From salesperson to sales manager

27th March 2019 |   Michael Woodcock

How to make a successful transition from individual contributor to manager?

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Linda Hill (2003), in her seminal work on becoming a manager, compares the transition from individual contributor to manager as similar to becoming a parent for the first time: on day X –1 you have no children and then you suddenly become responsible for a child. Having been through both the process of becoming a father, and becoming a manager in recent times, I would argue that the latter is more challenging. I would suggest that if you are to compare becoming a manager to parenthood, managing people for the first time would be more akin to fostering a teenager. It is, perhaps unsurprising, given this analogy, that Hill (2003) highlights first-line management as the area where most reports of incompetence, burnout and excessive attrition come from.

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Project aim

The purpose of this project is to examine whether the transition from high-performing salesperson to effective sales manager can be made more successful.

As McCall (2010) highlights, there is a big risk to this promotion: “When situations change dramatically, as is the case when a person is given an assignment that is quite different from what he or she has done before, either development or derailment may result.” This is supported by Linda Hill (2009): “The situational and psychological demands of transition can be quite taxing and, if experienced as too stressful, may preclude some individuals from expending the cognitive energy needed to adapt their existing routines”

Despite there being much written about the dangers of promoting your best salespeople to the role of manager, companies still persist in making the assumption that, if a salesperson is a high performer in a sales role, they will bring the same success in a management role.

Neil Rackham in his foreword from Cracking the Sales Management Code (Jordan & Vazzana, 1970) highlights the importance of the role of sales manager. In his vast experience of turning around sales forces he has never had success if the calibre of first-line managers was lacking, irrespective of the ability of the salespeople. Rackham goes on to point out: “As we know all too well from the sad history of outstanding salespeople who have been promoted to become abysmal sales managers, selling and sales management are entirely different things.” [subscribe-panel]

Michael Woodcock is the Strategic Account Manager responsible for managing a number of Arena Group’s key and national accounts, and helping to grow the company’s customer base through winning new business key accounts.