Q. I have been reading some of your articles and then came across your website. I was wondering what kind of advice you would give to a salesperson trying to become a sales manager. What steps should I try taking first?
A. Good question. I’m sure there are thousands of my readers who have the same question bouncing around in the back of their minds. I applaud you for thinking ahead and asking this question.
First, make sure that you really do want to be a sales manager. The job of the sales manager is completely different than the job of the salesperson. You may have experienced sales managers who function as “super-salespeople” — who take over the sales call when they are working with you, and who are brought in to close the big deals and smooth over the difficult accounts. However, I think these kinds of things are incidental to the job of the sales manager. In its essence, the sales manager is responsible for the success of the salespeople on his team. The salesperson, in contrast, is only responsible for his own success.
This may sound like a minor issue, but it signifies a completely different set of goals, strategies, and skills. For example, a sales manager should be adept at creating expectations for each salesperson, whereas a salesperson may function very well without ever having thought about that. A sales manager should be able to interview and hire effectively, while a salesperson doesn’t need to be concerned about that. A sales manager should be able to coach and counsel, whereas those skills aren’t at all necessary for a salesperson. A sales manager should be able to nurture and correct a salesperson, whereas a salesperson has no need for those skills.
When you become a sales manager, you lose the freedom to determine your schedule, and you give up the independence that may be something you treasure. Salespeople love to complain about their management, whereas sales managers are part of management! Finally, it’s not unusual for a good salesperson to have to take a pay cut when he/she moves into sales management. I have met dozens of salespeople who wanted to become sales managers, found the job, not to their liking, and went back into sales.
So, first, carefully consider whether this is what you really want to do.
If so, then start with a frank talk with your management, apprising them of your interests, and having them answer the question you asked me. It may very well be that they have some specific requirements for you.
When I was a salesperson, and getting a bit bored with my job, I went to my management and gave them a two-year notice. I told them I wanted to have some other opportunity, some other challenge within two years. If they could find me something, great. If not, I intended to look outside the company. Within a year, I was a divisional manager.
Regardless of what your company has to offer or suggest, you’ll need to gain the skills that you will need for sales management. Look for online courses and seminars specifically designed to equip you with the management skills mentioned above. Read all the books you can find, get all the newsletters and magazines devoted to sales management.
In the two years before and just after my promotion, I took five outside seminars on various aspects of management. I was a great salesperson, but I recognized that I needed to acquire a whole different set of skills for sales management.
You may also want to volunteer for some projects that are “over and above” the job of the salesperson. Perhaps your company has a new products review committee, a task force on CRM, or maybe a team that interviews prospective new salespeople, etc. Demonstrate to your company your willingness to get involved in issues larger than just your sales territory.
Finally, be patient. Apprise your company of your progress and remind them regularly of your goal. Eventually, your education and motivation will coincide with the opportunity.