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Before You Become a Sales Manager

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Thinking about transitioning into the management side of sales? It may be a wise choice – Sales Manager appeared on US News & World Report's list of Best Careers for 2011.

The two main paths to sales management are to move from a sales position to sales manager, or to shift from another type of management job over to sales management. Where you're coming from will partly determine your biggest challenges as a sales manager.

From Salesperson to Sales Manager

This transition can be rough, especially if you are taking charge of your old teammates. In that case you'll need to set some boundaries to make it clear you're no longer “one of the gang.” Start by meeting with each member of your team, one-on-one, and go over what you think their responsibilities are. That includes giving everyone very specific goals. But make it clear that you're ready to listen to any comments or concerns they have – you want to defuse any resentments as quickly as possible, before they become major issues.

If you move into a sales manager role in a different organization, you won't have the same awkwardness with your sales team but you may still find the transition jarring. Again, you need to remember that you're now a leader and not one of the pack, and act accordingly. On the other hand, don't overcompensate by treating your salespeople like lesser creatures.

From General Manager to Sales Manager

As a newcomer to sales, you might be disconcerted by how quickly your salespeople see through your management tactics. As professional persuaders, most salespeople are well aware of when they're being manipulated. Often the best approach is the straightforward one: give your salespeople their goals, let them know you're there to help, and keep a close eye on them so that you can reward top performers and step in when others are struggling. Hint: salespeople are highly rewards-motivated.

Salespeople tend to be very competitive and fostering that feeling can encourage them to produce. But if you overuse this approach you'll end up with salespeople that hate each other. You need to keep the competition at a friendly level – or you'll turn your sales team into Glengarry Glen Ross.

Is a Sales Manager Job Right for You?

Whatever your trajectory into sales management, you'll find that it can be a risky but highly rewarding career choice – rewarding in both money and personal achievement. If that sounds like a good combination to you, go for it. If not, a sales manager position probably isn't your cup of tea.

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