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So You Want to be a Sales Manager?

Account executives are ambitious, goal-oriented people who are always looking for the next opportunity to grow their career. So transitioning from individual contributor to sales manager can seem like the obvious choice.

But sales management is about more than just moving up or working more strategically with customers. In this article, I’ll discuss what it means to be a sales manager and share three steps that can help you decide if this role is right for you.

What sales management is all about

Don’t think of this promotion as another level of sales, think about it as an opportunity to learn how to be an operator. Instead of running a sales pipeline, you’ll be flexing new muscles and learning how to run a system, a series of pipelines.

If you’re on the path to VP of Sales, knowing how to operate a system is crucial. Instead of managing 8 to 10 pipelines as a manager, you’ll be in charge of improving the sales funnel for 80-800 pipelines across the sales organization.

So prepare to have different objectives as a sales manager. You need to be motivated and energized by the success of others because you won’t have the same level of individual gratification you would normally get as a sales rep. You’re now running a team and responsible for the journeys of all your direct reports.

Before taking on a sales manager role, do a bit of soul searching and ask yourself if you can get excited when someone else closes a deal. Is this a lens you want to view the world through? Or would you rather be the one on the front lines?

The challenges of being a sales manager

As a new manager, you might view your employees as slightly less elevated peers. But you need to take a step back and view them as a function of their performance. If this sounds strange to you, you’re not alone. We’re not programmed to interact with other humans this way.

Your responsibility might be to look someone in the eye and say, “hey, you’re not doing a good job.” This takes courage. Be prepared to make a withdrawal out of your own emotional bank account in order to give hard feedback, even if the person will hate you for it in the short term. Ultimately, you're trying to make them better and looking out for their best interest.

Sales managers also have to remove themselves from their sales reps on a personal level. You can’t have a personal problem with anyone, and frankly, you shouldn’t be too close with anyone either. There has to be an emotional line, and when you’re coaching and advocating you can’t think about how your rep made you feel. It doesn’t matter what you feel. That’s hard to do but it’s the right thing to do.

This can be quite burdensome. You have 8-10 people on your team and it's very unlikely that everyone will do well at the same time. A rep can be underperforming and, at the same time, dealing with problems outside of work that impact how they show up. You’re also responsible for 8-10 peoples’ problems. Everyone can have breakdowns, even the people that you never would expect to. This is shocking for most new managers. To be successful as a people manager, you need to have high emotional intelligence and low ego.

Figuring out your management style

Ask yourself, if I become a manager, what will my style be? Take a look at what other great managers around you are doing. Note what you like and decide how you’ll do things differently. Some management styles can influence a diverse group of people while others, not so much.

A former athlete may be a great manager for other ex-athletes, but no one else. An academic seller may be good at managing other academic sellers, but no one else. While it’s possible to match personality types to managers, we choose not to because it results in a less diverse team. So open yourself up to expanding on your style.

Widen the aperture so that everyone on your team has a good experience. It’s pretty common for new managers to overcorrect when they get feedback on their management style. Maybe they’re too friendly with their direct reports. So they overcorrect and become too mean. Be coachable as a manager so you can correct again and find a solid middle ground.

No matter what type of manager you want to be, your verbal and written communication abilities have to be amazing. As Head of Sales, I am staunch about this when it comes to promoting reps to managers. I expect you to communicate super succinctly and execute well.

Finally, you’re going to be one of the top 5 people that your reps communicate with. Sometimes you’ll need to act but other times your job is to do nothing. Listen to your reps and let them move through the process themselves.

3 steps to determine if sales management is right for you

1. Test it out before making the leap

Start by dipping your toes in the water before you fully commit. Go out of your way to train a new rep on your team. Take them through onboarding, shadow their calls, and be available to answer their questions.

Becoming a senior rep or team lead can help you decide if you can handle your peers’ problems without feeling overburdened or even saddened. Do some soul searching during this process. Did you enjoy doing it? Was it exciting? Were you effective?

2. Understand success both qualitatively and quantitatively

Qualitative success: What systems can you put in place to force multiply your skills with others? Which calls should you be on? What were you best at when you were a rep and how can you transfer that experience to others? Qualitative success is usually easier for new managers to understand.

Quantitative success: This is more difficult. Determine the 5 or 6 metrics that are most important for your team’s success. What activities cause these metrics to go up or down, both at the rep level and the company level? When qualified leads are down, is it because marketing campaigns are off or is it because your reps aren’t hitting the phones enough?

For both qualitative and quantitative success, know what the problem is, what causes the problem, and of course, how to fix it. Use this data to help your reps get better. There are interventions you can employ for the problems affecting each of your main metrics.

3. Shift your mindset

You’re no longer an individual contributor, you’re an ambassador for the organization at large. Start thinking about the organization holistically. As Head of Sales, I look for this mindset in potential sales managers. I have my eye out for candidates that can hit their targets AND go the extra mile for the company.

Final thoughts

You have to go for what you want. Make your intentions to be a sales manager clear and don’t wait for leadership to tap you for a role. That’s not really going to happen. If you’re nervous, that’s fine, lots of account executives get nervous putting themselves out there and going down the sales manager path.

You might not know right away if you enjoy it or not. Here’s the thing, you can always go back to being a rep again if you don’t like being a manager. No company will say no to that request. So really, you just need to make the leap and see how it goes.

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