Career Coaching for the Sales Team

At our Sales Leader Alliance (SLA) peer group, we’ve had a few questions recently regarding the career path for sales people.  In each case the Sales Manager was approached by a sales rep interested in moving to “the next level”, usually management. These ambitious employees are important to the success of the company.  You want to give them the opportunity to accept more responsibility, contribute more and help others.  However, if you don’t have a way for them to progress, they may see it as a dead-end job and start to look elsewhere.

The drive to move up in our careers is common for all of us trying to get the most from our work lives. But what if there isn’t a manager position available?  What if the sales rep is doing great at their current job but you’re not sure they’re the right fit for a manager position? Maybe you have a manager position open but no one seems right for the job.  How do you get them there?   Most importantly, how do you keep strong team members from leaving?

First let’s talk about what doesn’t work.  Companies often invent new job titles (Director of Sales when they actually don’t “direct” anybody) for the exact same job. Others will create new jobs, like a special team lead, even though there isn’t necessarily a need for it. Then there are the companies who like to dangle the carrot by saying “I’ll keep you in mind when something comes up”, or they just ignore the request all together. Then there are those who will promote to manager, no matter the employees qualifications, just to keep them on the team.

The impact of these choices is much larger than many managers realize. Simply making up titles or jobs creates a habit of promotions without any real criteria or rationale.  And, it often leads to conflict because one person got a title and another person did not.  Ignore the request and you may lose them all together.  If you do promote them to manager and they’re not a good fit, not only did you lose a great seller, the rest of your team could suffer as a result of poor management. Overall, if you approach the issue of career advancement for your sales people incorrectly you could severely impact the growth of the business.

To avoid these negative implications it’s in the best interest of the Sales Leader to develop a clear system for career advancement and a process for moving people forward.  There are essentially 3 steps in putting together your system.

Step 1: Developing a Career Path System

First you need to evaluate the needs of the organization as well as the individual. For the organization consider things like major strategic issues over the next two to three years and the skills, knowledge or staff that are necessary to meet those challenges. For the individual, consider their need to progress and be challenged, their financial goals, and where their strengths can be best utilized. Once you understand the bigger picture you’ll be able to effectively create a system.

Second you need to develop the various paths a person could take. It’s important to understand that not all paths lead to management. Just because someone is a great athlete does not mean they’ll be a great coach. While management may be a viable option for some, it’s not the only way to go. The graphic below depicts a few of the more common paths we’ve seen. Of course these paths are different for everyone and must be aligned with the needs of the organization to be effective.

Third you need to define the job, key competencies and what they’ll need to do to advance.

Along each path there needs to be clearly defined jobs, competencies and stepping-stones. Take the Sales Executive path for example. An employee could start as a sales rep, move to a sales executive, then to a senior sales executive, and finally into a Business Development role. Each step needs to be clearly defined. The employee needs to understand the responsibilities, advantages, disadvantages and requirements of each role or progression. Think about what someone in that position will do on a daily basis and what he or she will need to deliver. Always make sure that these tasks and deliverables are in line with the goals of the company. Not only will this help your employees see room for growth in their career but it will also ensure that the growth has a positive impact on the company.

Step 2: Assess the Individual

Once you’ve defined your paths it is critical to let people know how you see their current performance and potential.  This can best be described as:

  1. Review the requirements, characteristics  and competencies needed:
    • What needs to be achieved?
    • What skills do they need to have?
    • What do you need them to demonstrate?
    • What do they need to know?
  2. Have them rate themselves on the requirements above and tell you why
  3. Review where you think they are and then discuss how it compares with their ratings
  4. Open and honest dialogue about where they are at today and identify what they need to work on

Step 3: Develop a plan to close the gap

Once the system has been defined and the individual has been assessed it’s time to develop a procedure to move them along that path.  There are 4 key areas to address:

Current Position
Individuals should be:

  • Realizing their full depth and breadth of skills
  • Remaining current and up to date
  • Making consistent and significant contributions
  • Understanding and following processes
  • Demonstrating they are a role model to others
Current Position
Individuals should be:

  • Undertaking a TRIAL of new tasks or responsibilities
  • Receiving additional training
  • Shifting emphasis of the current job
  • Being exposed to new activities

(This change is not necessarily formally communicated to others.)

Current Position
Individuals should be:

  • Experiencing a PERMANENT assignment of new responsibilities
  • Learning new/different skills and knowledge
  • Meeting new expectations and levels of achievement

(This change is clearly communicated to others.)

to New Position
Individuals will be:

  • Moving to a different role
  • Applying their strengths for a different type of work
  • Utilizing new skills and creating different deliverables
  • Gaining satisfaction from a different perspective

No matter how you decide to structure career advancement for your team it’s important to acknowledge the requests of your employees. Take the time to understand what they really want and evaluate their options. Assess where they are now and where they need to be, then give the coaching necessary to close the gap. Giving them consistent and honest feedback will help everyone have realistic expectations.

If you’d like to see a simple example of a Career Advancement System click here.

Let us know if you developed or experienced any other methods to help people manage their sales career.

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