Promoting Your Best Salesrep to Manager? Not So Fast…

The skills and traits for success in a sales management position overlap but are very different for success in a direct selling role.  That means that if that salesrep, no matter how well they have performed, does not possess the specific skills and traits required for success in that management job, they are likely going to fail.

Here’s a fact for you:  Scott Hudson, Vice President-Sales and Marketing at HR Chally, tells me that,

“85% of sales superstars fail in sales management.”

I know that executives are faced with a tough decision when a top salesrep comes to them demanding a management position.  I’ve spent a fair amount of time working with reps and managers on that very issue over the years.

By the time this situation occurs, it is usually too late for a positive outcome.  The salesrep may have told her colleagues or family about their plan and staying in their current position may not be any longer possible.  (When this situation does occur, it’s a sign that effective career counseling within the person’s company has likely not taken place.)

I’m thinking now about Lou (not the rep’s real name), a very strong salesrep, who worked for a client’s company.   Four years ago, the CEO of that small technology company called me and asked what I thought about him promoting Lou to be VP of sales, a position that was then open following the firing of the person that held that job. I asked whether Lou was qualified.  The CEO didn’t think so, but then he hadn’t really thought about what was required for success.  With the CEO’s approval, I called Lou and spoke to him about the situation. He told me he decided that he was the most qualified person in the company to assume that position, and that he would leave if he didn’t get it.  We had a number of discussions over several weeks, while the CEO temporarily assumed the role of VP of sales.  Lou became concerned that he might not be as qualified for the position as he first thought.  He continued to sell and made his numbers for the next two quarters.  The CEO had by then hired a strong outsider for the VP of sales role.  Lou stayed in the company, determined to get to that next level.  Fast forward.  The company got acquired, the new VP of sales left and Lou took over as VP of that division of the larger company.  He had plenty of support and, last I heard, was quite successful in his new role.

Here are my recommendations on the topic of promoting strong sales reps to sales management positions:

  • If you’re a salesrep and you’d like to move up the ladder for whatever reason, spend some time understanding what is really required for success as a manager.  It’s considerably more than just strong selling skills. You can’t fake it, and these days there are few companies that would wait for you to train on the job.  If you fail, and without the proper skills and traits, you likely will, you’ll have few good alternatives.  Interested in resuming your old role as a rep?  Not likely.
  • If you’re the senior executive, think about this:  If the rep isn’t qualified, it’s just a matter of time before they fail in their new role as manager.  Then, not only do they leave your company, but the situation probably winds up worse than before they took the new position. So, if that rep comes to you for a promotion, it’s time to sit down with them and to explain to them precisely the capabilities they need to be successful.  Perhaps agreeing on a six-month plan for them to get up to speed on they key management skills would enable both of you to feel the likelihood of success is considerably greater.


  1. says

    You are sooooooo right with this!

    Not only, in general, do great sales rep suck at sales management but the company also loses one of it’s main earners!

    So it has a double whammy impact on the company!

    Managing, coaching, inspiring and leading is a completely different task to getting out their and selling and not many sales reps realise this.

    They think that just because they are “the best” at what they do, that they are an automatic “shoe in” to becoming a great sales manager…….eerrrrr NO!


    Sean McPheat

  2. michael harris says

    Why not do an article on what is needed to be a VP of sales

    Here’s my list
    1) Talk about we, not I did x
    2) Accept that there are different successful sales styles and it’s up to you to nurture theirs
    3) Be brave and hire people who could take your job
    4) Train the new reps
    5) Attempt to provide accurate sales forecasts
    6) Be a visionary on your offering, delivery and marketing so that what your team is selling remains competitive
    4) Accept your goal is to move out of direct selling. Also accept that coming in the 11th hour on a deal, isn’t closing it yet dotting the I and crossing the t. The real selling happened 6 months earlier. Unfortunately, a VP of Sales can make a name for themselves by swooping in at the 11th hour and pretending to close deals and Executive management can conclude that the VP of Sales is indispensable. For this reason, this trend will unfortunately continue

    • Dave Stein says

      That’s an interesting idea, Michael. I may write a post on that one day. Right now, I want senior executives to understand that the skills that a VP of sales needs COMING IN THE DOOR are different from a sales rep. Among those skills: team building, conflict resolution, hiring, coaching, leading, managing, strategic planning, forecasting, etc.

  3. says

    Well put Dave. More broadly, the same goes for anyone in ANY role who is looking to be promoted to a management position. Too often we promote our best performers without any consideration as to whether they have the necessary skills.


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