So You’re a New Sales Manager: The Biggest Change to Expect

Editor’s note: This post is the first in a new series devoted to helping new sales managers survive and thrive in their new role. For more essential tips and tactics, sign up for our free email course, The First 90 Days: A Sales Manager Survival Course.  

First, congratulations. Your first job as a sales manager is a huge step forward in your career. But don’t be surprised when you get a lot of managers who immediately congratulate you, shake your hand, smile, then say, “What have you done for me lately?” In other words, nice job — now don’t screw it up.

Before I go on, let’s backtrack a little bit.

How did you get here? Probably either of the following happened — a) you got a big promotion, moving from an individual contributor role at your company to a first line sales manager role; or b) you competed for a sales manager job in another company and were hired.

In either case, you probably got the role for a number of reasons:

  • You were a top performer as an individual contributor. You consistently met your numbers and did a great job.
  • Your peers and your management may have considered you a role model.
  • Since you were a top performer you may have had a developmental assignment to mentor or coach new sales people.
  • Someone may have died, been promoted, or left the company and you were the most “painless candidate to select.”

Don’t get me or my humor wrong. However you got the role, congratulations are in order. You got it because you earned it and deserve it.

But remember, what you did in your previous job has little to do with your new job as first line sales manager. Let me repeat that a different way — however great a sales person you may have been, being a sales manager has little to do with being a great sales person.

The BIG change with becoming a first line manager is that now your job is to get things done through your people. (click to tweet)

In the past, your success was based on your ability to get things done yourself. Whether it was your adeptness in developing and executing winning deal strategies, getting partners and others in your organization to help you, your success was primarily based on what you did and how you performed.

Now, as sales manager, your success will be based on your ability to get each person on your team to perform to their fullest potential. If you can’t get each of them to be successful, then there is no way that you can be successful.

However successful you were in making sales calls, closing, and negotiating deals is relatively meaningless. Your own personal ability doesn’t count, it’s your ability to get each member of the team doing the right things with the right people at the right time.

Don’t get me wrong, you have great experience in doing all these things yourself, and that experience will serve you well. It will provide a strong foundation to teach, coach, and develop your people.

You know the what, how, and why behind successful selling — the trick now is learning how to you get your people to know the same, and to execute on it as well or better than you did.

How do you help them see the things that maximize their performance and results they produce? How do you get them to execute consistently, at a regular cadence that supports the attainment of the overall team goals?

Finding the right answers to those questions is what separates successful sales managers from failing ones.

What to Expect in Your New Sales Manager Role

Here are just a few things you should be prepared for.

There are going to be some things you have to accept (whether you like it or not):

  1. You can’t tell your reps what to do. Think back to when you were a sales person not so many days ago. How did you react to someone telling you what to do?
  2. You can’t do it for them. There just aren’t enough hours in the day. Besides, selling is now their job, not yours!
  3. You can’t just hope for results. You know what’s not going to cut it? Hiding behind a desk, producing reports, and trusting your team will produce the numbers. What happens when they don’t?
  4. You can’t save the day. There’s no swooping in like “Super Sales Manager” and closing the deals yourself. Go back to #2 — re-read that.

There are going to be some things that drive you crazy:

  1. Much of the time, you’ll know you can do it better, faster yourself. You may be right, but doing things for them won’t help your reps improve and perform.
  2. Sometimes, your reps will just seem too slow, like they don’t have the urgency you do. It’s your job to figure out how to light a fire.
  3. Your patience will be tested. Sometimes your temperamental 4-year-old at home will seem to have more sense and maturity than certain people on your team.
  4. Sometimes, you will discover you have the wrong people. They simply won’t be able to get it done, regardless how well you teach, coach, and develop them.
  5. You will always be caught between a rock and a hard place. You have your own manager(s) with high expectations of your performance — and you are dependent on your team to get it done.

Suck it up, this is what management is all about (and you’ll discover it’s also about a whole lot more in future articles).

This is all part of the joy of being a manager — figuring it out!

  • Figuring out who each person is on your team, what they are good and bad at, what their capabilities are, what their aspirations are, and what makes each of them tick.
  • Figuring out how to inspire and get each rep to perform to their bull potentials.
  • Figuring out the right systems, tools, processes, programs, and training to provide to help your people be successful.
  • Figuring out how to get them what they need to be successful —and what to do when you can’t.
  • Figuring out how to manage your manager, getting them out of your way so you can do what you need to do, but getting their support through the process.

It’s like working a puzzle, without knowing the picture, and fairly certain you’re a couple of pieces short… (are we having fun, yet?).

There’s a lot to do, but for now:

  1. Be proud that you are a first line sales manager. It’s probably the toughest sales job in the world, but it’s through you that things happen.
  2. Know that your job is different. The one lesson to take from this article is: “Your job is to get things done through your people!” (Write this down and keep it on your desk. Read it three times a day.)
  3. Right now, don’t rush to change anything. Get to know your people, what they face, how things work. It takes 60-90 days to figure things out and develop your action plan — and that’s exactly what this series is geared to helping you with.
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