Your Superstar Sales Pro Isn’t Management Material

It’s time to hire a Sales Manager, and you have an important strategic decision to make: Should you promote from within or partner with an expert?

Dream situation: You promote the current Sales Superstar who obviously knows what they’re doing, and they successfully replicate their process for everyone else. (Plus, the higher-ups will certainly love that you’ve avoided having to search for someone else.)

Reality: Your Superstar Salesperson, with the drive, skills, and experience needed to close the deal, is a less-than-stellar manager. You realize that a Sales Manager role is an entirely different animal and requires a vastly different skill set than the individual contributor role—a skill set you realize they’re lacking.

What’s a Sales Leader to do? Weigh the pros and cons of both options and create an informed strategy.


PRO ~ Proven Track Record

Your superstar salesperson is a proven success. Clearly, they understand your company’s product/service and have mastered communicating the value proposition to the client. This knowledge and experience allow them to build a sales team with similar skills, experience, and salesmanship. In addition, “internal candidates have a strong knowledge of our culture, processes [and] methodologies, and have many relationships throughout the organization,” states Larry Nash, the Pittsburgh-based director of experienced and executive recruiting for EY.

PRO ~ Corporate Message

Hiring a Sales Manager from within demonstrates the company’s commitment to rewarding hard work and consistent revenue generation. Developing a sales management training program also shows the company is invested in your success. According to our latest research, opportunities for growth are a top priority for professionals.* Ultimately, this benefits the company as well. Companies that support sales manager development saw a 14% advantage in exceeding sales objectives over companies that did not.

*Download our FREE annual Compensation Guide for more insight on the latest trends in hiring and compensation.

CON~ Benching Your MVP

Hiring a Sales Manager from within inevitably cuts, and possibly eliminates, their time in the field. As a Sales Manager, they will be removed from her customer-centric role in which they clearly thrived. Unfortunately, they are now a coach rather than a superstar hitter.

CON ~ Unclear Succession

The gap between your #1 and #2 players may be significant. Your MVP is relegated to a sideline manager. Is your #2 ready to take their place and continue driving the company’s incredible growth? If not, who will fill the gap until they are ready to move up?

UNKNOWN ~ Does successful salesmanship translate to successful leadership?

The ability to sell well does not guarantee someone will lead well. Many of the skills that make a successful salesperson are the traits you find in top-notch leadership- drive, determination, and working with and listening to others. However, the chameleon-like nature of sales can be a big turnoff to a sales team looking for consistent direction from a leader. In addition, Sales leaders are often independent workers. Collaboration may not be in their vocabulary. As we know, engagement and collaboration are key to a manager-employee relationship. Can a top salesperson go from playing an individual golf game to being part of a larger team? It is interesting to note that data from the Sales Management Association’s Top Sales Managers Report indicated that, although 96% of firms rely on internal promotions to staff sales management positions, less than 50% consider themselves proficient at it, which can be a costly mistake. This is why partnering with an expert is wise.


PRO ~ Fresh Ideas and Perspective

Successful companies grow in sales and complexity. To avoid stagnation, new skill sets and business acumen are required. External hires can boost the internal culture, allowing companies to break out of the risky “groupthink” dynamic plaguing many mature businesses.

PRO ~ Larger Candidate Pool

Ultimately, companies want to hire the best Sales Manager. By casting a wider net and including external candidates, hiring managers will attract a diverse pool of potential hires who bring skills and experiences they might not have considered had they simply promoted from within. Partnering with an executive search firm specializing in Sales casts an even wider net, including fish you never knew were in the sea.

CON ~ External Hires Cost More and Score Lower

According to Wharton Professor Matthew Bidwell, external hires typically have less tenure in the role for which they are hired and receive vastly lower performance ratings than their internal counterparts. This leads to a 16% higher termination rate. Furthermore, external hires cost more. They are paid 18-20% more than an internal employee for the same position. (Bump that number up to as high as 20% in today’s labor market!)

CON ~ The Learning Curve

Hiring a Sales Manager externally often follows an uptick in success. The company is growing, revenue is increasing, and solid leadership can ensure that trajectory. However, external hiring can be dangerous because of the “ramp-up” time required for any new employee. In fact, 57% of executives indicated that it took up to six months or more to reach the full impact of their new role. During this time, your sales team will lose their successful momentum.

UNKNOWN ~ Team Impact

Sales Managers must direct the existing team. If they usher in new protocols and procedures or have an opposing leadership style, this can cause serious disruption to the current environment. If the current team is successfully closing deals and works well together, is this a risk you’re willing to take?

Identifying and hiring high-quality leadership to ensure continued growth and take revenue to the next level is a challenge. Good candidates are found anywhere. Success depends completely on the individual’s merits and ability to transition to a management role.  Ultimately, hiring managers should be looking for the best candidate, internal and external, to meet the unique needs of their company, its goals, and its existing team.

Hiring/Executive Recruiting