Some years ago in a previous role a customer enquired if they could talk to us about something not directly to do with our business relationship. Of course I replied, intrigued.
It turned out they had spotted we had a particular roles for specialist engineering staff which looked like it might help with their issue – how to offer career progression to people with little inclination to management without moving them up the management hierarchy.
I was surprised as this was a large multinational who were on the enlightened end of the employee development spectrum. A year later they hadn’t just adopted the approach but improved it, being as they were on the enlightened end of things.
I see parallel issues in sales appointments. Career advancement comes through moving through sales management to director. Sales people are often ambitious and good sales people can be effective in more ‘senior ‘ roles if the job entails a large amount of direct customer responsibility, however at some point it will also demand management skills – recruitment, coaching, team development.
For many who have chosen a sales career it’s the exception rather than the rule that they will have benefited themselves from such management and leadership. In smaller businesses role success is simply defined as ‘did they bring sales in’. Progression through the management hierarchy can bring the realisation that they actually prefer being at the sharp end – there isn’t just a skills gap but a motivation gap as well. In the absence of an alternative option for progression and an open culture, no one is likely to admit to their shortcomings.
The outcomes for the business can be poorly performing sales hires, sales staff turnover, low morale and ultimately the risk of losing business, not to mention sales staff to competitors.
The responsibility lies with the people making the appointments. Time pressure, lack of alternative options, assumptions on personal development expectations can all be the reasons for putting the wrong person in the sales management role at whatever level, even in large organisations.
How can you avoid falling into the trap?
- Invest time identifying key skills for sales management roles.
- Promote an open culture – encourage people to be honest on their career aspirations and their weaknesses.
- Involving them in conversations about your developing organisation and be creative in creating career progression and reward options outside of management hierarchy.
- Encourage investment in basic management skills education and training.
- Provide skills training and development coaching – skills that your sales leaders can also then share with their team.
As a business leader there are several key qualities you will need to display (Being a better leader), but demonstrating humility and empathy are a couple that will help create the right environment for effective appointments and prevent square pegs ending up in the round holes of sales management.