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Five Tips To Climb The Corporate Sales Ladder


by David Mattson, CEO of Sandler Training

Climbing the corporate ladder can be challenging in any industry, and sales is no exception. Taking that next step in a sales career requires increased knowledge, experience and skills, not to mention a shift from “tactical implementer” to “big picture strategic thinker.”  So how can sales people transition from a sales rep to a sales leader?

Here are five tips for gaining the skills and experience needed to earn that coveted promotion:

1.  Become a generalist.

When transitioning from a sales manager to a leader, remember that sales managers tend to focus on specific areas of expertise, while leaders have a more general approach.  Therefore, managers must learn to take a broader view to become a leader.

Instead of knowing a lot about one or two areas, they need to learn a little bit about many things.  Additionally, most managers are tactical implementers and doers while leaders are more strategic, setting goals, creating the tone and considering the bigger picture.  Many people find it difficult to transition from “tactical implementer” to “strategic thinker” because it requires a complete change in approach.  It can be difficult to go from a specialist to a generalist, from a doer to a thinker, but it definitely can be done successfully.

2. Gain core competencies.

There are a variety of core competencies that successful leaders must possess.  They need to be able to manage relationships — horizontally, upward and downward.  They must display a high degree of accountability and ownership.  Additionally, they need to delegate, allowing them to focus on strategic thinking and the bigger picture.  Good leaders are effective coaches, inspiring the best work from their teams every day.  They must be able to supervise at a very high level, which includes setting goals and expectations, and occasionally having difficult conversations with their team.

Time management is a tremendously important skill set for leaders, who must be efficient and effective, ensuring they don’t waste time throughout the day.  Strong leaders set and clearly communicate goals.  They are also great problem solvers.  They also need to deal effectively with stress, which can be difficult for some people to manage.  Many managers become stressed and take it out on their sales team, but an effective leader must internalize and control stress.  Leaders understand that their teams are watching them. They must lead by example and not show their vulnerabilities.

3. View sales as a science.

Sales reps are primarily “activity based.”  They set goals and work tactically to hit their numbers.  In general, sales reps do whatever it takes to close the deal.  They’re great at “chatting up” customers and prospects and often able to “wing it” to make a sale.  Some resist process work, not wanting to enter CRM activity, for example, preferring to build their customer relationships versus inputting data into a spreadsheet.

The difference between sales reps and sales managers is that managers are able to see sales as a science.  Not all sales reps can make the transition to management; however, just like the best NBA player in the history of the world may not necessarily have the ability to become a successful coach.

4. Fill the gaps.

If you ask 50 people what it takes to be a successful sales manager, you’d probably get 50 different answers about the traits necessary to make this career leap.  To become a manager, you must know how to run a meeting, speak to groups, motivate teams, inspire action and make big decisions.  Before making the jump from sales rep to manager, create a list of skills needed for the higher position.  Conduct an honest self-analysis to determine traits you’re lacking.  Then develop with a solid action plan to fill the gaps.  Perhaps you could take training courses, either online or offline.  Consider finding a mentor to help elevate you to the next level.  Also, self-learning can help: reading, conducting research, mentoring junior staff.

Don’t attempt to improve everything at once — that’s overwhelming and unrealistic.  But if you’re presenting to your manager next month, perhaps you should focus on improving your public speaking skills before the big event.  Or if you find yourself wasting portions of your day, learn to improve your time management.  Being self-aware and willing to improve your knowledge gaps are key steps to moving ahead in your career.

5. Watch the how.

Observe those who hold the position that you want.  How do they handle themselves?  Where do they excel?  Where could they improve?  What can you learn from them?  Pay attention.  You can learn valuable information by observing.  Ask your manager or others in higher positions for their feedback and advice.  How did they get where they are?  What types of training were particularly helpful?  Climbing the corporate ladder is similar to becoming a parent.  Most of us want to observe and practice on others before having our own children.  Perhaps you babysat as a teen or watched your niece and nephew while your sister went out of town.

It can also be immensely helpful to watch how others discipline their children and make childcare decisions in order to help you decide what you will (and won’t) do when you become a parent yourself.  But, after observing for a reasonable amount of time, you need to be willing to try things on your own and learn by doing.  We all “wing it” with our first children — and our newly acquired job promotions — learning as we go and handling the bumps in the road along the way.

[Image Credit: Pepperdine University]


Dave Mattson is the CEO and a partner at Sandler Systems, Inc., an international training and consulting organization headquartered in the United States. Since 1986, he has been a trainer and business consultant for management, sales, interpersonal communication, corporate team building and strategic planning throughout the United States and Europe.




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