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Promoted! New Sales Manager Tips for a Smooth Transition

Instead of selling, what’ll you do all day long as a new sales manager? Not knowing the answer to that question will lead you astray.

You’ll end up becoming the “sales prevention manager” instead of a sales manager if you get in the way of sellers making sales. You want your sellers to develop so they can make more and bigger sales -- and eventually become a better seller than even you.

These tips for new sales managers will enable you to get into a flow more quickly.

new sales manager tipsNew Sales Manager Tips: Priorities

As a new sales manager, your top priorities and activities will include:

  • Developing people so they continually gain more confidence and competence
  • Removing obstacles that steal sellers’ valuable time or suppress sales
  • Creating a workplace culture that fosters positivity, productivity and growth
  • Participating in management-level discussions about innovations that increase sales
  • Supporting company strategies by developing people to tackle new challenges
  • Responding to market trends, competitive pressures and emerging opportunities
  • Planning growth strategies to capitalize on opportunities in the marketplace
  • Analyzing data and activities to identify gaps and ways to support sellers
  • Observing sellers on sales calls to determine strategies for their ongoing development
  • Leading change in alignment with company initiatives

Notice what’s not on this list. Selling.

That’s not your job anymore. If you’re following this series “Promoted! Now What?” then you’ve already been introduced to this idea. Be sure to come back for next week’s post that dives much deeper into this provocative point of view. Ample evidence backs up this position, and it’s a fact that sales managers who continue selling underperform in their manager role.

Being new to your role, start by assessing the opportunities. Don’t immediately jump in with all the answers and trying to fix everything at once. Do some diagnostic work. Taking time to observe and listen will dignify the people on the front line and prevent you from making assumptions.

You’ll also want to be sure you fully understand your role and what’s actually expected of you.

The 3 Passages from Seller to Sales Manager

Let’s look at this another way. Every time someone is promoted into a next-level job, there are certain passages required. The skills you need to succeed, what you prioritize your time for, and what you’re valued for will all change with each new role.

These tables, loosely based on the work of Ram Charan in The Leadership Pipeline, illustrate the shifts in each area.

1. Sales Skill Requirements

Let’s start with the skills required in different job levels.

Skill Requirements

Managing Self/

Frontline Contributor



Influencing Others

(Sales Manager)


Managers - Level 1

(Sales Director/VP)

Managing Managers - Level 2


  • Functional job skills
  • Team player
  • Company processes & procedures
  • Relationship building for personal benefit

  • Planning
  • Selecting people
  • Delegating
  • Coaching
  • Performance monitoring and feedback
  • Rewards
  • Motivation
  • Communication
  • Climate setting
  • Relationships
  • Selecting and training front-line managers
  • Holding others accountable for managerial work
  • Allocating & deploying resources
  • Managing boundaries to break down silos across various functions
  • Long-term strategic thinking
  • Full understanding of the business model + strategic direction & goals 
  • Ability to make trade-offs within the function to support strategy, profitability and competitive advantages

The skills you mastered as a seller give you to make good decisions in your new role. These are the skills you’ll look for in the people who carry sales quotas and/or do the work of selling. The skills you need now are in the second column.

Some of the skills you used in selling are transferable. For example, you learned a variety of ways to build relationships with customers and colleagues so you could make more sales. You’ll continue to rely on your relationship-building skills, but your focus in relationships will change. Now it’s about forming relationships to engage employees and help them continually develop their selling skills.

Every item in the second column is a skill that must be built. None of these come automatically. You may have a knack for planning, but there are methods and analysis you’ve likely not used before becoming a sales manager. Similarly, you may be a good judge of people. But effectively selecting people for job roles requires a whole host of skills like pre-screening resumes, behavioral interviewing, checking references, etc. Relying on your gut and dismissing skills development in these areas will lead to mistakes that can seriously set you back.   

2. Sales Time Allocation Requirements

The second passage to make from seller to sales manager pertains to how you allocate your time.

Time Allocation

Managing Self/

Frontline Contributor



Influencing Others

(Sales Manager)


Managers - Level 1

(Sales Director/VP)

Managing Managers - Level 2


  • Daily discipline (arrive & depart on time)
  • Meet deadlines for own projects and assignments
  • Annual planning
  • Budgeting
  • Project work
  • Time for your direct reports
  • Setting priorities for team
  • Communication
  • Coaching
  • Strategic work
  • Communication (especially around change)
  • Listening
  • Dialogue with people throughout the organization (all levels)
  • Cross-checking

You’ve likely established habits that carried you through your sales days. You set a certain cadence and structured your work week around sales activities. You probably draw your energy from those sales activities and the wins that came with them.

As you look at column 2 in the Time Allocation Table, you might not feel excited about the work. It doesn’t promise, at first glance, the same adrenaline rush that comes from selling. It might also look intimidating if analysis, planning, developing people, making decisions, and solving problems haven’t been the focus of your time in any past job.

The first three items on the list can consume too much time if you allow them to. The last three items are actually more important, even though your sales director or VP may be asking for the first three deliverables.

3. What Is Valued?

You can make better choices about how you spend your time once you understand the third passage. It describes what’s valued most in the work you are to do in your role.

