his series has focused on a wide variety of topics that will help you succeed as a new sales manager. That’s the short-term view. In this post, we’re looking longer term, too, so you’ll be preparing yourself for your next-level job even as you settle into this one. New sales manager training should focus on both – your success in the new job AND your ongoing development for whatever comes next.
This table, adapted from Ram Charan’s book, The Leadership Pipeline, illustrates the progression you’ll be making throughout your career. At each passage, from one job-level to the next, you’ll need different skills. At each passage, you will allocate your time differently. And, at each passage, you’ll find that different things are valued in the work you do.
Careers often stall out because people are unsuccessful in making these passages.
For example, as a new sales manager, you’ll need to make the passage from the first column – Managing Self – to the second column because you now manage others. Presumably, you’ve mastered the skills in column one and are proficient in allocating your time in the ways that frontline contributors do. The value that was placed on your work when you were selling had everything to do with your functional work in making sales.
It’s not uncommon for new sales managers to try and do more of the same as “super sellers” instead of transitioning into column two as managers. One of the reasons this happens is that sales managers are promoted for their sales abilities and, as before, are measured on and compensated for sales results.
At first, this might work. New sales managers can easily identify low-hanging fruit and help close languishing deals. They can infuse new energy and make sales on ride-alongs. They have fresh perspectives and solid skills that benefit the team and drive short-term sales.
But that’s not sustainable. You can’t be on every call with every seller. You’ll run out of easy wins and obvious fixes. And, having been the “missing ingredient” in those sales, sellers will now look to you for help with more complex sales, too.
When sellers become overly dependent on the sales manager, it creates a bottleneck. The more you do for sellers, the less they feel confident and capable of doing themselves. While you’re busy selling, you’re also missing out on the parts of your job that are actually related to managing.
That’s why getting and staying in column two is vitally important. You need sellers who can do the work of selling (column one). You won’t get there unless you park yourself squarely in column two. You’ll need to develop and demonstrate the skills related to getting the front-line work done through other people. You’ll need to spend time managing. You have to make the shifts that enable you to deliver what’s expected of and valued from you – all items focused on something other than making those sales yourself.
Managers build the people who will build the business. If you are unable to make this passage, management is not the right role for you. It may take several months to show, but you will struggle mightily. Members of your team will become less able and less willing to do their own work. They will not be meeting goals. You’ll see an increase in turnover. Soon you’ll have a revolving door of new hires who last about 4-6 months before they, too, leave. Customer relationships will suffer. You’ll be pulled in a dozen directions every day – interviewing, onboarding, micromanaging and selling.
The only way to prevent this demise is to get in the second column ASAP. Think about the long-term and build people. Enable and ennoble sellers to do the work of selling without your direct involvement. Coach them for development so they can their own sales instead of demonstrating how you’d do it (over and over again).
If you find yourself in an organization where the perception is that sales managers should sell, then you’ve got some extra work to do. That perception is not accurate. But for someone who isn’t in sales, it seems like an obvious fix to lagging sales is to get “all hands on deck,” especially the best seller on the team who just happened to get promoted into a management role.
You may have to challenge that type of thinking. To do so, you’d have to make a case for the value you bring as a manager. You may also have to show the contrasts – are the managers in other departments abandoning their managerial responsibilities to jump back into the front line? Is your boss going to do your job while you’re doing the job of your direct reports?
High-functioning, healthy organizations delineate roles and responsibilities so each member of the team is doing their own job. Get the training and time and focus you need to do YOUR job as a manager. Once you’ve got this straightened out, you can also start working to reach the next rung on the ladder.
From Seller to Sales Manager… From Sales Manager to…?
A successful passage from seller to sales manager precedes every other promotion. You won’t be seen as a strong candidate for a sales director or VP role if you’re resting on your sales laurels.
Look at the table above and notice how different the skills, time, and value are for sales managers and those who manage managers. Notice, too, how the items in the sales manager column bridge the wider gap between seller and manager of managers. It’s too big a leap to make if you haven’t developed in the ways shown in the sales manager column.
Consider this example. Sales directors and VPs spend significant time on strategic work. They analyze the marketplace and develop forward-looking plans to seize emerging opportunities. They participate in strategy sessions pertaining to maximizing profits, developing new products, reducing expenses, building a better customer experience, and more. Sellers who have focused on their own daily schedules and deadlines are ill-equipped to shift their time allocation to this type of work. The bridge between these two ways of allocating time come with the role of sales manager where you learn to budget, manage projects, set team priorities, and look at the bigger picture and longer-term horizon. If you occupy the role of sales manager but don’t spend time in this way, you’re not ready for the next-level job.
