For many, sales isn’t the first or last job you’ll have.
As an entry-level sales professional, your career can evolve in many different directions. It can wind deeper down the path of sales, turning into a senior role, or management position.
For those whose initial exposure to sales is not a good experience, a transition to a position that is a better fit with your skills may be in order. There’s no shame in admitting that sales may not be right for you — though the skills that got you hired for this type of job may transfer well to other customer-related roles.
First, a small anecdote about managers who don’t measure up, because regardless of where your sales career takes you, it’s damn hard to level up if your manager doesn’t create an environment that encourages growth. Then I’ll get to the good stuff -- how to not be this manager.
Back at my first sales job, I took every possible opportunity to demonstrate loyalty and initiative.
I actively took part in the employee volunteer program, signed up for optional sales training sessions, mentored newbie sales hires, and assisted with content creation efforts in other departments. I did all of this while keeping my sales metrics high and closing new contracts at the top of my team.
I was fresh out of college and full of ambition. I was starting to get involved in the local Chicago tech scene and managed to secure a free pass to that year’s TechWeek event. I made what I thought was a bulletproof pitch to my boss: I said I’d be happy to work extra hours if I could take an afternoon off to expand my mind and improve my job-related skills — promising to spend some time networking on behalf of the company.
So here’s what happened:
He wouldn’t give me the afternoon off, despite the company’s “unlimited paid time off” policy, advance notice, practical applications for the business, and the fact that I was more than on top of my metrics.
On one hand, I couldn’t completely blame him. The company had recently gone through an IPO and the stock was trading low. Pressure from the top affected everyone in sales, without discrimination.
At the same time, it’s a manager’s job, regardless of the department, to advocate for their employees. My boss didn’t "owe" me an explanation — but if he were the type of boss who was interested in keeping go-getters around, the "why" is important.
I never got an explanation. In fact, I never got a yes or no answer as to if I could go! It apparently wasn’t his problem.
If you strive to create the kind of sales team that feels connected to the company and loyal to your initiatives, you need to create a balance between getting and giving. It doesn’t have to cost a lot — or anything at all.
Here’s what I took away from this situation, with some lessons for sales managers to create the type of employee loyalty that reaps rewards for the company at large:
It would have done wonders for my attitude if all the extra work I did in my first sales job came back to benefit me in some small way. But every time I made an attempt to involve myself deeper in my company outside of sales, I was scolded for momentarily taking my attention away from closing deals. Even though I was beating my numbers.
I worked hard at my first job, but eventually, my attitude soured for my company because I didn’t feel like my professional development was important to them, despite the fact that my involvements were focused on helping them. If they had instead encouraged me, setting any ground rules they deemed necessary, I would still be singing that company’s praises — even after moving on to new jobs.
As a sales manager, don’t forget that at the end of the day — you’re responsible for the livelihoods of the people you manage. Sales tends to be a high-turnover department but by showing that you care, your people will work hard for you while working under you.
When I asked for what could hardly be considered as “special treatment”, my boss actually overlooked the opportunity to help me improve my sales skills. After all, I had honestly planned to both learn and network at this event. Though most of our company’s sales happened over the phone, in-person networking can positively impact growth in terms of telephone communication skills.
Furthermore, I worked for a technology company and wanted to go to a technology event.
To truly master the nature of what I was selling, it would certainly be helpful to immerse myself in the local scene — making sure to ask presenters pointed questions and sharing insights later with interested members of my team. No one benefits from staying in a bubble.
No matter your current role, learning is never a waste of time. In fact, Google’s 20% rule, which allows employees to spend 20% of their time on side projects, has resulted in some of the company’s most-used tools: Google Maps, Google AdSense, and Gmail.
Before you deny your direct reports the chance to grow, think of the learning and innovation you may be actively stifling.
...but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t invest in them now.
This is not to say that you should expect to lose your team but that people grow and regularly move into new roles, teams, or departments.
It’s not a bad thing.
On the contrary, it should make you proud to watch your employees eventually grow into the position best suited for them — where they can make the biggest difference at your company.
That’s the thing: when you support the professional development of an employee on your team, you’re setting them up for success for their remaining tenure at your company. Their next boss will thank you, creating cross-departmental goodwill.
At the end of the day, if an employee makes a reasonable request to better themselves during work hours, proposing a solution that doesn’t negatively impact sales metrics, it’s in your interest to try to accommodate them.
In fact, if you want to build a positive company culture, you should really be proactively encouraging professional development. Let’s redefine the toxic reputation of burn-and-churn that most sales managers are associated with (sometimes, for good reason).
Don’t be an ugly sales manager who only cares about numbers. Care about your people and watch how they will come through to make you look good to your higher-ups.
Let’s try a positive spin on this topic: how does your sales manager positively contribute to your career growth? Tweet @CirrusInsight and share your thoughts! Let’s make the sales world a better place for everyone.