There’s nothing more exhilarating and nothing more terrifying than that first big promotion into management. For many professional sellers, there’s also nothing more misunderstood.
Managers have been telling me for a few years now that it seems like every salesperson wants to become a sales manager. To them, it seems that no one is satisfied these days with a lifelong career as a salesperson. That leads me to believe that many sellers don’t understand that:
- Sales management requires many skills and traits that have nothing at all to do with being a strong salesperson. Over-relying on what you’ve done to be successful in selling will almost certainly cause you to fail as a sales manager.
- Being a sales manager is one of the most difficult jobs there is. Sales managers are responsible for driving revenue, so they get significant pressure from senior management and are scrutinized in their day-to-day activities and performance more than most. Additionally, sales reps and support staff bring a never-ending stream of crisis-level problems to sales managers and expect instant answers and solutions. Now add in customers because they, too, turn to sales managers when they are dissatisfied.
- Sales managers are accountable for all sorts of things that they don’t have a bit of control over. They can’t monitor their employees the way the manager of an office-bound team does. They can’t speed up or slow down the production of their teams the way the manager of non-sales teams can. They can’t make absolute guarantees about sales forecasts the way a line manager can predict with a high degree of certainty what his or her output will be. Even so, most sales managers are measured and paid for all these variables that they cannot control.
- Most sales managers get very little training about how to be a manager. What they do get is often not specific to sales management which does require some “above and beyond” skills.
- Sales managers do not have nearly as much freedom in their day as sales reps do. The amount of required paperwork and reporting is staggering for most sales managers. The forecasting, budgeting, flash updates, performance metrics, leads management, competitive analysis, and production review work takes time away from being in field, coaching and training sales reps, developing relationships with customers and other activities that they’d much rather be doing.
- Many sales managers earn less money than sales reps do. Sure, they have a higher rate of base pay. But they have significantly less commission opportunities (and less direct control of earning commissions when it’s someone else doing the selling). Additionally, managers are often capped while sales reps are seldom capped in their earnings.
- Two recent studies reported that there is an extremely high rate of failure among first time sales managers. One report showed an 80% rate of failure while another study put the number at 85% of first time sales managers.
But what if you’re newly promoted into sales management (or not so newly promoted but still grappling to make the adjustment)? What should you do to make this a successful transition?
First, give up on the idea of turning all your sales team members into clones of you. You’ll get a lot support from them if you respect their skills, experience, styles, and ideas. Sure, you may have some techniques and tips that will help them. But remember, no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care. Start by demonstrating your interest in and concern for each of them.
Second, figure out what’s expected of you. You may have been thrust into your role with little more than a “go get ‘em, tiger,” but you need clarity. You already know, of course, that you are expected to deliver on the sales goals set for your team. But how? What amount, if any, of direct-to-customer selling should you be doing? How are you supposed to motivate your team? With the carrot or the stick or both? What percent of your time should be spent in internal meetings and what percent should be in-field on sales call ride-alongs? Should you emulate other sales managers in your organization or would your boss prefer to see you doing some things differently? The fewer guesses you have to make at questions like these, the better off you’ll be.
Your next priority needs to be bridge-building. Hopefully, you haven’t burned any bridges with support departments or cross-functional partners during your time as a sales rep. If you have, start immediately to repair the damage. That credit manager you delighted in besting when you were a sales rep? She needs to become your new best friend. Your sales reps will be coming to you for help, and your ability to support them will be entirely dependent on how well you can work with others.
Over the next few months, practice saying “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.” Practice asking for help and explanations. And practice following through on getting those answers and learning what you need to learn. Be humble. Ask lots of questions of your peer managers, your boss, your sales team and even you customers. At this early stage, no one really expects you to be able to do it all. But they soon will expect that. So use this grace period wisely.
Find a way to get some management training. If your company offers it, jump right in. If not, look to community college classes or professional development programs – the cost will be worth it, even if you have to pay it out of your own pocket. You’ll learn in just a few days what will be far more painful to learn by trial and error over time. At a minimum, read books about managing a sales team. Try “The First 90 Days” which offers lots of advice on making the transition. Another good one is “Fundamentals of Sales Management for the Newly Appointed Sales Manager.”
Now, about all that paperwork and all those e-mails and reports that are stacking up… Don’t procrastinate. It doesn’t get any easier when there’s more of it, and it never goes away. So dive in. This is part of what you’ve signed up for by taking a sales management role.
Still glad you’ve been promoted? Good, then there’s hope for you yet! With that, here’s one more piece of advice to help you get a good, strong start. Relax and take it slow. Observe before you make any wholesale changes. Know why and how things are being done before you disrupt the delicate balance that’s been established. Because you’re new to this job, everyone’s watching to see what you’ll do. So take your time and make sure your first big decisions are the right ones and that the first changes you make are sensible. Your early success will give you the credibility, support and latitude you need to grow into this job.
Soon, you’ll begin to see the other side. Sales management can be a very rewarding job, with lots of opportunities to truly make a difference for people. Your ideas and experience will be warmly received once your credibility and other-orientation are consistently displayed. As you get accustomed to the pace and all the new challenges, you may even find that you thrive on the adrenaline rush you get because at this level people are really depending on you. You won’t let them down if you prepare yourself for being a bona fide manager.
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