Converting Operational Managers to Sales Managers

Here’s a question we sometimes get asked, “What about promoting individuals who do not have sales experience into sales leadership roles?”. It doesn’t happen frequently but enough that I thought it makes sense to share some thoughts about it.

We know that sales managers require different skills and strengths than salespeople. Sales managers need to recruit the right individuals, coach, hold people accountable, and motivate their teams. These abilities are not necessarily evident within all salespeople.

The same is true of sales managers vs other managers. While the coaching, accountability, motivating, and recruiting components exist in all management roles, there are nuances. Sales managers must be intimate with their salespeople to impact their effectiveness. They must understand them both from a skillset and a mindset standpoint.

Understanding Salespeople’s Viewpoint

Many salespeople are nervous about certain aspects of their roles. They might be uncomfortable discussing money with prospects. They might have negative beliefs that impact their success. Other than selling transactional, low-cost products, sales positions do not come with a scripted, completely repeatable dialogue. It is necessary to understand the issues that a salesperson might face when in the heat of a conversation. Clearly, sales experience creates some understanding and can impact the manager’s credibility.

Additional Sales Management Abilities

While there are some core leadership and management skills necessary to be effective in the role of sales manager, there are also some additional desirable components to have success in a sales management role. For instance, when we discuss coaching, we mean specifically sales coaching. Those elements include:

  • Consistently Coaches
  • Debriefs Effectively
  • Asks Questions
  • Doesn’t Rescue Salespeople
  • Handles Joint Sales Calls Effectively

Additionally, there are elements that come from a sales background that support effective sales coaching. Without these elements it is harder to coach salespeople about them. The skills specific to effective sales coaching include:

  • Effective at Getting Commitments
  • Has A Sales Process
  • Uncovers Compelling Reasons to Buy
  • Knows How People Buy

Helpful Experience

You can see having some knowledge of selling enables a manager to be more effective at coaching, because they have “been there and done that.” There are a host of other selling competencies that make it easier for people to move into sales management roles, including:

The Pipeline Management Competency – This is specific to sales management because not only does this skillset address the administration of metrics and information to help focus energy, but also understanding the importance of levers that keep a pipeline full. If a manager has never had to fill a pipeline before, because they weren’t previously in a hunting sales role, this is difficult to manage.

The Qualifying Competency – Closely tied to the Pipeline Management Competency, this skill is necessary to determine where to spend time. It is also intimately intertwined with having a sales process. A sales manager must be able to guide salespeople to spend time with the right prospects and not waste time with the wrong ones when there is no chance of success. Therefore, a sales manager must be crystal clear about what makes a great client, as well to help craft the right questions to ask, in the right order, to uncover the prospect’s fit for the offered products and services. Without having experienced this process for themselves, it will be difficult for them to coach a salesperson on how to be efficient qualifying.

The Selling Value Competency – Frequently individuals who have not sold a company’s products or services to a customer, and therefore have not had to differentiate the value of a company’s offerings for the customer, can wrongly believe that customers buy based on the company’s belief of superiority, because that’s what its marketing states. Without the experience to get inside the customer’s head and uncover what really matters to them, a sales manager from operations might lack the ability to help a salesperson improve in this arena. This is quite possibly one of the most important skillsets necessary to help salespeople be successful today.

There are other sales-related skillsets as well that are important, but I believe the ones described above are critical to determining someone’s success if moving into a sales management role without sales experience.

The Daily Trench Fight

Finally, a big consideration is that salespeople must put themselves out there day in and day out and are likely getting rejected more often than not. To connect with all sorts of people, they must be expert communicators and they must frequently know how to negotiate effectively to win business. If a manager is lacking in these skills, then they will not be that helpful to their salespeople reports. And, if not helpful, then the salespeople will dismiss the manager, making it difficult to lead the team.

I do like the operational manager mindset and the ability operational managers typically have to sequence items, but beware that just because someone can manage other teams or areas of the company, it doesn’t necessarily mean they can effectively move into a sales leadership role.

It doesn’t mean they can’t either, but just be certain to uncover the gaps and address them. If considering this move, it might make sense to send the would-be sales manager into the field and operate like a salesperson for a bit. Let them get down into the trenches and conduct their own prospecting conversations and their own sales calls. It will be quite eye-opening if nothing else.

The Big Question

When a company wants to move an operational manager into sales management the number one question I have is, “why weren’t they in the sales arena already?” If they truly loved sales and understood what it takes to be successful in a sales role, they likely would have already been working in a sales capacity. So please proceed with caution if contemplating moving a non-sales manager to a sales manager role. If you want to see the various areas we measure of potential sales managers before deciding whether they are right for the job, feel free to download a Sample Sales Manager Insights report. If you want to know about your managers as it relates to the critical skills required for success in sales management, let us know.