What Is Valued

Managing Self/

Frontline Contributor



Influencing Others

(Sales Manager)


Managers - Level 1

(Sales Director/VP)

Managing Managers - Level 2


  • Getting results through personal proficiency
  • High-quality technical or professional work
  • Accept the company’s values
  • Getting results through others
  • Success of direct reports
  • Success of team
  • Visible integrity
  • Managerial work
  • Enabling and empowering front-line managers as coaches, people builders and team leaders
  • Managing and valuing what’s new/unfamiliar and what you don’t know

Doing the work you used to do isn’t what’s valued in your new role.

It won’t always seem that way. You’re going to hear messages that sound as though others expect you to be out and about, doing the work of selling. You’ll be paid and recognized for achieving a sales goal (the roll-up of goals for sellers on your team). It can be confusing.

Even so, being out there and doing the work of selling isn’t the most valuable work for you to do. Making sales – even though the sales you make contribute to goals – is not the right work to do. The more you do in selling, the less you’ll be able to develop others so they are selling effectively.

What you see in column 2 is what’s truly valued from any manager, including sales managers. This is how you make an impact. It’s how you create scalable, sustainable, long-term growth for the company. It’s how you retain and develop people.  

These shifts are challenging for another reason. Sellers are often competitive and accustomed to vying for their spot on the leaderboard. But now you’re not going to get the instant credit. Over time, you will be recognized as a people builder and strong contributor. But it will take time. Instant gratification doesn’t come to sales managers the way it does to sellers.

Don’t let the short-term thinking and mixed messages fool you. Know what’s really valued. Allocate your time accordingly. And work on the skills you need to show up as a manager, not just the senior seller.

Tips for Getting on the Right Path in Sales Management

While you’re working on these passages, use these three tips to make your transition smoother. Starting with these tips will keep you from building bad habits right out of the gate.

We’ll be covering each of these in future posts during this series. In the meantime, these tips will point you in the right direction.

1. Learn to coach for development.

Coaching is often misunderstood. It’s not the same as:

  • Managing
  • Mentoring
  • Demonstrating
  • Training
  • Disciplining

The word origin of “coach” meant “to extract.” That’s a good visual. Coaches promote self-discovery and ask questions to facilitate awareness and commitment. They extract what someone already knows, what their goals are, and how they intend to reach those goals.

Coaching for development adds another dimension. The purpose of extracting is to develop the person being coached. To get them to become more confident and competent so they need the coach less and can work more autonomously.

One misunderstanding about coaching is that it’s often thought of as coaching for performance vs. coaching for development. When the focus is on performance, it’s usually because the person being coached is underperforming. Coaching in this case is typically a last chance before termination. That changes the relationship of coach/coachee and how the coachee responds to coaching. It’s usually not very effective.

Coaching for development results in:

  • Higher levels of buy-in
  • Accelerated skills growth
  • Better results

In fact, a study by The Manchester Group reports that this kind of coaching provides a 5.7x ROI.

In sales, another common misunderstanding is that coaching means demonstrating. Sales managers conduct sales calls or jump in to save sales while the seller observes.

This is not coaching. It does not promote self-discovery. It doesn’t improve the seller’s confidence or help them gain competence. All it does is make them feel that they need the sales manager on every sales call.

You can’t be on all sales calls with all sellers. You need them to be confident, competent, and able to do excellent work without you. Coaching for development is the fastest path there.  

2. Learn to manage for development.

Managing for performance includes tasks like:

  • Evaluating the data on your CRM dashboard
  • Assigning leads
  • Conducting information and update meetings
  • Reviewing budgets
  • Setting sales goals

Anytime you tell people what to do, you’re managing (not coaching). Anytime you tell people what to do in order to produce a short-term result, you’re managing for performance.

An example of managing for performance would be responding to the data that says a seller is abandoning prospects too soon (after only three connection attempts). As a manager, you tell the seller to make a minimum of seven attempts and to change the cadence and content of voice mails. You let the seller know that you’ll be monitoring this in the CRM. Each week, you follow up to make sure the seller is complying with your instructions. It’s all focused on improving the sales performance and ensuring that activity standards are met.

Managing for development still involves telling people what you expect. It still involves giving feedback and inspecting what you expect. The difference is that the focus is on skills development. It requires a different starting point. Before telling the seller to make more calls, you’d diagnose what is keeping the seller from doing this already.

Is it a lack of skill or a lack of will? Is it that they aren’t entering info into the CRM? Or is it that they have a misperception about selling and are concerned about being viewed as a pushy seller? Determining the real or perceived barrier will likely result in you giving different instructions.

Instead of “make more calls” (managing for performance), you may end up saying “write scripts for calls 4-7 for us to review and role play” (managing for development). Managing for development, like coaching for development, aims to build skills and equip sellers for long-term success.

Admittedly, it takes longer. But only at the onset – once the confidence and competence develop, your time will no longer be needed on inspecting and giving directives.

3. Learn to delegate for development.

You can’t do it all! And you shouldn’t do it all. Hoarding the work deprives others of opportunities to learn and grow.

