Not all sales professionals want to be in sales leadership, and that’s okay. Sales is a unique career in which you can be successful whether you are a leader of a team, or whether you prefer to work alone. In contrast, most corporate careers involve a steady accumulation of leadership duties in order to grow and progress.
However, for those who want to pursue a leadership position in sales, there are strategies that can help you accomplish this. Most importantly, you need to make sure that you’re in a company, and a role, that have growth opportunities available. If you don’t see any viable leadership opportunities at your current company (existing, or ones you can create), you may want to consider looking for a position elsewhere.
If you’re in a company with growth and leadership opportunities, here are some tips that will help you achieve the sales leadership role you’ve always wanted:
1. Volunteer for projects that your current leaders are working on.
Working closely with them will not only help you learn their secrets to success, but it will position you for roles that will need to be filled as those above you leave or are promoted. Some examples of projects you should seek out include:
- Revamping/updating training manuals
- Competitive positioning
- SWOT analysis
- Unique differentiators
- Lead generation analysis
- Opportunity conversion analysis
Similarly, you should look for opportunities to volunteer to assist your current manager. He or she probably has a backlog of projects, and there is never enough time to finish them all. Identify what they are working on right now or in the upcoming quarter and offer to assist. This will be a welcome offer, if you can also keep up with your primary responsibilities.
2. Take on a team lead or mentor role.
It’s important that you ‘warm up’ to the process of sales leadership. It’s not always the best idea to jump into the deep end, into a role with a lot of responsibility. Team Lead and Mentor roles are a great way to prepare yourself for the leadership transition. Not only will you learn about sales leadership and best practices, but you will prove your capabilities to your colleagues and managers.
3. Assist with ramping new colleagues.
After many years in the sales industry, I can tell you that there is no greater challenge than onboarding and ramping a sales rep (or a team of sales reps); it is a lot of work. Sales managers can always use the extra help. Additionally, coaching – like leadership – is a learned skill, and assisting with junior or new colleagues is a great way to fine-tune this skillset.
4. Educate yourself.
The best sales leaders I’ve known have one thing in common: they never stop learning. You should always be educating yourself, no matter how high up the ladder you climb. Read everything you can on leadership tactics. Here are some new and classic books we would recommend:
Good to Great, by Jim Collins
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey
How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie
Start with Why, by Simon Sinek
Leaders Eat Last, by Simon Sinek
Drive, by Daniel H. Pink
The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, by John C. Maxwell
Tribes, by Seth Godin
The Art of War, by Sun Tzu
All of these titles are also available on Audible for those who prefer to learn by listening.
You can also take online classes in sales leadership. Universities like Harvard, Stanford, Georgetown, MIT and Cornell offer leadership courses, programs or certificates you can do virtually. But you can also look at platforms like Coursera, Udemy or MasterClass.
5. Brush up on the tools your current leaders use to manage the business.
If you are going to move into a sales leadership role, it’s critical that you are comfortable with the tools you’ll need to be successful. These include CRM reports, financial reports, analytics tools, etc. Ask your current sales leader for advice on what you should be familiar with and tips for getting up to speed.
Finally, remember: If you’ve always wanted to be a leader, perseverance is key. Continue improving your skills and your knowledge, and don’t give up. You will find the right opportunity, and when you do, you’ll be prepared.
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