Our firm spent time with over 300 VPs of Sales in Q1. All of them, at one point in their career, have regretted promoting their best sales talent to a management role. When asked why they made this decision, there were a variety of reasons. (Open spot, rep was bored, rep was going to leave for a promotion with competitor, base salary, etc). Here is what I learned: the best sales leaders in the F500 have made this mistake and knew they were making it, but against the better judgment, still proceeded.
Why? They succumbed to the pressure.
One of the reasons people want to be promoted is companies have equated significance with title, position on the org chart and number of direct reports. Stop. This is the mental model of an Industrial Age. A factory mindset of the 1960s says that a Manager is “more important” than a rep. Ask any CEO today and they will tell you an A player rep achieving 120% of quota, selling great business and representing the company is worth their weight in gold. Having a great Talent Management program means making thoughtful decisions with your human capital; up to and including, allowing people to thrive in a role they love.
Solution: Eliminate the Corporate Ladder
Four ways to prevent promoting the ‘A’ player to their highest level of incompetence:
Redefine Promotion - Wikipedia defines promotion as the advancement of an employee's rank or position in an organizational hierarchy system. Try a new definition: the placement of an individual in a role that allows them to consistently maximize their innate talent and make the single greatest contribution. Innate talent defined as something that makes an individual feel energized. Activities they look forward to doing. When were you last so engrossed in an activity you lost track of time? Many sales managers can manage, but it doesn’t energize them; they would much rather sell. Let them.
Eliminate the term Demotion - Create a culture where people can try a new role and return to a previous role should the new position not allow them to thrive. Too many leaders say “oh if he/she you failed in a role, they must not be an 'A' player”. The person who has the courage to try a new role should be held up as an example of what it means to take risk. Check your demotion stigma and this will give you a quick health test on this one.
Promote in role - Create a second or third level role inside a single job. For example, great sales talent often take a promotionbecause their companies have not created stratification inside the sales role. A few examples:
Senior Account Executive — Focus this rep on the biggest accounts in a geographic territory. This is a promotion from sales rep. Increase quota and compensation, and let them thrive. You are matching best rep with best accounts which most companies do not do in a single metropolitan area. This is a mistake that can be fixed.
Strike Force rep — Have this rep focus on landing new accounts that belong to your biggest competitor.
Win Back rep — Have this rep focus on winning accounts that were taken from you by a competitor. Takes a unique set of skills to overcome mistakes of the past
Launch rep — Have this rep focus on taking new products to market and landing a beach head account. Rotate them every 18 months once the new product/service can be incorporated into the existing force
Try Before you Buy — Create a true leadership development program. Future Sales Managers can go into a “Leaders Club”. Starting 2 years out from when you may want to promote a rep, begin layering on activities that a Manager would perform. Look at how they perform things like mentoring a new hire, participating in interviewing, leading cross functional projects, sales training meetings or bringing in new ideas to the team.
Looking for a cheat sheet on determining if your Managers should be recasted to selling? There are 5 top competencies we see in front line sales management. See if you have them: Download the Top Competency Guide.
If you have current Managers that do not possess these 5 essential competencies, set them free by executing one of the 5 solutions above; they are thinking about it and are afraid to approach you.
Top 20% sales talent is a precious resource; manage it carefully. Flip your corporate ladder, cherish the individual contributor and allow your best sales people to thrive in their role. What have you done to keep your best reps thriving in their position?