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Selling Power Magazine Article
The Right Fit
First, consider whether sales is the right fit for your personality. If it is, do you want to advance as a rep, or do you want to go for management, even seeking the top job eventually? Good reps are competitive, but choosing a career path is tricky. This is especially true because, when assessed by competencies and personalities, junior members of a sales force are an amazingly varied lot.
“Be honest with yourself,” advises Patrick Sweeney, executive vice president of Caliper, a sales assessment company. “In sales you can’t fake it, or if you fake it, people will be able to tell. In sales you are who you are.” Sweeney shares the story of a very successful real estate salesperson: he started his own real estate agency but spent two years running the business and hating it before returning to what he loved all along – selling real estate.
“Be thoughtful and candid with yourself. Do you really want to do this?” says Todd Harris, director of research at PI Worldwide. “Many companies give salespeople career paths that are quite rewarding without the rise up the management ladder.”
The benefits of top management positions are money, perks, influence, and power. The downsides include enormous pressure, a high rate of failure, and a major time commitment. Harris says top execs put in 70 hours a week and still fail about half the time. “Think about it. You may want to remain an individual contributor.”
“If you want to get to the next level, do some of it now. Go to your current manager and ask how you can help out,” urges Chris Carlson, president of Sales Talent. But first, a rep should be performing his or her own duties satisfactorily.
“In order to be considered for promotion, you first have to be above plan,” Carlson notes. “I don’t care what kind of leader you are, you must make your numbers [if you expect others to listen to you].”
Carlson says the straightforward approach is usually best. Young reps should tell their manager that they’re interested in a management career. Most companies are looking for ambitious young reps and will try to guide them. If the company does not, “[the reps] will have to go to another company,” Carlson says.
Like Sweeney and Harris, Carlson says management is not for everyone: “Some people want to go to the top for egotistical reasons, but when they get there, they find they are miserable. But they can’t leave because their ego will not let them go back.”
There are indeed some advantages to staying in the field as a well-paid sales rep. “You are used to controlling your income,” Carlson says. “But at the top, the numbers are out of your control.”
If you do seek advancement, what qualities will you need to have or acquire? David Juristy, vice president of sales at Select International, looks for a total of 20 competencies in top sales execs, but a few are the most important: a drive to win, ability to adapt, ability to read people, an outgoing personality, and the ability to hold people accountable. Not quite as critical are time management and the ability to interpret sales information.
“There is a big difference between sales skills and sales-leadership skills,” emphasizes Scott Hudson, vice president of HR Chally. “Sales superstars are rarely a success in management.”
Reps focus on transactions and customers. Managers set the vision, teach, coach, and hold people accountable. “These are different mind-sets,” Hudson explains. “Managers must be profit-conscious, coach in a structured environment, and measure success quantitatively, not by touch and feel.”
Reps who are thinking of pursuing a management career should speak to a manager they admire. “Ask the manager what they do and how they see you,” Sweeney advises. Management responsibilities include coaching, managing performance and territories, hiring, firing, and plenty of working with chief finance offers on budgets. “Road test your aspirations,” Sweeney says. “Do not be fooled by the office, title, compensation, or trappings.”
Sales reps have clearer paths to success, more freedom, and more exciting rewards than managers. Managers must spend hours with other execs discussing when to enter new markets or introduce new products, or hiring and firing people. “[Selling and managing] are two very different jobs,” Sweeney observes. “Yet we try to recruit them from the same sales force.”
Sweeney thinks people can change a lot if they make the commitment to major work and effort. But he believes most people are still better off exploiting their natural strengths. For top positions, he argues that one of the most important qualities is the ability to work with leaders of other departments: “Some people can go to long meetings and understand and persuade others. Other people want to be doing something, not sitting in meetings.”
In addition to technical skills, good managers must have a strong degree of self-awareness. “We get things done with other people in the organization, and you must be aware of your impact on other people – the people who work with you and for you,” says Harris. “You must have the ability to get feedback and act on it. Your responsibilities change at different levels, and you must be able to evolve.”
Some traits of top salespeople and managers cannot be taught, (continued on page 2)
– Henry Canaday
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