No matter what next-level job you’re aiming for, the work of a sales manager is excellent preparation, so long as you’re actually doing the manager part of the job. You can never sell enough to earn the next promotion. Instead, you have to demonstrate your ability to manage.
Ways You Can Prove Your Readiness for the Next Level Role You Want
The best-of-the-best sales managers aren’t selling anything. They accompany sellers on sales calls, but they aren’t there to do the work of selling. Instead, these managers are observing and coaching. They understand that they can’t identify sellers’ skill gaps unless they observe vs. doing the work themselves.
Those top sales managers also aren’t there to run interference with customers. They defer questions from buyers back to the sellers, knowing that the most important relationship is the one between buyer and seller. They avoid getting in the middle, usurping the seller’s authority with the buyer, and diminishing the seller’s esteem in the eyes of the buyer.
Finally, on sales calls, successful sales managers don’t succumb to the temptation of saving the sale. They notice when the seller is making a mistake, missing a buying signal, floundering with an objection, and so on. But they are more interested in seeing how the seller regroups and recoups the sale than they are in getting that single sale made today. If the sale is lost, they know a learning opportunity can come from it. They’d rather make sure the seller can do better next time. So they let the sales fail happen and trust the seller to learn, grow, and do better in the future.
This approach is uncomfortable for most new sales managers. Watching a sale go up in smoke, especially when you want to deliver revenue, is painful. What’s even more painful, though, is watching your career go up in smoke because you cared more about the single sales than you did about developing other people who could make more sales than you can (because you’re just one person!).
The people who get promotions to senior-level roles are the ones who are seen as leaders. “Good leaders,” said Eleanor Roosevelt, “cause people to have confidence in the leader. GREAT leaders cause people to have confidence in themselves.”
The more confidence and competence you build in members of your team, the more sales they will drive. The more goals they will reach. The more satisfied they will be, and the more successful you’ll be.
As a leader who develops and inspires people, you’ll get recognized. You’ll be building the business by building people. That long-term, strategic approach will cause senior executives to notice and appreciate you for much more than this period’s revenue attainment.
At the same time, you can demonstrate your potential for next-level roles by building your interpersonal skills and strategic contributions. As you climb the career ladder, functional skills become less important and transferable skills become more important.
Look for opportunities to build your business acumen and visibility by participating in cross-functional committees and taking on stretch assignments. You won’t have time to do this if you’re enmeshed in day-to-day selling, so that’s another good reason to ensure sellers are able to work autonomously. Invest the time, initially, to coach and develop a solid team. Then get out of their way!
As sellers on your team need you less, you can focus more on developing yourself, too.
New Sales Manager Training and Ongoing Professional Development that You Control
If it feels self-indulgent to plan for ways you can develop yourself, consider this. The better you are in your current role, the more you can benefit your direct reports and your organization. What’s more, there is a global talent shortage and organizations desperately need talented leaders. One of the reasons for this talent gap is that people are overly focused on short-term goals vs. long-term growth.
That’s not to say that you can ignore the work that needs to get done in the short-term. As described, above, your best shot is to make sure you’ve developed others so they’ll do that work and you don’t have to. Once you’ve got competent, confident sellers in place, you can look to the future (yours and theirs) by setting an example of continually learning.
Don’t wait around for your organization to put you in a training course or send you to a program somewhere. Take the reins and direct your own development. Others will notice and respect what you’re doing. You’ll benefit in a myriad of ways, including setting yourself up nicely for a next-level role.
Learn about your industry, your company, your products, your competitors, and your market. You have a solid foundation here that comes from selling. But there’s always more to know. Get behind the scenes with ops and production to better understand what it takes to deliver your product. Spend time at industry conferences networking and getting insights on what’s new and what’s next. (While you’re there, you may even find some talented sellers to recruit!) Get out into your marketplace and find out what’s on buyers’ minds.
Learn about leadership and management. Spend time developing your own philosophy of leadership and continually work on skills that will make you an effective change manager, communicator, delegator, strategic planner, and motivator. These (and more) soft, transferable skills are described in this eBook, The Ultimate Soft Skills Guide for Managers. It’s a good starting point for assessing and selecting what to work on first. If you haven’t received any supervisory skills training, be sure to check out our online, self-paced course Workplace Conversations. It’s a small investment with a big payoff.
If you sense that there are barriers to climbing the career ladder, find out why. Check out this webinar, How to Avoid 3 Common Stumbling Blocks on Your Way to the C-Suite, available on demand. You can also take this fun, free quiz that identifies potential career roadblocks and provides a full report on what you can do about these common stumbling blocks.
Take charge of your own learning and development. Keep yourself nimble and open. Making passages from one job level to the next will be much easier when you’re receptive and conditioned to learn.
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