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2 Questions to Determine if a Sales Rep Is Mentally Prepared for Sales Management

A top-performing rep doesn't always make the best sales manager. Use these two questions to determine if a sales rep is mentally prepared for sales management.

8 min read

This post was originally published by HubSpot and authored by Andrew Quinn. Andrew is a Vice President, Sales Productivity and Enablement at HubSpot. He focuses on ensuring HubSpot Sellers and Sales Leaders have everything they need to be as effective and productive as possible. He loves helping people to succeed. Areas of expertise: Sales, Leadership, Learning and Development, Performance Coaching.


As of late, there have been several posts about the issues that often crop up when top performers are promoted to sales management. Here’s a common scenario: You’ve got two openings for sales managers. You look to the leaderboard, grab the top four names, run them through a quick interview process, and bump two of them up to sales manager.

The problem here is the jobs are actually quite different. Rock star reps—although fantastic individual contributors—can sometimes make the worst managers.

Over the span of my career, I’ve had countless sales reps come to me looking to make the move to sales management. They want to know what they need to do to get in position to snag the job. A lot of these people are not the top performers. They are solid performers, and some of them have the potential to be great sales managers. However, they often get overlooked.

What’s interesting to me is that many reps looking to take on the sales manager job don’t fully understand what the role entails, or don’t want it for the right reasons. To separate those who truly want the sales manager job and are actually suited for it from those that are seeking a change for another reason, I ask the following two questions:

1. How important is money to you?

Don’t get me wrong—money is important to everybody in varying degrees. Sales, if you’re good, is an effective way to earn a good living without extensive and expensive education and training. Really good reps can easily out-earn doctors, lawyers, and other high-earning professionals. 

That creates an interesting issue for the rep that wants to become a manager. Top reps often out-earn their sales managers. Depending on a company’s sales compensation plan, even reps in the top third can out-earn a sales manager.

This is why the question above is key. When a top performing rep asks me what they need to do get on the track to be a sales manager, I always ask this question first. I try to determine how strong money is as a motivator for that person and how it affects their sense of self-worth. Is their motive simply to earn a good living or is it to make as much money as possible?

If their answer aligns more with the latter statement, they’re probably better off staying in an individual contributor role because the odds are, as a new manager, they won’t make as much as they would as a sales rep. To be a great sales manager, they need to be willing to invest in themselves. That might mean taking home a smaller paycheck while they develop in their new sales management role. A rock star rep does not become rock star manager just by acquiring the title.

2. Why do you want to be a sales manager?

I find responses to that question fall into two general buckets. Bucket One: the rep is looking for a way out of their current role (which tends to happen after year five in a role). In essence, they are running from the job they have. Bucket Two: the rep is genuinely interested in taking on new challenges. In other words, they are running towards a new opportunity.

A performing rep that’s getting burned out or becoming bored with some aspect of their job will often seek promotion to management as an escape. But a sales manager position isn’t just a change of scenery—it’s a whole different job. And given their frame of mind, they’re probably not prepared for it. It will be harder and more demanding than the job they have. They just don’t realize it because it doesn’t look that way from their point of view.

Furthermore, a person who isn’t pursuing the role for the role’s sake probably won’t be a good fit in the long run. Since they’re trying to flee the unsavory parts of their current job, they’re probably fixating on what they see as the positive aspects of a sales management role. Of course, each job—rep or manager—has its pros and cons and failing to recognize this is dangerous.

I avoid recommending sales management as a way forward for a rep that’s looking to run from their frustrations. I tend to dig in and work to pinpoint the source of their unhappiness, and then work with them to develop a way forward to reengage with their current jobs. I look for what specific aspect of the sales job is bothering them the most. Is there a way I can help them with or unburden them from that?

On the other hand, you have the reps that are running toward a new opportunity. These people tend to be interested in the business as a whole and possess a desire to broaden their impact. Whereas a sales rep’s primary goal is to drive revenue, sales managers are also responsible for hiring, managing performance issues, allocating resources, developing talent, and driving the number across the team. I look for salespeople who understand the amount of work a management role entails and what it means to succeed in these areas.

If someone actively wants to take on new responsibilities, is not primarily motivated by money, and has the potential to lead successfully, they are likely a solid candidate for sales management. Once you have the answers to these two questions, and you’ve ensured that their head and their heart are in the right place, you can move on to assessing the candidate’s skills.

Want to learn more about getting sales reps on the right career track and selecting the best managers? Download our guide, "How to Build and Retain Sales Reps to Drive Top Performance."