Credit: Chris Gash

Any company with more than three salespeople probably needs a sales manager. If the company owner isn't going to manage the sales reps himself, it's time to consider a manager. The question is: Do you promote a salesperson or bring someone in from outside?

Phil Callen, co-owner of Callen Construction, in Muskego, Wis., says that there's a big caveat in hiring your best salesperson to be sales manager. “Not only do you lose those sales,” he says, but the new manager may not be able to motivate the team to make up for the loss — and dollars may not be all you lose. “You could lose salespeople who are used to doing it their way and now they have to do it someone else's way.”

MIXED RESULS Callen says that he has had mixed results promoting salespeople into management. The person now holding that position wanted to be a sales manager, Callen says, “plus, he was very organized, well-read on sales techniques, and willing to share those techniques.” So it's worked out well for Callen Construction.

WHERE THE ACTION IS Grant Mazmanian, president of Pinnacle Group International, in Media, Pa., says that after 18 years of working as a sales recruiter in the home improvement industry, he's seen a handful of successes where reps were promoted to sales managers. Often, he says, salespeople “lack the basic components a sales manager has to have: persistence, follow-up, follow-through, organizational skills, and the general category of management. Once they get promoted, they get bored and want to go back out into the field.”

Mazmanian says that what makes the process risky is that most small contracting businesses cannot afford a learning curve. “While the promoted sales manager is cutting his teeth learning how to manage, sales are going to go down,” he points out. He advises bringing in “a professional with a track record and a demonstrated history of managing salespeople.” A potential sales manager really only needs about two years of a demonstrated track record because “they've already shown that they like managing others.”