Recently during a workshop with a group of sales managers the question came up, “I just got promoted from sales rep to manager of the sales team. How do I make the move from being their buddy to being their boss?” Here are five suggestions:
1. Have your new boss make the promotion announcement in person, if at all possible.
The official announcement is symbolic of the transition from the past to the future. The military understands this concept well but many sales organizations do not. From most salespeople’s perspective the “top person” in their world-view is the executive two levels up —meaning the person who selected you to be the new team leader. So it’s important for your team to hear from your boss exactly what your new responsibility is and why you were selected.
2. Mentally prepare yourself to be unpleasantly surprised and somewhat disappointed by your team.
One of the reasons you were chosen to become a manager was likely because you were a highly-skilled sales professional. Now that you are in your new leadership role, you will undoubtedly see differences between how members of your team do things vs. how you did things when you were a salesperson. When you were a sales rep you just assumed that others did things the same way as you, and it can be jarring to see just how wrong that assumption was.
3. Remember you’re a coach now, not a player!
You’re going to be tempted to start pointing out to your team members all the things they are doing wrong (or at least differently from how you used to do it, as I just described). Don’t succumb to that temptation. Take care not to criticize, condemn or complain what has just happened (or not happened)—that’s the surest way to alienate the people who were very recently your peers. Instead, challenge yourself to adopt the coach’s mindset. Focus on watching and observing. Provide feedback that will help a salesperson develop better skills—what can he or she do differently or better the next time?
4. Share your experiences to engage reps in conversations about problems and their consequences.
Discuss the results you want to see linked to something the person needs to improve, and draw on your experiences to make the problem real. Suppose a salesperson is not effective at developing a cost justification during the sales process. If you simply make that statement, the salesperson will surely be defensive and push back. Instead, share a personal example of the consequences you experienced in a deal where you didn’t have a cost justification. And ask the salesperson to share their opinion on the topic. Continue the coaching conversation only after the salesperson says words to the effect that “Yes, I agree that this is a problem for me.” There is no reason to continue the coaching conversation unless and until the salesperson agrees that they have a problem to solve, or an opportunity for improvement.
5. Ask for feedback from your team on a regular basis.
Everybody knows that you only recently became a manager, and they will react negatively if you suddenly try to sound like an expert on the subject. So you need to demonstrate to the team that you are interested in improving your managerial skills (just like you expect them to be interested in developing their sales skills). One way to do this in a professional way is to regularly ask the following questions of your team (and your boss):
- What are you getting from me that you find helpful?
- What am I doing that doesn’t help you at all?
- What could I start doing to help you more? Why would that help?
Developing different relationships with people you know well is not always easy. But as long as you act like a sales leader whose primary focus is the success and development of team members—and not an expert zooming in to point out others’ mistakes and constantly save the day—you should have fewer bumps in the road.