Are You Struggling To Embrace Your New Role As Sales Leader?

To succeed, you learn to sell through leading, not lead through selling; the transition is not peaceful, it’s painful. It is also rewarding

Transitioning from salesperson to sales leader is not peaceful- it’s painful. Many salespeople struggle with it because of the emotional turbulence it comes with; to succeed they must learn and change. Tragically, most don’t. Today, I speak to that new leader.

I will use the term leader and manager interchangeably, to refer to “being responsible for the performance of others who hitherto were your peers”. When the stellar seller is made leader, his instinct is to continue doing what he knows how to- sell. He reasons: “Because, the ‘team’s numbers are my numbers’, and my bonuses will be affected if I don’t sell, I will sell and report the sales as the team’s. This is his first mistake.

It is not sustainable. The team members may be initially excited, but soon feel frustrated (I’m not growing) and contemptuous (as your house help would of you, if you did her job and still paid her). It also frustrates you because you are trying to make more sales but with less time (because of meetings, motivating, recruiting, reports and monitoring expenses). As new manager, your job is to sell through leading, not lead through selling. You have a different job now. Now, you put others ahead of you. A salesperson thinks short-term and selfishly- my numbers and my markets. As manager, the thinking changes- what is mine is my team members’ development and their numbers. You now give your time to developing others as a way of developing yourself – some to sell, and others to lead (through delegating).  And because developing others takes time, you learn to sacrifice personal short term, for the team’s long term, gain. You grow, your team members grow, and therefore the organization grows. The converse holds. You refuse to grow…

This transformation is even more painful when pressure ‘from above’ comes calling: “Why have your sales dropped? You should be selling too!” Not that you stop selling when you become leader. No. It’s just that your type of selling changes. You now graduate to opening new markets for your team to cultivate. In the process you grow your negotiation muscle; you also sell as you used to but not to merely meet your targets. You sell to show new recruits how to do it and inspire them by giving them accounts to jump-start them as opposed to sustain them.  You learn how to work under pressure. Instead of caving in to “you should also sell” you develop confidence to repeatedly defend why the ‘numbers’ are suffering in the immediate and how they will shortly improve based on the plan you have in place. And you do have a plan in place because planning is another of your roles.

The other thing you learn is to unblock the processes that you used to complain weren’t working when you were only selling. As sales manager, building networks is an external and internal activity. You now seek solutions that will increase your team’s capacity to perform. You offer solutions in management meetings from a ‘field’ perspective. Be prepared to face continual opposition and conflict from defending your turf. You also introduce procedures you hate as a salesperson but appreciate as a manager because you now see how they protect the organisation. You know your team members may dislike you for this but you still implement and communicate why. You learn to make necessary, as opposed to popular, decisions; you grow from being liked to being respected.

All this does not confine you to the office though. The sales job is ‘outside’; this is where most of your time is spent with your team.  Coordinating all these functions may require you to work longer hours than you used to, which you embrace because you realise that this painful growth as a manager comes in giving of yourself , that you may later receive, personal fulfillment. Peace. From watching the sales ‘infant’ crawl, then run, to the compounded bonuses from all the performing members of your team.

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