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To Become a Sales Director, You’ll Need These 5 Traits

The move from sales manager to sales director comes with a very different set of responsibilities. When I promote someone to a manager, they need to prove that they can deliver a good employee experience. When I promote someone to director, I need to know that they’re able to make a wide range of decisions. 

In this article, I’ll share the 5 traits that I look for when I’m hiring a sales director for my team. 

1. Prove that you can expand beyond your role

Sales managers do some cross-functional work but directors do a lot more. You’ll spend most of your time in meeting rooms with the product, marketing, and finance teams. When you’re new in the role, it can feel like everyone else is better at debating than you are. 

You’ll want to fight for what’s right because other leaders will be doing the same. But instead of being emotionally attached to your argument, change your frame of reference and focus on what’s the correct choice, not just trying to prove that you’re right. 

Directors passionately search for the best solution for the business rather than aiming to win arguments. Leadership is about learning to collaborate and compromise and this is the basis of healthy conflict which helps everyone find the right answer together. 

I went through this learning experience myself. I’d get flustered when people argued with me because my sales training programmed me to pitch my ideas and convince people to accept my way of thinking. This is the wrong mentality. 

Soon, I became acutely aware of how other departments perceived sales management. The bottom line is that they want to work with directors who are effective and provide good information. You won’t earn trust from the rest of the organization when you come across as pitching.

2. Learn how to influence people

A sales manager makes decisions for a small group of people, usually 8-10 sales reps. Their view is necessarily narrow. A sales director, on the other hand, has to make decisions that can affect the rest of the organization, not just sales. 

Most managers aren’t able to make this jump in decision-making. They’re capable of extracting information in kernels but can’t use a wide variety of data sources to come to a conclusion. Directors need to elevate their thinking and use all the evidence available to build a thoughtful case for their decisions regarding people, systems, and results. 

Imagine this scenario, a rep approaches their manager and says, “my leads are shit.” They then bring it up in a team meeting which prompts other reps to raise their eyebrows and wonder if their leads are also bad. 

A sales manager takes this feedback at face value and assumes that the rep is correct. A director takes a very different approach. First, they investigate and gather information. They crack open the rep’s pipeline to see if the leads are down, if the channels are down, and if the quality is down. They ask if this problem is happening to other reps. 

If the answer is yes, they reach out to the person who is responsible for lead generation and ask if they’re seeing the same problem. Finally, they go to their VP of Sales to highlight any serious issues, like lead quantity being down 25%, and to discuss what needs to be tweaked. They build a case using the evidence at hand.

If the answer is no, the director goes back to the rep and shows them that they’re actually wrong and that the leads are the same for everyone. This difference is critical. I won’t promote a manager to a director if they can’t investigate and prove that their concerns are correct.  

3. Become an expert at hiring 

There are no shortcuts to becoming an expert at hiring. The only way to develop this skill is to sit in on hundreds of interviews. For a manager, they might think about hiring almost as an administrative task they need to do alongside their main job, which is running a team. 

As a director, you must treat hiring with deliberate intention. You’re not filling an open role, you’re curating a system of hires by deciding what kind of people come into your organization. What company values and principles must these candidates have? When do we say yes to a candidate, and when do we say no? 

Sometimes you’ll be tasked with filling twenty seats by the end of next month, so it’s very important to develop a system for effectively assessing candidates, including when to advocate and when to veto potential hires. 

4. Be a cool cucumber 

The kiss of death for a director is when they run around like an inmate in the asylum, trying to solve every tactical problem instead of looking past all of that so they can figure out a higher-level solution. If you’re a sales manager who goes home at the end of the day upset with a rep who had a bad day, you’ll be a terrible director. 

Directors must show calmness in the fire of a scaling company. They sift through the noise. They quickly say yes to collecting information and are slow to throw their weight behind something. They make good decisions because they’re thoughtful. If you want to be a director, start by demonstrating that you can effectively advocate for a larger solution, rather than trying to solve every little cut. 

5. Manage the managers

Managing managers is actually not as hard as managing reps. The people who get promoted to manager tend to be better at their jobs, making it easier to work with them. If you’re a good rep manager today, you’ll be good at managing managers tomorrow. 

When your managers come to you with a conflict, see your role as a conduit for a system that makes decisions, rather than the decision-maker. Great directors speak softly and carry a big stick. Be open to hearing about concerns, don’t fault anyone for bringing something up, but be quick to nip things in the bud so they don’t fester. Sometimes you’ll have to make unpopular decisions for the sake of moving on. 

Final thoughts

Start preparing for a director role today and make sure that your leadership team notices your efforts. Your focus should be on proving your abilities, not advocating for yourself to get a promotion. This is your chance to show the business that you can solve the problems other sales managers can’t solve themselves. 

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