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Bonus Focus - Helping Sales Reps Make the Transition to District Manager

Helping Sales Reps Make the Transition to District Manager

By Vincent F. Peters


One of the jobs that trainers face everyday is that of helping high potential district manager candidates make the transition from sales representative to district manager. We will review the management process and stress the importance of good first line sales managers. This article will focus on the differences between managing and selling. To be successful in training people to be future district managers, we too need to understand the meaning of "management,” in its entirety. We hope that trainers will be able to implement many of these principles in their district management training activities.

The Sales Management Process

In our own lifetimes we have seen management become a science, subject to be studied and applied. Its concepts are used around the world, across cultural and political boundaries. It is a lasting contribution of the Twenty First Century. So how does management differ from selling?

Anyone who is a sales manager has a high regard for selling. It's an honorable and important profession. Sales managers in most cases were once successful sales representatives, and most still occasionally use their considerable selling skills. Sales management is also an honorable and important profession, and quite different from selling. It has its own rewards and requirements for success. Mastering the skills of sales management is as at least as challenging as mastering the skills of salesmanship. One of the major challenges is giving up some of the satisfying pleasures of selling personally in order to help others sell.

So What Are the Differences Between Managing and Selling?

Every organization knows that it has to have someone in charge of the action. A ship's captain sails with a crew; the coach directs team members; a film director supervises the actors. In most of these situations, a lack of leadership would result in chaos. The organization not only works better and is more productive when there is good management; the people performing the mission's vital tasks are also more satisfied with their roles. Poor management or weak ineffective management is frustrating for the team whether they be workers, actors or sales reps. The differences between managing and selling are many, however both can work together very effectively. The reason that the differences exist is because the sales mission demands it in regards to:

  • Responsibilities
  • Relationships
  • Functions

"Remember, management is about getting things done through others”


If everyone does everyone else's job, then no one is responsible. The only way to get work done in any organization is to delegate effectively, so that each member makes a clearly defined contribution.


Managers must always be accessible to their teams. They must help, guide, coach, listen, motivate, discipline and train. They must stand firm as members of management, as well, and represent the best standards of professionalism to both their customers and sales representatives. The first line sales manager is the critical link between the field and headquarters. The first line sales manager is expected to maintain a constant level of communication both ways.


The manager can't be a super salesperson. The manager delegates certain functions to the sales reps and ensures that the reps complete them. When done properly, this is a very effective strategy.

Let's take a more in-depth look at the sales management process. The management of any organization can be accomplished by following the basic process. To put it simply this process is a closed circle, in which each step builds upon the previous step logically and continuously, so that management is never lacking, even if the manager isn't physically present. The steps outlined here apply to every management job, regardless of the industry. There are three steps that are involved in the process:

  • Planning
  • Controlling
  • Measuring


Planning is done for a specific time period because time is always a factor in assessing accomplishments. Today's race can't be won tomorrow, and this year's sale can't be made next year or the year after. The actual time period varies with the activity. Time has to be allowed for progress to be made rationally. It's essential to know at the beginning of a planning period where you want to be at the end. Setting goals at the beginning of the planning process best does this.

To get support for plans, we need to involve others in the planning stage. The team members should have a voice in goal-setting and activity planning. If a plan is felt to be a group effort it will tend to be carried out with far more energy than a plan that is imposed.

A goal is part of a plan. By itself it points to the direction and the destination. Having a route or road map makes for much more certain and efficient progress. You will find that step-by-step plans are the best means of arranging this guidance. How to use resources to achieve these goals is the final consideration in planning. Resources are always limited, so the judicious arrangement of resources is a vital planning element.


The manager exercises control to ensure that the operation is going according to plan. We can't wait until the final results are in – and then find out if everything went well. The manager needs to know at each checkpoint how well the team is doing. Control of this nature is constant management of the operation. At each critical junction the manager knows who is on track and on time. The manager needs to check progress at every checkpoint. If a checkpoint is reached and a plan is on track, the manager can simply let it go or reinforce the good work with a compliment. But if an aspect of the plan is in trouble or a checkpoint is being missed, it's the job of the manager to step in promptly.

Coaching is the first logical step to take when a checkpoint is missed. Talk to the responsible individual; work with him/her to get the operation back on schedule. Replan if necessary. Maybe new checkpoints can be set; perhaps a more creative strategy is needed. Remember, keep the goal in mind and keep it intact.

"Management is about getting things done through others”


At the end of the planning period, the actual result is compared to the goal. This is the score and payoff. Everyone is measured against standards, which have been established as acceptable levels of performance. How your unit does against goals is an equally critical measure. The goals were set with your team members, so that everyone has ownership and strong commitment to their achievement.

Each person is measured through means of a Performance Appraisal System. This is an important tool for development and for organization planning. Performance against goals and standards are the basis for an appraisal.

The measures of the final results should be the basis for the new plans. Factors other than actual results can be used to determine the next period's goals, but they are a starting point. Past results may reflect available potential, but won't reflect new resources and opportunities available.

The No. 1 reason why people quit is dislike of the manager. Good sales management can increase sales force success and retention. Apply the principles that we have covered in your management training and you will reap the benefits.

Vincent Peters is vice president of human resources and training at Bioview Anatomical Pathology Laboratory. Email Vince at

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