Sales Reps: How to Become a Sales Manager

Johnny Marx
October 29, 2014

So you’ve spent that last few years on the road and in the trenches as a wholesale rep, and you’re wondering how to become a sales manager. Climbing the corporate ladder is never easy, but getting promoted to sales manager is particularly challenging, especially (in a somewhat paradoxical turn of events) for top performers. The fact of the matter is, sales directors and VPs are reluctant to promote reps to managers for two big reasons: 1) They don’t want to lose a great salesperson, and 2) They don’t want a bad manager. Those are some big hurdles to overcome, and they have a lot to do with perception. To be fair, sales rep and sales manager are two very distinct positions, with completely different goals, mentalities, skill sets, and day-to-day tasks. Which brings us to...

Are You Sure You Want to Be a Sales Manager?

It’s important to note before we move on to all the juicy advice that not all star sales reps would actually be happy as sales managers. Rather than just being responsible for your individual quota, you will have to answer for the actions of other people and achieve group goals. You’ll be expected to lead, mentor, and evaluate your sales reps in the field, and hold them accountable for meeting metrics like order to close, order size, and upsell. Essentially, you’d be laying down your position as star athlete for one as team coach. If the possibility of a higher salary is what’s on your mind, know that in many cases, sales reps who work largely on a commission can actually make more than someone in a management position with a fixed salary. So if you love the thrill of making deals, take a moment to think things over before reading on. ...Okay. So you definitely want to be a sales manager. In addition to absolutely crushing your quota and building strong relationships with your retailers, here are some proactive steps you can take towards meeting your goal.

How to Become a Sales Manager:

1. Find a mentor early.

Not only does a professional mentor in an executive or management position have a lot to teach you, building that relationship early on is also important to making sure you’re well-positioned when the time comes to ask for the sales manager job. Your mentor will have more influence among decision-makers, and can vouch for you when you go in for the promotion.

2. Concretely define what makes a good salesperson.

You may be an incredible sales rep, but unless you can articulate what it is that makes you great at selling, it’s not going to be easy for you to advise others. Take a shot at writing it down on paper. What are the skills and attributes that make a great salesperson? What are the biggest challenges, and how do you deal with them?

3. Ask for more responsibility.

Demonstrate that you are cut out to be a manager by taking on new tasks. Volunteer to organize sales training events or take on open sales territory. In addition to the business of actual selling, demonstrate to the higher-ups that you can also handle the organizational/administrative side of the business and that you care about the organization as a whole, rather than just your own numbers.

4. Be an unofficial leader.

Become the person that others come to for advice, and the go-to mediator for any conflicts that arise. Mentor the newcomers on your team, and share best practices. The more approachable you are, the more you’ll look like a leader.

5. Be a team player.

No one wants an egoist for a manager. On the other side of the previous point, therefore, is the importance of demonstrating that you’re looking out for the good of the entire team. Give credit where credit is due, and help others without a reciprocity clause. If you can show that you care as much about collective success as individual success, higher-ups will feel much more comfortable with the idea of you transitioning to a management role.

6. Observe.

Take a closer look at how your fellow sales reps are performing. What are their strengths and weaknesses? What opportunities can you see for improvements in consistency, efficiency or technique? Take the time to learn by observing high performing sales managers as well. Try asking them to sit down and talk with you about their management philosophy.

7. Take criticism in stride.

When you’re a sales manager, you’ll be responsible for more revenue with less direct control over hitting those numbers than you had as a sales rep. There will be more pressure than ever before, so you need to be able to take in constructive feedback, process it, and act on it.  

The Last Important Step:

Of course, the final step in your journey to a promotion is to ask for the job. It can be an obstacle in and of itself to take that first step forward, but remember everything you’ve done to prepare. Go to the decision-maker in your organization and make a strong case for yourself. Be ready with the ideas you gleaned from your observations, and prove that you can hit the ground running if given the chance.