Five Tips for Transitioning Into a Sales Leadership Role

Chris Mason

So many of us begin our sales careers as representatives of a company, product, service or all the above. We learn the tricks of the trade, the importance of customer service, the power of relationship building and what it feels like to win and lose. Many are content to continue in that representative position for the entirety of their careers, which can be rewarding both personally and financially.

Others opt for the management route, taking on leadership roles and overseeing teams of sales reps. But what does it take to make that jump? How will a leadership role differ from being a sales rep?

Below are five tips to help make that transition from sales rep to sales leader.

1. Do your current job well
I can’t express how important this is. Focus on doing your job as a sales representative the right way, and don’t cut corners. The hiring manager bringing you into a management role will not want bad habits transferred to those you train and oversee. They will want someone who’s a role model for doing things the right way – so make sure that someone is you.

To promote your desire to move into a leadership role, try mentoring another salesperson or rep – maybe a newer one, who could use some additional help. Many managers would be thrilled to have this support. Also, it gives you the opportunity to try on the role and see what you like about it, what else you might need to learn and what practices you wouldn’t keep as a sales leader. By putting yourself out there and being willing to help others, you show that you are looking to help the team at large find success – and not just yourself. That’s a strong indicator of a future leader.

2. Self-reflect
Take time to think about the characteristics and strengths you have that may be transferable to others. Many great salespeople have an X factor, something that makes them unique. But sometimes, that uniqueness is what makes you who you are – it may not be transferable to others. So, think about the traits you have that are positive and transferable. Consider skills and traits such as:

  • The ability to conduct thorough fact finding via a needs analysis that supports the product or service recommendation given to your customer.
  • Being held accountable for certain standards of activity.
  • Following a prescribed process.
  • The keen ability to track budgets and provide sales forecasts.

3. Accept coaching and criticism
As a sales rep or manager – and as a human – it is important to be prepared to receive and give feedback, praise and constructive criticism. If we are not willing to adjust and improve our approach, we will be destined to undershoot our capacity for success. If that’s the case, how can you lead others?

In terms of receiving feedback and guidance, finding a mentor can be extremely valuable. Perhaps your mentor is someone who has been in your shoes and can help guide you through the transition. Or your mentor could be someone outside your company or industry who offers sound advice and relevant leadership tips you can apply to your work and leadership role. Whatever the case may be, having someone you can turn to with questions, concerns or ideas can be both career enhancing and life changing.

4. Share your dreams
It’s one thing to be successful as an individual contributor, but coaching, leading and managing others requires a few other skillsets to be developed. If that is a path you want to pursue, make your aspiration known to hiring managers. Acknowledge that you understand there will likely be some preparatory steps you’ll need to take to be fully prepared for that opportunity but be willing to learn and take on the challenges.

Sometimes, the hiring manager may not even realize you have this goal, so getting it on the table can also help them prepare you for this kind of opportunity. Make sure you have open and honest conversations with your manager. Ask questions and network, so you understand the parameters required to make that transition. By incorporating this practice into your personal development and goals, you can help yourself take that next step.

5. Be a sponge
Observe others who are having success in a managerial role. Look objectively at things you see them doing that you would want to emulate as well as things that you’d want to improve upon. Often, great managers have systems in place that help increase the probability of success. Think through how you would want to approach this and be prepared to share it with a hiring manager. This kind of forethought helps bolster the confidence that you’d be prepared for the task and ready to succeed.

Taking the leap from an individual contributor to a manager will have its share of challenges and triumphs. But taking deliberate steps to prepare yourself to positively lead others and achieve great things will ease the transition.

Chris Mason is the senior vice president of sales distribution for HealthMarkets Insurance Agency, one of the largest independent health insurance agencies in the United States.

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