I am now head of sales. Help!

Dear Aunty B,

I have just been moved from the role of general manager to heading up the sales and marketing team.

I have a lot of experience in management but have never even worked on sales before and the team is resistant to the shift partly because, in my previous positions, I had to scrutinise their costs and tell them off for going over budget (I was finance manager before GM).

How hard is it going to be to win them over? Any tips on how to do it would be appreciated. I have already been asked if I have ever sold anything in my life.

D Dart,

Mt Waverley


Dear D Dart,

You are asking completely the wrong question.

Instead of asking how you are going to win them over, you need to ask this: I have been given a unique opportunity to work at the coalface of the business; how can I learn as much as possible so I become the most effective sales leader I can?

So I will assume this is what you meant to ask and proceed!

What is the hardest role in an organisation? Well, being one, I would say the CEO. But many people would beg to differ and in fact tell you that you have just landed in it.

Head of sales can be challenging for a whole host of reasons. You can be managing people who work in different states. You are managing juniors and seniors. You are dealing with revenue all day, every day; which can be nerve wracking. And like all good professionals, sales people can be demanding.

Here is Scott Edinger on the matter.

In his view, sales professionals can be prima donnas:

“If you’ve worked with sales professionals, you’ll recognize the pattern of their typical strengths. They have a tendency to challenge authority. They’re very driven toward results, and they have strong preferences for how those results are achieved. And, of course, more often than not, they have extrovert personalities.”

So sales people can be fun but challenging to lead.

Now this is not a fashionable view but I would argue that this is one job where the leader absolutely has to be able to do the job of the junior and better!

Sales professionals like to respect their leader and learn from their leader, so if I were you I would get out there and start selling. Be humble. Ask the sales people to take you along and learn the ropes from the ground up, because you are never going to learn about this part of the business sitting in your office.

And you know what? I would imagine you are being groomed for the top job, given you are being moved around the company. This could be your only opportunity to truly understand how this very important part of the business works.

And once you do, once you actually get out of your chair and go and meet clients face-to-face, you will realise that as a leader this is something you will need to do. And why? Well for lots of reasons.

It is the best market research you can do. You learn from clients about how their world is changing and where the new opportunities lie. You also get direct feedback on the job your team is doing. Clients have no problem telling you where you have stuffed up. And you also see the strengths and weaknesses of your sales team at work.

The other thing you need to do is read!

Go back and trawl through Sue Barrett and Trent Leyshan’s columns on SmartCompany. Make sure you read LeadingCompany daily for leadership inspiration. Read the best sales leadership books. And enjoy the opportunity and the journey!

Be smart,

Your Aunty B

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