Metamorphosis From Sales to Management

Caterpillars do not morph into butterflies over one weekend. They firstly prepare themselves for the transformation by gorging on leaves and in the process shedding their skin a number of times until they reach an optimum size, at which stage they stop eating; spin a cocoon shell; and undertake a remarkable transformation during which time they digest themselves; emerging some time later as a fully formed butterfly.

In the world of Sales, many salespeople go to bed on Friday nights and are mysteriously transformed after three sleeps; emerging on Monday mornings as fully formed Sales Managers. Caterpillars and butterflies look and behave differently because they are totally different, even though in some species they retain latent characteristics of their former selves. Salespeople emerging over a weekend into Sales Managers look and behave the same as they did on Fridays because they are the same person – apart from being richer, wiser, and a good deal happier.

The problem is that what makes you successful at selling will not necessarily make you successful at sales management and in many ways can be a significant disadvantage. One of the biggest mistakes that companies make is the belief that because someone was good at sales that they will be good at managing salespeople. Yet there is clear evidence that the most successful salespeople find it extremely difficult to relate to other salespeople. Successful salespeople are often loners. Whilst they are extremely comfortable dealing with the challenge of converting none-buying prospects into buying customers; and buying customers into repeat purchasers; the challenge of converting average and/ or underperforming salespeople into sales champions leaves many of them cold.

We see it time and time again in sports. Spectacularly successful footballers are often spectacular failures in management and coaching. Why should sales be any different? Additionally, many companies, worried that they will lose the revenue of the newly promoted salesperson have them retain a client portfolio citing the white lie that clients would not accept a different salesperson dealing with them. Player-Coaches doesn’t work in Football and it doesn’t work in Sales. You’re either a caterpillar or a butterfly; you can’t be both.

The knowledge, skills, and behaviours of sales managers are different to those of salespeople. In football these days, in order to become a coach you have to undergo a significant amount of training and development, and many footballers enter a coach training programming at or near the end of their playing careers prior to becoming a coach, usually with a lower league team in order to learn the trade. So why can’t companies insist that salespeople who are identified as potential sales managers undergo sales management development prior to taking up a sales management role? Enlightened companies adopt processes for management roles which include:

- Identifying the knowledge, skills and behaviours which are considered to be required to be a successful manager in the company
- Breaking this down into small development events, study tasks, and simulations
- Defining the criteria for inclusion on a pre-management development programme that includes workplace tasks
- Delivering a modular training programme candidates attend over an agreed period
- Running a final selection process hosted by a panel and at which candidates are rated as either ready now; ready soon with development; or significant development needed

Lastly, why is that so many salespeople want to become managers anyway? Usually it’s to do with status rather than reward. Whilst traditional motivation theory says that money is not the prime motivator, what I found is that it is but only because in Sales earning more money is both a demonstration and a recognition of achievement. Yet the dichotomy is that successful salespeople have one specific trait in common – a sense of personal responsibility for their own sales success and it is this trait which is a significant barrier to sales management success (see the article: It’s the Manager, Stupid). Enlightened companies ensure that increased success in the sales channel brings about an increased status, matching the career ladder of sales managers. Giving salespeople a new title as they become more successful costs nothing; giving them the same increased benefits which managers receive will be paid for by increased sales. Again, in the world of football, only a few players want to become managers – why? Because they are rewarded much more than managers and often valued more. Perhaps that something worth applying in the world of sales?

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