Sales Leadership Lessons I Wish I Could Have Given to My Younger Self


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Like most sales managers, I spent several years as a sales rep before promotion to a sales management position. Here’s what I know now that I wish I could have advised my newly-promoted self back in the day:

Your top sales rep may not be your best choice for promotion to sales manager

I had a sales manager opening to fill, and two quota-producing salespeople I was considering for the promotion. My top producer, Mike, was an exceptional salesperson. He had a “motor” that was 2nd to none and was consistently 120% of quota. He was highly competitive and incredibly hard-working. When Mike won a big sale he’d get very jazzed, but when he lost a sale he could get down in the dumps.

My #2 producer, Darren, consistently produced at 100-110% of quota. Darren was more even keel than Mike.

Naturally, I promoted Mike, my top producer because he sold more. It was a huge mistake!

As a manager, Mike expected everyone to sell like he did, and he couldn’t understand when they didn’t. He would get emotional, subjective, and unpredictable when his sales team didn’t sell like him. I coached Mike frequently and wanted him to make changes. But he just wasn’t capable of making that shift. After six months, I suggested that he reconsider a sales territory, and he jumped at the chance to get back to selling. I then tasked Darren as the team’s new manager.

Today, 20 years later, I still keep in touch with both Mike and Darren on LinkedIn. Mike now sells business insurance, and Darren manages over 1,000 salespeople for a technology company. At the time I employed Darren, I knew he had become a good salesperson but I did not recognize his leadership qualities soon enough.

Don’t let daily “stuff” get in the way of making effective hiring decisions.

An incentive for one company I worked was an awards trip for the top 5% of their 2,000-person sales force. I won the trip as a general manager one year and attended the company-sponsored cocktail party at a resort in Mexico. One salesperson, who looked vaguely familiar, came up to me to me and asked, “Kevin, do you remember me?”

Turned out that I had interviewed him three years prior but I had made the decision not to hire him. A few months later, he’d landed a sales job with another division of our company in a nearby city. And within two years he had risen to become one of our company’s peak performers.

We all know the cost of a bad hire that we make. But what about the great candidate that we don’t hire? The mistake I made, I’m sure of it, was that when “stuff” got really busy I could become less effective as an interviewer. The busier I was, the more pressure I put on myself to make faster decisions. Not good.

When times are tough, and you’re stressed out, don’t lose your sense of humor!

The day that Abraham Lincoln was nominated to become president was, for him, a very stressful day. Lincoln handled stress by telling jokes. On that day, one joke Lincoln told was about Thomas Paine, a famous Revolutionary War patriot.

Shortly after America won its independence from Great Britain, Paine travelled to England to visit his cousins. As a practical joke, these British cousins decided to place a picture of George Washington in their outhouse. One day they asked Paine, “Do you think it strange that we placed Washington in our outhouse?”

Paine said, “No.… Actually, I thought it was the perfect place for it, because nothing will scare the poop out of an Englishman faster than the sight of George Washington!”

I’d never claim to be in the same league as Abraham Lincoln. (Few of us could!) But if Lincoln could maintain his sense of humor when taking on the leadership pressures of a highly divided country just weeks away from the start of the Civil War, surely I could have done the same in my own situations.

There you have it. Three pieces of advice from an older-and-wiser Kevin Davis to the young, ambitious sales manager I was once. Hope you can benefit from my experience!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Kevin Davis
Kevin Davis is the president of TopLine Leadership, which provides sales training and sales management leadership training programs to companies from diverse sectors. Kevin is the author of "Slow Down, Sell Faster! : Understand Your Customer's Buying Process & Maximize Your Sales". For more information visit


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