How Do You Groom Someone for Management?

There is an interesting conundrum in sales–becoming a manager.

Why is this a conundrum? Because current wisdom creates a manager one of two ways:

First: The most successful sales rep earns the opportunity to become the manager because they have demonstrated they are revenue producing machines.

Second: The person at the company with the longest tenure is tapped for management because of the number of years endured in the trenches.

Sound familiar? Have you watched the #1 sales rep get promoted to management because they’ve blown it out quarter to quarter and this is the natural reward for beating the comp plan? Or have you watched the succession of people move up to management like marbles through a straw based upon cumulative years, kind of like a “first in first out” strategy to rotate food in your pantry.

Why am I sounding negative about this?

Because in a data driven sales operation, the difference between people who aspire to management and people who become management have more reasons to be management than winning a race or outlasting their competition. This is not Survivor, we are not trying to “Outwit, Outlast, Outplay” our co-workers. We are trying to work together to grow company revenue and our compensation.

Let’s pick apart why promoting your best producer only on the metric of exceeding quota is a problem. The first, most glaring problem, is you have taken your best producer and removed them from a quota bearing position. Have you created a mechanism to fill the void they are leaving? And I don’t mean by hamstringing your new manager by asking them to continue to carry a quota as well as manage a team. Next, has the rep shown interest in managing? If you are placing them in a position which they didn’t want, you might be creating a new problem. And last, why is this person qualified to become a manager? Is it their relentless drive to achieve quota? Is it how they know how to get things done inside the company? Or is it their demeanor and the respect they garner from fellow employees?

If you are in sales, you’ve seen more than one individual who is a manager but really shouldn’t be.

Let’s look at pushing management through by tenure. This rewards someone for their cockroach survivability. It does not take into account any of the aforementioned issues, nor is it putting someone who is the most qualified into the position. They could be the most qualified, but tenure based promotion does not prove qualification.

The fact is, your company should be training people on becoming a manager as soon as they are hired. Plans for succession should be in place (like other SOP’s I’ve discussed) and those who truly want to become management will complete the tasks required to become management.

Tasks like taking some courses, getting a certificate, or even paying for them to get an MBA (there are ways to structure this to get paid back if they leave before you get any return on your investment).

Yet still, this doesn’t mean they are going to be a good manager. Allowing wannabes to succeed at some manager-esque tasks gets them to cut their teeth. And then, when the day comes, you select what you think will be your best choice. And then help as needed. Let this new hire learn from their mistakes, step into the role and manage.

Will they succeed? Who knows? But if you have been working towards the moment when that person steps into a management role, then their chances of succeeding are much greater than dropping a body in and saying, “Good luck!”

In researching for this there are a lot of articles about managing, but very few on bridging that gap between entry level employee and the first step up the ladder. Which I find incredibly interesting in light of the statistic which says the majority of sales reps leave a company because of their manager over all other reasons.

A good manager is the conduit and the filter from upper levels to the trenches. As I’ve said before, this position is a critical “promote from within” role as you are enabling your front line’s success. Make sure you promote wisely, and as I’ve heard said, wisdom is simply knowledge applied well.

Thinks, Inc. is a consulting firm which specializes in Smart Sales Operations. If you’d like for us to come and assess your chaos, drop us a line at

Promote from Within or do Without.

What happens when a person from outside an organization is brought in for a higher level position, e.g. executive vice president, vice president, or first line manager?

Well, it depends…but I will say, based upon anecdotal evidence, that depending upon the level which the new hire is placed, it can be anywhere from transformative to strategic to downright disastrous.

And why? Because the lower in the food chain of an organization, the more important someone is who knows the company. Especially first line managers, since they are really “information encyclopedias” for their direct reports. That first line manager is there to help bridge that gap between company knowledge and company culture and the rep.  If you place an outside hire in position as a first line manager, then starting the position they have two tasks, not just one: they have to learn the company culture as well as learn the company knowledge. And when it comes to making those in the trenches successful, understanding where to go to get things done is invaluable to the front line. If the manager has to go and find out how things are done and then report that back to the rep(s), then there is a delay and a burp in the process of getting things done.

Let’s set up a scenario. A small manufacturing company is looking to expand, and they decide to promote the current manager into an executive role, creating a new position, and now need to fill his or her role as a first line manager.

The company has had good people work hard for them for many years, helping to build the company to get it to this point. The employees have worked hard–people who have produced products, sold them, created marketing, balanced the books, straightened up back office messes, managed crises, and led the company to prosperity.

And then, because the company believes it needs to change, they hire someone from outside because they have “experience”.

What does that mean, they have “experience”? In some instances, it means the new hire brings skills to the table which the company needs and their current employees do not have. But in usually it means they bring in someone who’s managed people before. The owner/president/decision maker decides to bring in an outside party because s/he doesn’t believe anyone on the front line is capable of “managing”.  But how did this person who is brought in gain their experience? Someone took a chance on that person, promoting them to a management position, and more than likely, from within their company. I have never seen a company hire a manager from outside a company who didn’t already have management experience.

As an example: in one company, they had gone through several marketing people. They had hired an intern who quickly proved her value, who understood social media, worked hard and had great ideas. She worked for the current VP of Marketing who had troubles not only with the fundamentals of branding and messaging, but also with the newer things like social media. Basically, the intern began to save the VP’s bacon on a regular basis. The president, realizing her worth, hired her full-time.

She then proceeded to lead their social media campaigns, e-marketing campaigns and anything else the VP didn’t understand. She continued to save his bacon and she was given a new title and a raise.

When the VP decided to leave, the president, instead of looking at who had helped the company and supported its growth–i.e. who was up and coming and understood the company’s needs–hired someone outside the company whose resume was impressive.

The new VP proved scattered and ineffective, and was replaced by another outside hire with an impeccable looking resume. Marketing foundered for several more years. And here’s where the wheels fall off the bus. The rising marketing star realized she would never be considered for the top job so she left. And suddenly there was a giant hole in the company’s marketing as all of that experience walked out the door. And not just her insights and understanding of the space, but her contacts and the relationships she had built for the company. The president, of course, groused at the lack of loyalty the ex-employee showed. That, sadly, is irony.

There are a few times when companies need to look outside their walls for talent. Ford was a good example when it admitted to itself it needed fresh eyes to look at the problems created by an insulated familial succession. But on the other hand, GM saw that hiring Mary Barra was the right move as she knew the systems and had proven herself while coming up through the ranks–which is what GM needed to straighten out the messes created by their siloed decision making.

I’m not saying “never”, as absolutes simply don’t exist in our world. But I am saying look closely at your people. Step outside of how you see them, and see how they could benefit the company. Many times building a mentoring program is a great step so that someone is prepared to step into a role that needs to be filled. In sales especially, I see this as an extremely important step, as most small companies promote the best performing sales rep to management. This will be addressed in another post, but two things here: 1) Just because a rep sells the most doesn’t mean s/he should become or is qualified to become a manager and 2) if you take your biggest producer out of the field, what have you done to your sales?

In the end, promoting from within provides continuity. It enables culture building and a sense of safety to the employees. And, ultimately, it allows for employees to grow.

If you give them the chance, they will succeed.

Thinks, Inc. is a consulting firm which specializes in Smart Sales Operations. If you’d like for us to come and assess your chaos, drop us a line at

PS The Infrastructure Guy  and Smart Sales Operations are Trademarks of Thinks, Inc.