Nature vs. Nurture in Sales Management

Written by Steve Deist on Monday, 22 June 2015. Posted in Sales Management, Distribution, Manufacturing

5 Fundamentals for the Wholesale Distribution Sales ManagerWe work with distributors and manufacturers to realign their sales and marketing investments with the real opportunities for growth. This market-based sales model must be backed by effective sales management. This blog looks at why the traditional method of promoting sales reps to management roles is not always the best path without a plan for ongoing training and development.

Great sales reps are often said to be born rather than bred. They demonstrate a natural preference for independence, an innate drive to get things done and an inherent focus on accomplishing goals. These reps are naturally high performers in the sales world because they work hard, put their customers’ priorities first and gain personal satisfaction from their accomplishments.

It makes sense that distributors often promote their highest performing reps into sales and branch management roles when opportunities open up. But the same qualities that make reps great at selling may actually hold them back when they take on management responsibilities.

To succeed in their new roles, these managers must derive satisfaction from the accomplishments of others, not themselves. They must put the priorities of the company first, ahead of individual customers. And they must balance multiple goals by prioritizing and delegating.

Even more challenging, these “accidental managers” often must learn the job on the fly because many companies lack development programs and supporting infrastructure. Faced with a disconnect between their existing skill sets and the new skills they’re now expected to exhibit, these new managers are frequently uneasy in their new roles and can quickly revert to their comfort zones. One manager summarized it by saying: “I only really feel alive when I’m back out on the road, meeting customers.”

So do distributors need to give up on the idea of promoting sales reps into managers and recruit management talent elsewhere? This would be a challenging proposition, because strong sales and branch managers are even harder to find than talented sales reps. The good news is that while great sales reps may be born, great sales managers can be made. The attributes that make good sales managers are generally more “learnable” than the somewhat innate talents that make a good sales rep.

While new sales and branch managers won’t have time to master a long list of new skills as they face the daily challenges of fighting fires with customers, juggling the competing demands of their staffs and successfully delegating tasks, learning just a few key skills can make a big difference.

We outline five such skills in our book The 5 Fundamentals for the Wholesale Distribution Sales Manager, published by the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors. Whittling it down to five key issues forced us to get clear about what was truly essential, so that you can focus on it as well.

About the Author

Steve Deist

Steve Deist

Steve Deist has been a IRCG Partner for six years. He has over 20 years of experience working for hundreds of distributor, retail, manufacturer and private equity clients in dozens of lines of trade. He is a highly rated speaker, a permanent University of Industrial Distribution faculty member and a distribution company board director.

Steve has extensive knowledge of the distribution and supply chain space, with substantial experience in retail, construction and industrial channels. This experience includes:

  • Strategy, sales effectiveness, operations, supply chain, marketing and technology projects for over 100 organizations over the past 10 years. These clients have ranged in size from $5M family run businesses to Fortune 500 corporations.
  • Numerous marketing channel projects for top tier manufacturers which sell through dealers, distributors, retailers, etc.
  • Frequent industry speaking engagements for clients including, trade associations and manufacturers on a broad range of subjects. These engagements have included workshops, technical sessions for management level audiences, strategic sessions for executive level audiences and keynote speeches.
  • Due diligence and related projects for top tier private equity firms.

Steve is IRCG’s strategy guru, focused on helping companies achieve lasting competitive advantage. His hands-on approach enables him to apply leading edge concepts to the practical realities of daily business.

Prior to joining IRCG, he was director of consulting services at a major supply chain software vendor. Steve’s thought provoking articles appear frequently in premier industry publications such as Modern Distribution Management. Steve has authored three books published by NAW (The Five Fundamentals for the Wholesale Distribution Sales Manager, Value Creation Strategies for Wholesaler-Distributors and the upcoming What’s the Right Plan? Effective Sales Incentive Design for Wholesaler-Distributors).

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