One of the questions we get asked most often from high performing SaaS Account Executives is: how do I make the transition from individual contributor to a sales leadership role?
The reality is, great sales management skills take years to develop. Some skills and theory can be built quickly, but the bulk of it (people and leadership EQ) can’t be fast-tracked. You simply have to navigate a wide variety of contexts and situational problems – which takes time.
With that in mind, the best way to start developing these skills along your sales career before you move into a sales manager role is to start thinking and doing you’re already in a sales leadership role. Seize stretch projects and look for opportunities to put this into action and make an impact in the sales team. Not only will this improve your capabilities, you’ll probably also get noticed for your leadership potential which will help accelerate the transition.
Here are our top tips to get ready for a leadership role, before the real pressure is on:
Make it clear you want to move into a leadership role
It’s a good idea to make it known to your manager that your long term goal is to move into a leadership role. Let them know you understand you are not ready yet (unless you feel strongly that you are) but you’d like to start building the necessary skills to eventually make the transition. Your manager can help you understand the key skills required to move into a leadership role and support you taking on new initiatives to get there.
Volunteer to be an on-boarding buddy for a new rep
This one of the key responsibilities of a leadership role that you can easily take on. As an expert individual contributor, you know exactly what is required to be successful. Take the opportunity to tune into how a new rep learns, what motivates them, and analyse their strengths and weaknesses. Tailor advice to their learning style and drivers to help them get some quick wins.
Talk to others who have made the jump to a leadership role
There may be colleagues in your organisation who have successfully made the jump from an IC to a sales leadership role. Perhaps you can build a mentorship relationship with them? Pick their brains on what the challenges were, what helped them succeed and what they believe you should focus on to forge a pathway there. They may even be able to advocate for you internally as a great candidate for a leadership role.
Run win/loss review workshops
Win/loss review workshops are great way to share sales learning across the team. Practice being vulnerable about your mistakes and failures to get other people comfortable in opening up. Take the opportunity to analyse patterns – if you were in a leadership role, what are the leverage points you would work on to improve performance across the whole team?
Run a training session on your “superpower”
Every Sales Rep has a key strength (think product expertise, negotiating, stimulating referrals and so on) within the team. Whatever yours is, offer to run a training session on this area for the team and help them implement into their sales process ongoingly.
Bring the sales leader energy
One of the big challenges in a sales leadership role is always being ‘on’ and bringing the energy to the team no matter how you’re feeling or what pressure you’re under. Take the initiative to drive a sales competition around a particular initiative the company is driving. Make it fun with a theme, get everyone involved and practice bringing the energy to a room of reps.
Study for a leadership role
We all have a stack of books or leadership role training courses we want to read but never get round to. Rather than trying to tackle everything at once, try allocating 20 minute each morning (maybe over your coffee) to focus on personal development – read a helpful blog, listen to a podcast, watch a short training video, etc. Absorbing bite-sized bits of information is a much easier practice to form a habit around.
Above all, you should be building your sales leadership mindset now to both give yourself a head start, and see if this is really the pathway you really want. No matter how frustrated, stressed, someone in a sales leadership role may feel, the best leaders always bring a positive energy and great communication skills to the table every day. When things are tough, practise having an abundance mindset and offering solutions to the sales team.