Promotion Pitfalls – Sales to Management

By Bill & Chris Sitter

At the outset of this advice column, let’s establish that there are many excellent reasons to promote from within a dealership:

  • The opportunity to advance promotes company loyalty, boosts morale and enhances stability that comes from long tenured employees.
  • The newly promoted manager knows your policies and products.
  • Weaknesses or shortcomings are already known and can be addressed with special training.

To address some of the obstacles with sales rep to management promotions, let’s look at a fictitious scenario. Steve was hired as a bright sales trainee by your AED dealership. Your company invested in his product and sales training and he took to it like the proverbial duck to water. He got his first sales territory and received excellent mentoring from his sales manager. Steve lived up to expectations, his sales results grew in terms of volume, market share and gross margin…and his customers loved him. Soon, Steve was the consistent #1 salesman. When the Sales Manager retired, Steve seemed the obvious choice and he was excited to move into management. That’s when the red flags became obvious. As the overall sales department’s results suffered, executive management lost confidence in Steve and, even worse, Steve lost confidence in his own abilities, and found he was not enjoying being a manager. Ego kept Steve from returning to field sales so he left the dealership and all his promise went up in smoke.

In Bill Sitter’s 17 years of managing dealer sales teams, and even more experience working with AED dealer executives, this fictional story has often been reality. Let’s identify key reasons why promoting your top salesman may not work:

  • Top retail salespeople are not afraid of risk, in fact some thrive on it. Their income is heavily commission weighted and they must sell to succeed. Most dealers want their sales managers to balance sales volume, market share and profits. This takes a big picture view of what’s good for the company.
  • Paperwork is often not a strength for top sales performers. Reports are viewed as obstacles to quality time with customers. Sales Managers typically prepare budgets and forecasts and spend time analyzing operating reports, and doing employee performance evaluations.
  • Salesmen know they are part of a sales organization, but teamwork is often not a strength. Sales managers realize that sustained success hinges on building win-win partnering relationships with parts, service, finance, used equipment, marketing and managers at other branches.
  • To a “sales ace” who thrives on the thrill of the hunt, daily routine activities seem boring or a waste of valuable selling time. Managers, on the other hand, must be accessible and highly visible. This provides a sense of stability to others, while positioning them to resolve daily problems.

There are other reasons why top performing sales professionals may fail as sales managers. Deep-down they really may not want the responsibility that goes with leadership roles. That’s OKAY, as long as you understand what motivates them, and let them do what they love to do – sell, sell, sell!

Recognizing potential pitfalls & overcoming them. Since many successful dealer executives, as well as a host of effective sales and branch managers, started as sales representatives, there are obviously techniques that will enhance the odds of successful promotions.

  • Recognize potential pitfalls and candidly address each one, with other managers.
  • Have serious career planning talks with all high potential sales professionals. Find out what goals they have. Determine if they really aspire to management. Be sure they fully understand the job’s requirements, expectations and how their compensation plan will be structured.
  • If you and the sales rep are still “on go” then, as part of their career development, get them involved in projects that will help you observe key traits and skills related to: teamwork, strategic planning, financial analysis and interdepartmental cooperation.
  • For married candidates, we strongly recommend a meal with the sales professional and spouse. Discuss how his/her schedule and compensation might change, including travel or weekend work expectations.
  • If he/she has no prior management experience, you may wish to use managerial assessment tools.

If you take all these steps, and the lights are all “green”, you should have a great potential manager who will draw positively on past retail sales experience and successes to help your company grow and prosper.