It seems simple enough to hire a good manager for a promotional products distributorship. You screen candidates with related experience, interview them, pick the best choice, and train them in the specifics of your business. Simple, right? Well, no. As you’ll see, it’s anything but simple.
Source of Candidates
Many distributors look to their top sales reps to step into managerial roles within their company. This is rarely a good choice. First, the skill set needed to be a great promotional products sales rep is not the same skill set needed to be a great manager. Second, top sales reps often become attached to the open-ended income available on the sales side of the business. Owners aren’t likely to provide open-ended compensation in a managerial position. Often, the result is that the owner ends up distracting one of his top sales producers with a managerial role they may not be suited for. Also, what’s the plan for that rep’s book of business. Third, sales reps are used to focusing on their clients and sales. This is often to the detriment of relationships with other reps, co-workers, and the distributorship owner. Accepting a managerial position places the top rep in the middle of regular conflicts between sales reps, owners, and suppliers. Very often, it’s not a comfortable position for them.
Respect Comes with Experience
A salesforce will respect a successful sales rep who takes on a management role because they understand the sales side of the business and will work as an advocate for the sales team. A manager from outside the industry or one who has never sold in our industry often struggles to achieve the respect of the salesforce. They don’t have the credibility needed to address real-life sales challenges that are unique to the promo industry. “They’ve never sold anything. What could they possibly know about what I need to be doing to make more money?”
Some owners agree to let a top sales rep become a manager and keep their client accounts. This might sound good to the manager, but it is the worst possible solution. A selling manager is often viewed as competition by the sales reps. After all, they can now choose which clients they serve and which clients they pass along to other reps. Owners want managers who are focused on company profitability. That doesn’t always mesh with the sales team’s desire for a rep-oriented manager. Only a highly capable and talented manager can satisfy the owner’s goals, maintain and grow a client base, and gain the trust of sales reps looking for support and more sales.
Think Long Term
The time to hire and begin grooming a manager comes long before the day you plan to need that manager. Advance planning allows you the time to slowly choose the right person for your managerial training program. A strong training program should last 3-5 years. It should consist of job rotations through every department in the business, with a heavy focus on sales and vendor relations. After each department rotation, the managerial trainee is evaluated and rated on performance in their most recent role. If performance in a particular department is satisfactory, they move on to the next one. A trend of poor performance during the training period means that your candidate likely isn’t a good fit. Keep in mind that success in sales is a must before the candidate can proceed to any other department.
By creating a long-term managerial training program you can avoid many of the challenges that come with picking a candidate from your sales team or from outside the company. Sales reps respect sales experience, so sales is a critical building block for management training. The training period gives you a chance to round out a candidate’s skills and evaluate the cultural fit they have with your team.
With full awareness of the pitfalls of hiring a manager and a carefully outlined training program, you can make hiring for this critical position a positive point in your company’s history, and not a negative blip in your path to success.