Along the way, someone gave you a chance to demonstrate your abilities. Someone took a chance on you and gave you work you didn’t fully know how to do yet. In retrospect, don’t you wish you’d had more of those opportunities? If you had, this learning curve wouldn’t be so big in your new role!

You can give the people on your team more opportunities. This isn’t to say you should saddle them with tasks that encroach on selling time and are:

  • Mundane
  • Low-value
  • No-growth

Rather, it’s to say that you can look for ways to provide work that fits their career growth goals.

Delegating for development might also include sharing work with people who don’t directly report to you. Trusting your colleagues in HR, for example, to help screen candidates. So what if they aren’t good at it today? When you delegate for development, you help them learn what you’re looking for so they build these skills. In the long run, you’ll save time for other work because they’ll be able to do the screening independently once you invest the time in teaching them what to do and how to do it.

Avoid These Common Traps That Lead to Failure!

Just one more set of tips to help you make a smooth transition into sales management.

Here’s the shortcut to succeeding in sales management: Before you do anything, make decisions, invest your time or react, ask yourself this question: “What will increase sales now AND for the future?”

That question will save you from making time-wasting, costly, career-derailing mistakes. It will keep you focused on the right things and equip you for smart decision making and problem solving. It will make you strategic, proactive, and credible.

But don’t overlook the “and” in this all-important question. It’s the most important word in the question. You’re looking for solutions and actions that yield both – short-term revenue AND future growth. If you must choose between the two, pick the option that sets you up for future, sustained success.

As you review these five ways that sales managers most often fail, notice how asking that question could prevent failure in all five areas.

1. Sales managers fail when they neglect people development.

The early warning signs are:

  • They spend too much time in the office and not enough time field coaching sellers on the behaviors that drive results.
  • They don’t hire sellers who can/will focus on the behaviors that drive results.
  • They don’t properly onboard, train and coach sellers to mastery level on the behaviors that drive results.
  • They drive results without considering that certain behaviors lead to results.
  • They fail to build skills or remove barriers so sellers can truly perform the desired activities.

2. Sales managers fail when they focus on the wrong things.

Don’t do what others before you have done if others haven’t been as successful over the long term as you’d like to be. Step back and assess where they focused. If there were problems, perhaps it was because:

  • They did not put enough focus on activities that drive results.
  • They put too much focus on activities that don’t drive results.
  • They got distracted or drowned by duties that don’t drive results.
  • They focus on the numbers and not on the people.
  • They did the work of selling, not the work of managing and coaching for development.

3. Sales managers fail when they think short-term and make decisions that hurt them in the long term.

The very nature of sales is short-term, reactionary, and action-oriented. Frontline sellers don’t really need to think long-term, especially in organizations that set quotas monthly and don’t include strong incentives for annual goals.

Sales managers who think short-term will do more harm than good. You can see it when:

  • They make and allow desperation moves that commoditize the product, injure the brand and do not get the right results for buyers.
  • They make others overly dependent on them, requiring sellers to take them on high-stakes sales calls or insisting on reviewing every proposal and deal before they’re presented to buyers.
  • They set themselves up as authority figures with buyers, signaling that sellers are not capable of handling matters independently (and, therefore, eroding buyer trust in the seller).
  • They cancel 1-to-1 meetings and coaching sessions with sellers to handle “fires” (and they always seem to be in firefighting mode).

4. Sales managers fail when they lead with their ego.

Yes, you’re very good at selling. And now you’re the boss. You have a lot to say, a lot to teach, and a lot to demonstrate. But your ego will not inspire others to learn, grow, and reach their goals. A little humility may be order.

The early warning signs exhibited by ego-driven sales managers are:

  • They hire in their own image, looking for candidates who remind them of themselves.
  • They show off, taking over on sales calls to work their own magic.
  • They conduct lengthy, bloated meetings to pontificate about the work of selling.
  • They tell a lot of stories about what they did as a seller in the “good old days.”
  • They jump too quickly to solve problems without hearing the full story.

5. Sales managers fail when they measure the wrong things.

It’s important to measure what really matters. This webinar will help you determine what to pay attention to and evaluate. It explains how to inspect what you expect, which activity metrics are essential for driving results, and what you probably aren’t measuring but should be.

The mistakes many new sales managers make include:

  • They measure results only, allowing a free pass on long-term pipeline management so long as a seller is making their numbers.
  • They pay attention to historical data and what’s already happened instead of focusing on potential and what can be done going forward.
  • They don’t hold all sellers equally accountable to standards, accepting excuses and siding with sellers (over-empathizing) rather than representing the company as a manager.

Additional Resources Alert!

If you’d like to learn more about how to avoid failing in your role, check out this on-demand webinar based on research and field observation of new sales managers. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Keep coming back each week for the posts in this series that will help you become a rock star in your role as a sales manager.

When you’re also ready to take preventative measures, start by developing a people-first approach to your work. The engagement of employees starts with the most simple of behavioral choices in your day-to-day interactions with them. You’ll make the best choices when you’re fully informed and taking advantages of tools like the PFPS Checklist for New Managers (click the image below):

Employee Engagement Checklist

Topics: manager or leader, new sales manager

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