Set Criteria, Goals for Post Before Picking Sales Manager

TEC Worldwide is an international organization of more than 7,000 business owners, company presidents and chief executives. TEC members meet in small peer groups to share their business experiences and help one another solve problems. The following questions and answers are based on recent TEC meetings in Southern California.


Question: We have been growing very rapidly and have reached the point where we need a sales manager. Everyone likes my top salesman, and I think he would be great for the job. Should I promote him or hire someone from outside the firm?

Answer: The decision to promote or not depends on many factors, all of which merit serious consideration.

The first involves your conception of the job. What does the position look like and what kinds of results do you want it to produce? More important, have you created a job description and a profile for the new position?

"You can't hire the right person until you know what the position needs to accomplish and what knowledge, skills and attributes it will take to succeed on the job," said John Rashap, president of Chatsworth-based DocuSource. "Hiring on personality and convenience almost always leads to poor hiring decisions. In a high-impact position like sales manager, it's a sure recipe for disaster."

Second, other than his sparkling personality, what leads you to believe this person would make a good sales manager?

Quentin Leef, president of Kerning Data Systems in Chatsworth, said just because someone excels at a certain position doesn't mean they have what it takes to manage others in that position.

"Have you seen or observed this person managing people in any context?" he asked. "Has he managed staff in any way, shape or form in previous positions? If not, have you observed other salespeople make this transition successfully? Have you talked to anyone who has done it or seen someone else do it successfully?"

Third, have you considered what might happen to sales if you bump your superstar up to sales manager? Do you have a plan to replace him if you promote him? In today's markets, top salespeople are not easy to come by.

Finally, have you thought about the consequences if you don't promote him? If his feelings get hurt or he sees the sales manager position as his only career track in your company, he could leave for greener pastures, leaving you with a huge hole in your sales team.

To cover all these bases, start by creating an accurate job description. Be very specific about what the position needs to accomplish and the requirements of the person who will fill the job.

"This job description provides a template against which to measure your sales guy and any other candidates," said Lou Kravitz, president of Louis Kravitz & Associates in Encino. "It enables you to make an objective decision about whether someone really has what it takes to fill the position as you have described it.

"If you lack experience creating job profiles, consider using an industrial psychologist or staffing consultant to help with the process. The job description drives the entire hiring process, so make sure you get it right."

When creating the profile, keep in mind that the jobs of salesperson and sales manager require very different skill sets.

Sales managers need to be very process-oriented. They need to know how to create and manage processes for recruiting, training, hiring, evaluating and recognizing and rewarding people.

In contrast, good salespeople tend to be task-oriented. They generally like to make things happen on their own rather than getting results through others (which is the primary job of any manager).

Plus, salespeople often lack the organizational skills required to manage others. With your job profile in hand, sit down with your prospective manager and ask him to describe how he would accomplish the outcomes as identified in the job description.

Ask for specific examples. For example, what would his process be for hiring and training a top-notch sales team? How would he conduct performance reviews? How would he coach and/or discipline chronic under-performers? How would he handle a conflict between the top two performers?

"If he can't answer these questions to your satisfaction, he's not a good candidate for the job," Leef said. "Plus, once he learns what you expect from the position, he may not even want the job."

If he does want the job but it turns out he doesn't have the requisite skills, you will need a plan for soothing his ruffled feathers. In that situation, the job profile allows you to show that you made the decision based on objective criteria rather than personal opinion.

"I faced this exact situation a few years ago," Kravitz said. "By using the job profile, I convinced my employee that he would have a lot more success as a salesperson rather than taking on a supervisory role. It took him a while to accept it, but eventually he agreed with my assessment. He stayed with the company and continues to be one of our top performers."

To keep your top performer happy in his current role, look for ways to enhance his professional growth and development.

For example, if you hire an experienced sales manager, you could promote your guy to team leader and create a mentor program whereby the new manager takes him under his wing and coaches him on developing managerial skills.

You could gradually increase his responsibilities (perhaps even letting him report directly to you on some of them), and as the company continues to grow, other supervisory positions might appear. Your proactive efforts to create a personal growth path should keep him excited about being part of your team.

"Even if your guy looks like a good fit for the position, you might want to interview a couple of outside candidates in order to get a frame of reference," Rashap said. "Few positions have as much impact on a company as sales manager. A bad hiring decision here could set your growth curve back six months to a year. Get the right person in the job, however, and you will lay a foundation for years of solid growth."


If there is a business issue you would like addressed in this column, contact TEC at (800) 274-2367, Ext. 3177. To learn more about TEC, visit

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