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3 Things I Wish I’d Known as a New Sales Manager

The transition from selling into management is not an easy one. From making strategic promotion picks to effective hiring decisions, sales management presents unique challenges. Here are three tips for the new sales manager.

Like you, I came up through the ranks of the sales process. I worked for many years as a sales rep before I was promoted to become a new sales manager in charge of one team, and eventually a sales director overseeing several teams.

If time travel were possible, here’s some advice I with I could give myself when I moved from selling into managing:

  1. Don’t automatically promote the highest performers into sales management

    At one point, I had two “quota-plus” salespeople in line for a promotion. Marshall, the top producer, was an exceptional salesperson. He had drive like you wouldn’t believe, and was made 120% of his quota. He was highly competitive and incredibly hard-working—really pumped when he won a big sale, down in the dumps when he lost.

    My #2 producer, David, wasn’t quite as over-achieving as Marshall, but he still regularly made 100-110% of quota. He was also a more steady producer than Marshall, and had a less volatile personality.

    Because of the prevailing wisdom of that time, I promoted Marshall because he sold more. As I soon learned, this was a BIG mistake on my part!

    To make a long story short, Marshall just wasn’t capable of making the shift from effective selling to effective managing and leading. His salespeople were not as naturally gifted as he was, and he couldn’t understand why they struggled and failed to meet their numbers. After six months, I suggested that he re-consider a sales territory, and he jumped at the chance to get back to selling.

    I then put David into the management position, and he took to management like a fish to water. And ever since then, I’ve looked beyond the numbers to find salespeople who can flourish in a management position.

    (As an aside, 20 years after these events, Marshall sells business insurance and David manages more than 1,000 salespeople for a tech leader.)

  2. Don’t let daily “stuff” get in the way of making effective hiring decisions

    One year when I was a general manager, I won an incentive trip to Mexico awarded to the top 5% of a 2000-person sales force. At the company-sponsored cocktail party, a gentleman who looked vaguely familiar approached me and asked if I remembered him. I didn’t remember any details of meeting him before.

    Turns out three years prior, I had interviewed him for a sales job but decided not to hire him. Shortly thereafter, he’d landed a sales job with another division of our company. And here he was, like me, among the top 5% of performers in our company.

    In retrospect, I realized that when “stuff” piled on, the more pressure I put on myself to make faster decisions. Not good! I let myself be distracted from what were my only true priority tasks—hire the best candidates and turn them into great salespeople. I’d like to take back some of those early years and focus more on those priority tasks.

  3. When times are tough, and you’re stressed out, don’t lose your sense of humor!

    Abraham Lincoln was famed for handling stress by telling jokes. On the day he was elected, he told a joke about Thomas Paine, a famed Revolutionary War patriot.

    Shortly after the war ended, Paine travelled to England to visit his cousins. As a practical joke, these British cousins decided to place a picture of George Washington in their outhouse. One day they asked Paine, “Do you think it strange that we placed Washington in our outhouse?”

    Paine said, “No.… Actually, I thought it was the perfect place for it, because nothing will scare the poop out of an Englishman faster than the sight of George Washington!”

    I’d never claim to be in the same league as Abraham Lincoln. (Few of us could!) But if he could maintain a sense of humor with all the pressures he faced, surely I can try to do the same!

Now that I’m older and hopefully wiser, I often think back to the days when I was a young, ambitious new sales manager and wish someone could have spared me at least a few hard-won lessons.

I hope you can benefit from my experience.


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About the author

Kevin Davis

Kevin Davis

Kevin F. Davis is the author of “The Sales Manager’s Guide to Greatness: Ten…

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