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It’s Time for a Change! What Do I Do About an Aging Sales Manager?

I am the VP of Sales at a contract manufacturer. One of our best sales managers is in the southwest and has a long history with our company. In the past couple of years, our clients have become younger, the demographics of the territory have changed, and although our manager is well-liked by our dealers and customers, I do not feel he is relating to the demographic we now sell to.

For instance, many of the owners of our dealers in his geography speak Spanish, and many of the customers are younger and require more social time than my guy is willing or able to give. He does not have that much in common with our clients anymore, yet he knows our product inside out. Then there is the hiring. Sometimes I feel like he is hiring the same way he did 20 years ago in terms of who he brings on board, and our customers and dealers have changed, so his sales team is often out of touch with our dealers. I've observed that he does not want to look outside the industry; he wants an easy hire he does not have to train or change. I work for a privately-owned company, and I know the owners that I report to like him as much as I do as a person, yet I sense they agree it is time to shake things up. What are your suggestions for moving him over, or do I have to move him out?

What can I do?


Staying Relevant

Dear Relevant,

This is a bittersweet but common question in companies that have great sales leaders in sales organizations across the country. It's not just an age thing, it's not just a sales manager getting older, it's the very nature and composition of the demographic of some of the sales regions in the country. Market demographics are changing. The owners of the dealers, and their customers, are more reflective of the communities they reside in, and salespeople and sales managers must change with that. Language and culture are often part of that change.

It's difficult when you have a great man or woman that helped your company build a region and that region changes, or even when the region does not change much but the person has slowed down and cannot keep up with the ever-evolving fast pace of business. And now it's AI! It can be overwhelming.

No one likes to be put out to pasture, so my suggestion to my clients is that they must move the pasture. In other words, you do not move him out, you move him over! Meaning move the person sideways, for instance, to a global position or something a bit different, where they are still contributing, but just in a different role. Maybe the manager is especially adept at selling to government accounts; or large corporate accounts; or the A&D community. They can add value in one of these vertical markets.

Regional sales managers often think they have legacy jobs and can do them on autopilot, so it is important that you stay close to each of them to be sure that is not happening.

As dealer ownership changes along with client demographics, the salespeople you hire should reflect this. Salespeople should be able to relate to their customers, not just the company they work for. The one thing government has gotten right is term limits for some elected positions, and for me, sales managers should be in place no longer than ten years. Then, not fired but relocated or moved to a different position to keep them fresh and learning how to deal with a different customer base.

Our industry does not do enough relocating. Years ago, when people worked for a company called IBM, (I grew up in Armonk, NY, IBM headquarters) the people that worked there would say it stood for I Have Been Moved!

Thanks for your question. You're in a tough position. I hope this helps.