Does one need to be a great salesperson to make a great sales manager?

I do think so, outside of the F500 at least. I can tell you empirically the best VP of Sales I know were strong salespeople in the early career. Not always the #1 top salesperson, but very strong. In the top 20% or so, ideally higher.

I agree the #1 job of a VP of Sales is recruiting, onboarding, and implementing processes and goals:

And once a company is very large, and has a very strong brand, and very deep processes, that job is a very different one than selling door-to-door, no doubt.

But most of us aren’t F500 companies.

Most of us are looking for sales leaders to lead a team of 5, then 10, then a team of Directors to scale to 30, to 100, and beyond:

  • The top salespeople know. They know if the VP of Sales is great or not. And they won’t respect her if she isn’t.
  • You really can’t recruit what you don’t know how to do. The mediocre salespeople I’ve seen promoted to manager levels recruit mediocre sales reps under them. Like all the time. You don’t want this.
  • Competing is tough. You have to know how to win in competitive deals. In very big companies, sales is competitive, but often simplistically so. The competitive dynamics in a feature-poor start-up is different. Big Company sales leaders who aren’t great salespeople wilt in the fact of better-funded, more feature-rich competition.
  • You can’t diagnose problems. Sales leaders who haven’t been great reps have trouble doing root cause diagnoses. The one that are great at sales, by contrast, figure out the root cause of issues in a few days. Max.

If you want to be a successful VP of Sales, you have to work your way up. And you have to be at least Top Quartile in the beginning to get there.

Be careful of folks who got promoted to manager only in very large companies, or dated, fading companies, or non-competitive companies. They don’t learn these skills.

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Published on April 23, 2018

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