Bob Is A Great Salesperson - Too Bad His Title Is Sales Leader

Difference between Salesperson and Sales Leader

Updated 01/27/2021

Does this sound familiar? Six months ago, you promoted "Bob," an outstanding salesperson who has excellent skills and the respect of the sales team to sales leader. Today, Bob is busier than ever — on calls with the other salespeople, helping to close their deals. The new salesperson hired to replace Bob is struggling, generating less revenue than Bob did in his former role.

The rest of the sales team is producing about the same numbers they were six months ago, making the net result of the promotion a loss, because no one is replacing the revenue Bob brought in as an individual contributor. There are many challenges going from salesperson to sales leader.

Good Intentions Poor Execution

This is a very common scenario that happens all the time, even today. Businesses have the best of intentions in promoting a sales star to manage a sales team. They want to reward performance, retain a loyal and talented team member, and leverage the demonstrated skills of one of their best business developers to improve the sales organization's overall skills and performance.

The problem is that outstanding sales skills and business development talents do not transform into great management skills. Not without a focus on developing those management skills. According to Hoopla, "Over 75% of sales reps who are promoted to sales manager will fail out of the role within two years."

Doing What They Know Best

Without guidance, the Bobs of the world will typically only do what they do best: sell. They rush from account to account, helping to close deals because this is what they know how to do. While some salespeople may glean lessons by seeing these sales-oriented leaders' work firsthand, many learn to get a deal close to complete and then call in Bob to finish the job, thus halting their own sales development.

Frustration (the kind that can erode morale) is common as salespeople feel Bob "just takes things over." Besides, Bob is rewarded for being a closer, allowing him to be the hero. This is known as the internal struggle of the player-coach.

Can your business avoid this pattern and still cultivate internal talent to lead sales teams successfully? Yes, is often the answer if businesses are willing to take the following steps to identify, develop, and support new sales leaders.

Watch for a Team Mentality

The best sales leaders get great satisfaction from the success of others. When looking to promote from within your sales ranks, watch for signs of team orientation. Does the salesperson have a record of willingly partnering with others for the greater good of the business? Does the candidate support colleagues in their efforts and openly share tips and opportunities? Are they good at managing the administrative side of sales operations?

Use these questions to carefully observe and identify candidates who will be able to adjust from measuring job success based on the revenue they bring into their team’s performance.

Commit to Development

The skills it takes to manage a group, motivate people, and coach are vastly different than the skills it takes to sell. Leaders must be taught how to "coach" to develop their team members' skills rather than "direct" or tell their salespeople what to do.

They also need to encourage performance by setting clear expectations, holding people accountable, valuing and developing skills of delegation, prioritizing their time in very different ways, and cultivating how to best manage conflict. According to Business LinkedIn, "70% of sales managers say a manager's ability to navigate change is more important now than it was five years ago."

Rather than hoping for a sales leader to master these skills through sheer determination or the painful process of trial and error, you may want to consider investing in a more formal development process for your sales leaders. Keep in mind it's not a two-day class, but a combination of education and job activities that create strong, routine habits.

Define Expectations Early & Measure Them Regularly

If you are like most companies, you probably do not sit new sales managers down and tell them exactly what you expect. The first thing every new sales manager should hear is, "Your job is not to do it yourself, but rather to coach and improve performance, so your team improves." They need to understand that the new measure of success is not just an overall revenue number, but also the marked improvement of each sales team member.

All salespeople—from sellers to sales leaders to CEOs are motivated by performance goals. Tap into that desire to succeed. Clearly outline the new success measures and give your new leader the right plans to aspire to, measure, and reward accomplishments.

Would adding this management development and evaluation best practices to the way you currently operate be a serious departure from how your business works today? If so, it is time to look at how you have been preparing and supporting sales leaders.


Going from salesperson to sales leader is challenging and comes with a lot of failures. Now is your chance to open your eyes and help them. Invest more time and energy into making sure that your salesperson becomes a successful leader while making a significant, lasting impact on the sales team AND your overall results.

Enhance your leadership skills and proactively build your legacy.

Start Your Journey Today

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