Nature vs. Nurture in Sales Management

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.