One of the great things about a career in sales is that if you can sell you’ll never be out of a job. Quite a lot of people are happy enough in a straightforward sales role, but the nature of sales is such that most of us touting our (company’s) wares are, by definition, ambitious and determined individuals. We’re also motivated by making money – for our employers and, of course, for ourselves.
With that in mind, I did a bit of research to see what the ‘experts’ tell us about how to get promoted in sales. It was interesting, if only because there are as many experts as there are ideas for what it will take before you can park your (bigger) car in the Sales Manager’s parking space. That said, there were some general themes that I’d like to share with you.
First and foremost is the fact that, as we all know, lots of people can sell, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they can manage. So study your managers – see what they do well and what they do badly. Learn from their good points and equally don’t learn from their bad points (or rather do learn but don’t apply the learning!). However, be aware that to get promoted you do need to be a good salesperson – so the most important thing to do is hit your targets and demonstrate you’re a top performer. And a team player. Mavericks are all very well on the sales floor but they are rarely trusted in a management role.
Secondly, start and never stop learning. There are companies who will help you with leadership training should you want, but if you can’t afford them (they don’t do it for nothing) then read, network and learn. In particular, learn how businesses don’t just make money but how they spend it, and think how you can maximise the former and sensibly reduce the latter. Read good blogs, use your LinkedIn account and other social media to interact with potential clients and industry groups where your presence will be noted. Lots of recruiters use LinkedIn to identify good candidates so make sure you are visible and making intelligent comments where appropriate. Publish some of your own thoughts on LinkedIn’s Pulse.
Thirdly, think of all the people who have inspired you in your sales career. Think how good they are at communicating. Can you do that? Can you stand up in front of an audience and not just tell the rude stories you tell at the annual sales conference, but actually inspire your colleagues to bigger and better things?
Fourthly, remember that sales people are human too. Sales managers – in fact all managers – have to be social workers and fire-fighters. When you’re one of the sales team you only learn about people’s problems second hand and you don’t have to deal with them. Rather than gossiping about it in the pub, think what you would do and how you would respond when someone comes to you and says, “My brother-in-law has just been arrested for attempted murder” (true story but not mine!). Develop a thick skin but also a huge amount of empathy for your fellow human beings!
Persevere. Only a few high fliers take off straight away (and some of them soon return to earth). Your career should last for several decades, so make the most of them but if you don’t ascend like a rocket, show loyalty and persistence and keep hitting your targets. In time, someone above you will say, “that Jones is a great asset and looks like managerial material”, and then you have your opportunity. Take it – and good luck!
Stuart McRobbie, Director, Sales & Marketing, Nine Twenty