How to identify which of your sales reps would be effective managers

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Contributor, Sell to Win

Promoting a sales manager internally is tricky, but hiring an outsider might be even trickier.

Current sales reps can make great candidates for open positions within the company. They’re already familiar with company values and processes, making them better-suited for leadership positions and mentoring others.

Promoting a top-performing sales rep to the position of team manager may seem like a no-brainer, but a great sales rep doesn’t automatically make an effective manager. It’s important to know the differences between the two so that you can choose the best leader for your team.

In this guide, we’ll dig into the characteristics of effective managers and great sales reps, so you can figure out who is the best choice for leading your team and who will thrive by staying in their current role.

Effective managers enable effective teams

You need both effective managers and great sales reps for a team—and your company—to reach its goals. While sales reps have a more singular focus in terms of generating revenue, an effective manager impacts profitability at multiple levels:

  • Managers set the processes that determine the productivity of the entire team
  • They get the buy-in needed to execute plans and reach revenue goals
  • They identify ways that individual reps can improve their win rate, and then offer coaching that helps fill in the gaps
  • They create a team culture that influences workplace satisfaction and in the long run, employee retention
  • They inspire a level of employee engagement that naturally increases productivity

In this sense, it doesn’t matter how amazing your sales reps are; if you don’t have the right person leading them, the whole team suffers.

Myths about promoting sales reps to managers

Before starting the hunt for a team leader, check your thinking on these common myths:

Myth: Great reps make effective managers

While it’s true that effective sales managers are typically great sales reps, a great sales rep is not necessarily an effective manager.

The Global Leadership Forecast 2018, found that only 14% of companies have a strong pool of leadership-ready employees to choose from. It also found that four out of 10 tech leaders are failing. These shortcomings are likely because companies aren’t investing enough in training that develops their workforce into leaders.

Another important factor to consider is that team leaders need a whole other set of skills and qualities to succeed compared to those required of frontline sales reps. Some of these qualities—like being altruistic or data-driven—are diametrically opposed to the skills a sales rep needs to possess. 

Myth: Sales reps and managers have the same interpersonal skills

A sales rep needs interpersonal skills to deal with customers, while a manager needs interpersonal skills to manage a team. However, the way reps and managers apply those skills is quite different.

A sales rep’s interpersonal skills are largely confined to how they relate to clients. They need to establish a rapport quickly and be creative in how they serve that individual. While this certainly takes an immense amount of skill and practice, a manager’s interpersonal skills are more nuanced.

Managers must be able to delegate tasks, help resolve conflicts between employees, and create an environment where coworkers can develop relationships based on mutual trust. They also need to be able to handle sensitive situations and come up with solutions for them.

Effective managers compared to great sales reps

Effective managers and great sales reps both need to have good communication and organizational skills, as well as a commitment to the company’s mission and values. However, there are several characteristics that set these two roles apart; 

Characteristics of an effective manager

Effective managers tend to be:

  • Critical thinkers
  • Strategic
  • Altruistic
  • Optimistic

A study by XBInsight found that managers score higher in critical thinking than sales reps. They excel at analyzing sales data and coming up with small adjustments to processes that deliver big results. They can also look at complex situations from multiple angles and come up with win/win solutions that deliver results for the company and enhance customer experiences. 

Strategic thinking allows effective managers to predict how certain approaches or actions, implemented uniformly, will impact long-term performance. In addition, team goals need to align with a company’s mission, vision, and values, and then have measurable outcomes and action plans to achieve those outcomes.

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Managers are able to keep all these factors in mind when choosing goals and creating action plans for their team.

Effective managers are altruistic in that they place the needs of the team above their own. They also find joy and pride in seeing their team and individual employees succeed. Sales reps are usually more competitive, which serves its purpose, but not in the role of manager.

Finally, optimistic managers can help create a positive work environment, which increases workplace satisfaction, and that in turn leads to better sales results and higher employee retention rates. 

Characteristics of a great sales rep

Great sales reps are often:

  • Quick, intuitive decision-makers
  • Process-oriented
  • Competitive
  • Individual problem-solvers

While lots of data can help a manager succeed, it can actually hinder a sales rep. Great sales reps know that when it comes to their customers, time is of the essence. They make quick, intuitive decisions based on their adept gut instincts and their knowledge of individual clients. These quick decisions can increase customer satisfaction, which impacts new sales, contract renewals, upsells, and cross-sells.

