DON’T Promote Your Superstar Salesperson!

by Ken Schmitt and Vicky Willenberg

Business is booming! But before you promote your superstar sales person, we urge you to reconsider. Your Superstar Salesperson may possess the drive, skills, and experience needed to close the deal but to continue on this trajectory hiring an exceptional sales manager is key. The Sales manager role differs so dramatically from the individual contributor role that a promotion may be the worst decision you could make for both parties.

The lure of “promotion” may initially be tempting for the individual and for management who rejoice in replicating their superstar salesperson’s success. However, is this desired result achievable? Or, would your sales force and the company benefit more from the fresh perspective and influx of new ideas of an external hire?

To make the best decision, understanding the pros and cons of each is key.


PRO ~ Proven Track Record: Your superstar saleswoman has proven she has what it takes to be successful. Clearly, she understands your company’s product/service and has mastered how to communicate the value proposition to the client. This knowledge and experience will enable her to build a sales team comprised of men and women 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: Internal promotions offer a few unique and powerful benefits. Promoting from within demonstrates the company’s commitment to rewarding hard work and consistent revenue generation. Additionally, developing a sales management training program shows the company is invested in your success. 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.”

CON~ Benching Your MVP:Promoting your key player inevitably cuts, and possibly eliminates, her time in the field. As a Sales Manager, she will be removed from her customer-centric role in which she clearly thrived, and redefines her a coach.

CON ~ Unclear Succession:The gap between your #1 and #2 players may be significant. If your MVP is relegated to the sidelines as a manager, is there another MVP ready to take her place and continue driving the company’s incredible growth?

UNKNOWN ~ Does successful salesmanship translate to successful leadership?The ability to sell well does not guarantee she will lead well. Many of the skills that make a successful salesperson are the traits you find in top notch leadership- drive, determination, working with others, listening to and meeting needs. But the chameleon-like nature of sales can be a big turnoff to a sales team looking for direction. In addition, data from 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% of firms consider themselves proficient at it.


PRO ~ Fresh Ideas and Perspective: As companies grow in sales and complexity, a new set of skills and business acumen may be required to avoid stagnation. External hires can offer a boost to 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.

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, resulting in a termination rate that is 16% higher. External hires are paid 18-20% more than an internal employee for the same position.

CON ~ The Learning Curve:Hiring a new Sales Manager typically follows an uptick in success. The company is growing, revenue is increasing, and solid leadership can ensure that trajectory. Therefore, external hiring can be dangerous because of the “ramp up” time required for any new employee. In fact, 57% of executives indicatedit took up to six months or more to reach full impact of their new role. This is more than enough time for your sales team to lose their successful momentum.

UNKNOWN ~ Team Impact:As a leader, your external hire is tasked with directing the existing team. This can cause serious disruption to the current environment if he or she ushers in new protocols and procedures or has an opposing leadership style. 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 revenues to the next level is a challenge. There is no absolute right or wrong on the sales promotion debate, good candidates can be found anywhere. Success is dependent completely on the merits and ability of the individual 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.

About the Authors

Ken Schmitt is the CEO and Founder of TurningPoint Executive Search and the Sales & Marketing Leadership Alliance. Specializing in placing sales, marketing and operations professionals across the country, Ken’s 16 years of recruiting experience have equipped him with the knowledge to serve as a thought partner to his clients for all recruiting, hiring and human capital-related initiatives. Ken sits on the board of Junior Achievement, the American Marketing Association, the San Diego HR Roundtable and is an Advisory Board Member for San Diego Sports Innovators (SDSI).

Vicky Willenberg has served as the Social Media Manager for TurningPoint since 2011. In 2014, she was elevated to Digital Marketing Manager, broadening her participation across all things digital for the firm. A former teacher with a Masters in Education, Vicky is an active and published blogger at The Pursuit of Normal and a marketing professional. She has her finger on the pulse of the latest trends in the recruiting, hiring and leadership sectors.

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