Lessons in Turning Weakness into Strength for Sales Managers

Kevin F. Davis, Founder & President, TopLine Leadership, Inc.

One of my favorite quotes comes from the Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu: “Eventually your strengths will become a weakness.” Nowhere do I see this lesson more clearly than when a great sales rep is promoted into sales management. Here are three examples of sales rep strengths that turn into weaknesses when they become managers.

1. Never give up.

Every sales rep is taught to be persistent. “Never give up” is the rallying cry to keep their spirits up. That kind of tenacity is very valuable in salespeople; it makes them persist and wins more deals. But when a sales manager decides to never give up on their reps — especially low producers — it can potentially damage the team. I know for a fact this happens all the time because whenever I ask a group of sales managers “Is there anybody on your team that you wouldn’t have hired if you knew back then what you know now?” About 90% of them raise a hand. It’s important to establish a standard method for evaluating performance and enforce it equally. If poor performers repeatedly fail to improve, cut your losses sooner rather than later.

2. Leave peak performers alone.

I’ve rarely met a sales manager who wasn’t promoted up through the ranks. As reps, most wanted to be left alone so they could do their magic without a manager watching over their shoulder. It’s natural that when those star salespeople become managers, they take a hands-off approach to the rockstar sales reps on their team. After all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

There are two problems here. First, if you leave a rockstar alone, they’ll often turn into a prima donna — self-centered and demanding with a rules-aren’t-made-for-me attitude. Second, a sales manager is bypassing an opportunity to create a positive role model for the team if they fail to coach a rockstar. Sales managers should not take a hands-off approach with their most successful reps. Instead, they should consistently enforce standards and make sure the more accomplished reps share their insights with teammates.

3. Avoid conflict.

In the numerous sales management webinars I’ve delivered recently, 30% of the audience said they struggle most with their instinct to avoid conflict. In their time as sales reps they were, in a way, rewarded for avoiding conflict. As sales managers, the instinct to avoid conflict translates into a manager who is reluctant to have difficult conversations with underperforming sales reps. Before they know it, they’re tolerating mediocrity on their team.

Think like a leader.

Leading and managing a sales team requires a different mindset and skillset than selling. The examples I’ve given here are all instances where managers who act on their sales rep instincts create a poor atmosphere on their team. Research has shown that having just one person with a bad attitude can demoralize the entire team.

All sales managers want to be as great at managing as they were at selling. To do that, they have to continue working on the way they approach managing and make sure their sales rep instincts don’t turn into sales management weaknesses.

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