love doing whatever it takes to transform the careers of the people who work for them. They love building something meaningful and significant. Do you?
What You Love, What You Loathe, What’s Your Lifestyle
A promotion from individual sales contributor to sales manager is not always the right move. It works for some and it’s a total disaster for others. Make sure this position is a good fit for you—what you love, what you loathe, and what’s your lifestyle— before moving forward. Your future self will thank me later.