The sales role is one of the most clearly defined in the world of work. Successful performance in this role is easy to spot and there is really no scope for hiding. You have either generated new business or you haven’t. If you are a successful sales person for a long time and wondering how you should progress your career, then you might look at sales management as a natural step. If you are an organisation with a sales force, you may also think that sales management is a great fit for the successful sales person.
Based on research, which compares profiles of successful sales with successful managers, there are distinct differences between qualities that drive performance in these two roles and this type of career progression may not be a good use of sales talent.
A successful sales person who enjoys the role must be a flexible problem solver. They need to have a combination of drive, creativity and the ability to deal with scenarios that can be unstructured. They need good social skills, which enables them to establish and maintain relationships with clients.
Because of their successful performance and the fact that people characterised by this profile may be seen as colourful and attractive, they are often promoted to managerial positions.
There are two reasons why they tend to be less effective as managers.
Firstly, their creativity (as expressed by problem solving, a flexible approach, thinking of the sales angle) makes them impatient with rules and bureaucratic procedures. (E.g. In a lot of organisations, sales people try to negotiate changes to standard product specifications to facilitate a sale or they may be poor at logging details once the sale is made.) This is a problem as managers are often responsible for enforcing rules and procedures.
Secondly, sales people tend to be very outgoing. This type of social energy is necessary for the cold calling and relationship building aspect that is key to their role. Managers who are this outgoing may have trouble listening to direct reports especially those who are reserved. They may dominate in team scenarios and may be easily more distracted by social interaction. Natural managers tend to have stronger listening skills than sales people where sales people have very focused listening skills in the sales scenario.
How to advance the career of a natural sales person?
There are a number of routes that you could look at. Some sales people focus on sales training or consulting when they want to change from pure sales. These are options for organisations that want to or need to offer their sales people a new challenge. Their skills and experience can be used to enhance the performance of a sales team through a combination of coaching and training provided by them. They may also be good at looking at the sales process as a project.
You could also look at giving a star sales person a more challenging territory and ensuring the right incentives are there for a successful turnaround. (Note that the reverse scenario of giving a good territory to a poorly performing sales person is not advised.) Whether you are managing your own career or the sales talent in your organisation, you need to be careful that the obvious career progression routes are not going to stifle the talent that has brought one this far!
John Deely is an occupational psychologist with Pinpoint. Pinpoint offers career change and development services to individuals, and selection, management development and outplacement services to organisations.
Contact details: (01) 6425 721 www.pinpoint.ie