Process-oriented sales reps thrive when focusing on concrete activities with predictable results. They understand the impact that frequent activities like calls, proposals, and presentations can have on the ability to meet their monthly quotas. They do better when focusing on short-term goals rather than long-term ones. 

Great sales reps tend to be competitive, whether with themselves (e.g. by trying to beat their personal best sales record) or by engaging in a bit of healthy competition with their colleagues. 

Customer satisfaction plays a massive role in a sales rep’s performance, so instead of being big picture thinkers, sales reps focus on how they can best solve problems for individuals. They rely on creative and innovative approaches for ensuring each customer’s satisfaction.

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Six things effective managers do well

In addition to screening potential managers for the characteristics necessary to lead, consider how likely they will be to do the following tasks without prompting from their supervisor.

1. Make data-driven decisions

Effective managers are no strangers to combing through sales data in pursuit of trends or insights that could help optimize their team’s performance. Each day, they monitor the most important sales metrics to learn how they can better support individual reps or create new processes that increase overall team productivity. 

2. Consult their top-performing sales reps

Effective managers take time to consult their employees to learn what habits the highest performing sales reps have in common. They then look for ways to standardize those habits across the rest of their team so that everyone can enjoy the benefits. 

3. Monitor team performance

Managers monitor team performance by keeping an eye on individual reports. They know that the right tools not only increase team transparency but also offer insights into what processes need improvement or which reps would benefit from extra coaching. 

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Drilling down into individual performance also shows which areas a rep needs help in, so managers can offer highly specific coaching that saves time for everyone. 

4. Offer coaching

After identifying which sales reps can use additional support, effective managers offer coaching or training tailored to that rep’s needs. They’re willing to sacrifice their time to ensure that everyone on their team is primed for success.

When one-on-one coaching isn’t an option, managers leverage their top reps as mentors. A mentorship approach does double duty by helping improve reps’ skills while building a team culture. 

5. Create a positive team culture

When building a positive team culture, effective managers lead by example. They practice optimism, inclusivity, and integrity at all times. They know how to foster an environment of healthy competition instead of a toxic one to keep sales reps motivated but collaborative.

They also build a culture of trust in multiple ways, from getting to know their reps outside of the office, to creating opportunities for team members to develop relationships.

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While it takes time and sometimes money to create and implement these programs, effective managers know they will pay back dividends with an engaged team. 

6. Hire great reps

Effective managers identify and hire the best candidates for their team. They don’t mind the cost and energy associated with extending a search in order to find the right fit for the position. They recognize that in the long run, it will save the company the cost of training or replacing a poor fit.

15 internal interview questions to help you find an effective manager

Studying recent performance reviews of current sales reps is just the first step in finding the right manager. Conducting internal interviews with all interested candidates will give you better insight into how they would perform in the role.

In addition to interviewing only the best internal candidates, you should also tailor your questions to reflect the role up for consideration. When hunting for a sales manager, these 15 questions are a good place to start:

1. What characteristics does a good leader need to have?

2. What skills did you acquire as a sales rep that will help you succeed in this role? 

3. What new skills or characteristics will you bring into this role that you didn’t rely on as a rep?

4. What process do you use for setting and following through on long-term goals?

5. How does data factor into your decision-making process?

6. How would you go about improving team productivity?

7. What would you do if a sales rep hasn’t hit their quota for an entire quarter?

8. What do you think are the most effective coaching techniques?

9. What is the most essential training a new hire can have? 

10. How would you handle a disagreement between two employees?

11. What would you do to improve team culture?

12. What characteristics define a great sales rep within this company?

13. Pretend that your team hasn’t met its goals for this quarter. How would you go about improving their performance?

14. Tell me about a time you led a project or team. How would your colleagues describe you as a leader?

15. Tell me about a challenge you faced as a sales rep, whether it was a tough sales call or a tight quota deadline. What did you do to navigate this challenge?

Find the most effective manager for your team

Putting the right person in a leadership position isn’t that complex. It just takes a little awareness about what makes an effective manager and how the role differs from that of a sales rep.

Chances are you have plenty of candidates with high potential within your company. You might find that the right person for the job is a great sales rep who needs some leadership training. Once they work on a few key skills and learn to prioritize certain qualities, a great sales rep can transition into an effective manager.

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