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Many successful salespeople end up moving into a sales management role. This can happen at the request of upper management or simply because you feel it’s the next step on your career path. And sales management can indeed be an excellent choice — it ranks high on US News & World Report’s Best Careers lists year after year. But before you make your choice official, you should consider a few details.
Executives will often assume that if you’re a good salesperson, you’ll automatically be a good sales manager. Sadly, this isn’t always the case. Both jobs have the word ‘sales’ in the title, all right, but that’s the main similarity between the two. In fact, in some ways the two jobs are exact opposites.
A salesperson is responsible for his own production. Many star salespeople succeed because they are independent, self-motivated, and driven to win. Salespeople also like the challenge of meeting and exceeding the goals that their bosses set for them.
A sales manager is responsible chiefly for making his sales team produce. So the self-sufficient, competitive attitude that a star salesperson will likely bring to the job can easily result in disaster. A sales manager with this mindset will be inclined to shove aside a struggling salesperson and take over the sales process himself, partly because his own compensation will suffer if his team doesn’t meet their goals and partly because he wants to handle problems himself, not rely on someone else to fix it. Of course, doing so will ensure that the salesperson in this situation will not only resent the manager for moving in on him, he also won’t learn how to solve these situations himself… so the same thing will probably happen next time.
The biggest challenge for a sales manager transitioning from the front lines is learning how to let go. Micromanaging the sales team will drive them absolutely crazy. Remember, they are all just as independent as you are, so if you hang over their shoulders asking for status updates every hour they will be frustrated and hostile. Be prepared to do battle with your learned behaviors from the sales floor until you can train yourself to think like a manager instead of like a salesperson.
Another challenge in moving up is that your new reports may well be your former teammates. If, like many salespeople, you are a social type, you may have a particularly hard time setting the new boundaries that your position requires. The easiest and least confrontational way to do so is to meet with each member of your new team one-on-one and lay out their responsibilities as you see them. Let each person know that he can and should come to you with any problems. This gives them a chance to vent at you in privacy, if they feel the need.
Once you’ve stepped into a management role, you’ll need to study how to manage people just as intensely as you once studied sales strategies. Just keep in mind that management tricks have a lot in common with sales tricks, so your team will see right through any manipulative approaches you try. Your best bet is to be upfront with the team and present yourself as the person whose job is to help them succeed. Keep the lines of communication open between yourself and your team so that they will come to you with small problems before they become big ones.
Sales management is not an easy job — in fact, it may be the toughest management job out there. But it can also be highly rewarding, both in money and in personal satisfaction. If that sounds like your cup of tea, by all means go for it.
About the author
My first sales position was a summer job selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door. I continued through a variety of sales jobs ranging from retail sales for a storage company to selling bank products for a Fortune 500 financial institution.
As a small business owner, I now focuses on selling for my own company, Tailored Content, a website content provider. I write on a wide range of topics but my primary focus is sales and how to sell effectively.