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Career Development for Sales Managers

6 min read
August 29, 2016

At any stage of your career, it’s important to think about the future. Many jobs don’t offer a clear role progression, but in sales, you know exactly what job titles are in front of you. If you’re a sales manager at an early-stage startup eyeing your next move up, your goal is probably to become Head of Sales, Vice President of Sales, or Chief Revenue Officer. However, it’s often hard to get to that level due to the training and development that’s needed to do the job well.

It’s difficult being thrown into the fire of management while developing a brand at an early-stage startup. To make sure you’re developing the right skills, below are some of the key responsibilities a VP of Sales is tasked with – and how you can train yourself to succeed at that level.

Learn to Manage Managers

Right now, part of your job is to manage individual sales reps. But in order to be a good VP of Sales, you’ll need the ability to manage your managers. It’s a requirement and skill that only comes with the right experience and training.

You can improve on this by building your own team leads. Pretend they’re your Sales Managers and you’re the VP – if you treat your reps as Sales Managers, they’ll treat you like you’re the VP of Sales, which can lead to promotion sooner rather than later.

Strategize for The Future

In my opinion, one of the most important traits of a VP of Sales is their ability to understand their company both financially and analytically. It’s important you know which KPIs are most important to measure. You’ll need to explain these metrics to executives, and

the more you can use numbers to tie performance to revenue, the more appealing you are to your company.

In order to be a successful VP of Sales, you need to have vision for where the sales team is today and where they will be in 3, 6, 9 months, etc. This could be one of the biggest differences between a Sales Manager and a VP. Sales Managers drive the day-to-day performance of each rep, but a VP of Sales strategically thinks about the company’s long-term performance and goals.

As a Sales Manager, you should try to come up with a 90-360 day plan and sync with the executives in your company. Don’t hesitate on trying different exercises with your team and initiate conversations about sales strategies with the VP of Sales. It will impress your manager and show that you have the drive to become an employee in higher management.


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Understand the Relationship Between Sales and Marketing

As a Sales Manager, you’re a user of Marketing, but a VP of Sales needs to be working together on how the marketing funnel feeds the sales engine. Make sure you’re giving the marketing team everything they need in order to generate your leads into successful sales. To create an understanding relationship and consistent feedback between the sales and marketing teams, you should allocate some part of your day/week and get to know what marketing does.

Grabbing a coffee with the Head of Marketing or a Marketing Analyst is a great way to get a better understanding of how marketing and sales go together. Find out what their biggest pain points are and what their priorities are. Once a relationship is established, it will become much easier to start thinking about how marketing and sales connect.

Understand the Team Design

Sales Managers are typically managing one branch of a team – SDRs, AEs, Sales Ops, Sales Engineers, Sales Recruiters, etc. As a VP of Sales, you need to understand how to build the team across the board. What kind of AEs should you hire? What kind of post sales should you hire?

To get a better sense of all the positions, when an opportunity presents itself in your career to rotate your position, do so. When you rotate through different teams, you’ll gain a lot more experience managing different types of roles. Get to know the entire sales organization if possible and volunteer yourself to sit in on hiring meetings and to be an interviewer for new roles. Not only will this prove your dedication, but it will educate you on what is needed in each position for the company.

Learn to Manage Upwards

When you’re a Sales Manager you’re managing reps and reporting to the VP of Sales, but as VP you are likely reporting to the executive team and getting pulled into board meetings. Communication, a high level of adaptability, and keeping executives and Sales Managers in the loop is extremely important at the VP level. You must give them enough communication so that they feel confident in your ability to continuously deliver results.

Figure out how to lead and motivate a team of people. In many cases, you might have to be the messenger delivering tough messages to the organization. Even if you’re close with your current VP, create some distance and adapt your communication style so it mirrors an executive level relationship. You need to learn to show empathy but also remain assertive when speaking with investors, sales reps, managers, the board and even the CEO. A VP of Sales needs to know how to speak to different people, all with different personalities.

Though you’ll encounter many new challenges as a VP of Sales, these are a few of the key responsibilities I’ve seen Sales Managers struggle with when transitioning. By preparing yourself and giving yourself the extra training needed for the VP level, you’ll gain a better understanding of your sales organization and have a better chance for future promotions.

Jordan Wan is the Founder/CEO of CloserIQ, the sales recruiting platform connecting top sales talent to tech companies. Previously, he was the Head of Analytics at PayPerks, Sales Manager at ZocDoc and Trading Strategist at Bridgewater Associates.