We have dealt with numerous clients who have promoted sellers to ad directors with varying degrees of success. Sometimes it works quite well and sometimes it doesn’t.

A couple months ago, while talking with Dr. Joe Arpaia, a psychiatrist friend who specializes in stress-management, I asked him why this had such mixed results. Our conversation led to some important insights into the processes by which top salespeople can get into trouble as sales managers, and how to prevent that from happening. [Ed. Note: Jim will present more findings in a second part to this column in an upcoming issue.]

Social Optimism Is Great For Sales

The best salespeople are social optimists—they expect positive outcomes and they expect to be accepted. This helps them rebound when a proposal is rejected because, from their perspective, it is hard to believe that anyone would reject them personally. In a difficult sales climate, socially optimistic salespeople continue making efforts in an energized and creative manner, thereby increasing their rate of success, while others are discouraged. While they may sometimes still fall short of a goal, they will continue to radiate confidence and assure their management that all is well until the last tick of the clock. Because socially optimistic salespeople tend to emphasize the upside and be blind to potential pitfalls, their forecasts may be less reliable than that of their more realistic peers. At this level, most managers are willing to tolerate poor forecasting if it means more sales.

The skills of social optimists include patterns of interpretation and response.

Interpretation skills include:
• Focusing on the positive potential in any situation
• Generalizing from prior successes rather than prior failures
• Assuming that a successful sale is going to occur

Response skills include:
• Stepping back and working on other accounts that are more likely to bring success
• Talking with other salespeople to get new ideas
• Finding creative ways to approach difficult prospects

Social Optimism Is Not So Great for Sales Management

Top salespeople repeat these behaviors so often that the skills become reflex responses to any situation in which the context is selling. However, when top salespeople are promoted to sales managers, they are dealing with different stresses, and the social optimism skills, which worked so well before, can become useless, or worse. Managers need to lead, and motivate, and accurately assess the situation. When forecasting, they must learn to suppress their positive biases to increase reliability.

If their team is struggling, new sales managers will often shift the context to what they are familiar with and expert at: selling. They may take over for the salespeople who are having difficulty. The sales team may unknowingly collude in this because that seems to be what their sales manager wants. This essentially demotes the sales manager to a salesperson, and the sales team to a group of assistants.

Sales managers do need to understand how to encourage social optimism because their salespeople will need to use those skills effectively. However, sales managers also need additional skills of interpretation and response that are more appropriate for handling the stress of managing. They need more tools to get the job done in their new role.

Next time, we will examine ways that new sales managers’ bosses can help them succeed.

Joseph Arpaia, MD lives and practices in Eugene, OR. He is the co-author of Real Meditation in Minutes a Day. He specializes in helping people deal with stress-related conditions to improve their health and personal effectiveness.

Jim Elliott is president of the James G. Elliott Co., Inc., a national advertising sales and consulting company, and a regular contributor to Folio:.