How to manage the transition from co-worker to sales manager without burning bridges, losing sales or feeling miserable.
One day you’re sharing smokes and laughing about the boss’ ‘when I was a sales rep’ stories filled with fax machines, Rolodexes and large heavy catalogues, and then the next… you ARE the boss – wondering if your colleagues are sneaking cigarettes and laughing at you.
The prospect of having to manage people you’ve always considered peers is enough to prevent many of us from even applying for the sales manager role, but don’t let it! The “new-boss” issue is a short-lived one.
How do we know this is true? Because navigating the friend-to-boss journey doesn’t come up as a burning issue for managers once they are comfortable in the role.
It’s a role transition issue, not a permanent one. Basically – it will end. You will figure it out and will soon be dealing with much more challenging and exciting problems. (Isn’t growth wonderful?)
But this doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay attention to the moment of transition and manage it well. The first few days and weeks set the tone, so pay attention and take care!
Here are some easy ways to get comfortable in your new role as manager, build trust and set your colleagues and yourself up for success.
1. Communicate fast
Tell the team as quickly as you can and all at the same time, so there isn’t a hint of favouritism. Teams are susceptible to bias, especially in the beginning, and it can kill trust.
Hint: Bosses don’t have BFFs, they have star performers!
2. Drop the ‘nothing’s changed’ act
Don’t tell people that nothing will change. It’s simply not true. But don’t let it go to your head and become a total jerk either! Find your balance between caring personally about your team and still having enough positional power to call them on behaviour that doesn’t work for them or the business.
Hint: Great bosses can challenge directly because they care.
3. Talk to people
Don’t make assumptions that the conversations you had about job happiness and futures when you were co-workers are still valid. You need to have those conversations again and listen, not as a friend or as a colleague, but as someone who can support their professional journey and help make it a reality.
Hint: Good questions are: “What do you want?” “What are you willing to do to get it?” and “How can I support you?”
4. Remember there is more than one way to sell
There is no “best way” to sell anything. Each sales rep has a style, and your job is to help them be the best at their way – not turn everyone into mini-me’s.
Hint: Expose your team to as many selling styles as possible and let them experiment and work out what works for them and why.
5. Ask for training
Leadership is a learnt and practised skill, not a talent, so there is a lot you can do to get better at it. Go on training, read books, recruit a mentor and ask for help.
The more skilled you are at motivating people, solving problems and holding your team accountable, the happier your team and the higher your sales will be.
Hint: Start with a list of best leadership books to read. We’ve listed a few here to get you started!
It’s likely that you got into the sales management position in part because you are a star performing salesperson, so not hitting those high numbers because you are focused on people and processes can be a hit to one’s ego. Don’t let a few months of mediocre numbers dishearten you! Give yourself time to apply the same attention and energy to management as you did to sales, and soon your team will be crushing it!