A reader writes, "Recently, one of my best sales reps expressed interest in becoming a sales manager. While I think he has the qualities to succeed as a leader, I have no plans to create a sales management position. I supervise the sales staff and plan to do so until I retire or sell the company - both events are many years away. An excellent rep, I would like him to remain with the company for as long as possible. How do I handle this situation?"
Support him in every way possible.
Education as a Benefit
Companies of all sizes offer full or partial tuition reimbursement programs for a reason. They know those who learn and grow make better employees. People capitalizing on these programs tend to have longer tenures with their organizations.
Offer to pay for all or part of a sales management training program. Be clear about the maximum the company will spend and any other conditions attached - like achievement of a minimum grade.
Provide Some Experience
Put this rep in charge of a project. It doesn't necessarily need to involve direct management of others. You might be considering changing CRM vendors, starting an inside sales group, purchasing new lead tracking software, or improving communications between marketing and sales.
See if he has any interest in creating or heading up a committee to begin looking into any one of these initiatives.
Act as a Mentor
Share your management know-how and wisdom. Agree to have lunch with this rep once a month to discuss your experiences supervising people. Talk about what you find challenging and what you enjoy. Recommend books or tapes that have positively influenced your career.
Always keep in mind, this person still works for you, and use good judgment in considering what subjects get covered. Speak in general terms. Never talk about current employees specifically. When discussing an experience with a past employee, don't name names.
Ask professional contacts currently managing employees if they would be willing to meet the salesperson for coffee to discuss their experiences. Hearing from people outside of the company helps provide a fuller perspective.
Why Do Any of This?
Those interested in pursuing a management position eventually find a way. Sometimes reps leave a job where they're perfectly happy to accept a sales position with a company offering management opportunities.
If this salesperson starts down that path, you now manage a distracted job-hunter as opposed to a focused sales representative. Instead, embrace and encourage their ambition. Grateful for the opportunity to learn and grow, they'll likely remain productive and on the job for some time to come.
The Flip Side
Most sales reps at some point in their career consider the possibility of becoming a sales manager. When you support the rep as they take a course and speak to other managers, they may come to the realization they either don't want or aren't ready to manage others. It happens.
While it looks glamorous from the outside, anyone managing people knows it to be anything but.
If this rep remains serious about pursuing a management position, and you have none, he will eventually go elsewhere. It's inevitable. Having been supported and encouraged by you, he'll likely leave on very good terms, express gratitude for your help, and remain a great business contact. He may be in a position to do you a good turn at some future point.