Making the Tricky Transition from Sales Peer to Sales Manager


Top salespeople get promoted to manager every day. But what do you do if you make the move from being a peer on the team to being the leader of that same team practically overnight?

For many people, transitioning from peer to boss dramatically changes the relationship you have with the team. While in the past your peers might have confided in you and looked upon you as an equal or even a friend, suddenly your dynamic is different.

So what can you do to ensure you position yourself as a valued resource and set the proper expectations amongst your reports as their new manager, without compromising the trust you’ve already developed with them? What can be done to maintain the integrity of those relationships you cherish?

lt all comes down to having a one-to-one conversation with each person on your team. Take the time to reset proper expectations to ensure alignment, and to inform everyone of what they can expect from you, the role you want to play in their success, and what you can do to mitigate the concerns or assumptions they might be harboring that could become a barrier to developing or maintaining a trusting, collaborative relationship.

Before you dive into the conversation, make sure you are being sensitive to the person’s schedule and that you’re having this conversation at a time when he or she would be most receptive to having it, while you gauge his or her mood and disposition. This avoids the feeling that you are already playing the manager “power card” and pulling your employees away from other tasks or deadlines. It will also foster deeper trust, especially if the employee is having a bad day, further demonstrating your respect of his or her time and ensuring he or she is open to speaking with you.

Another good practice is to have this conversation outside of the office, where people have a tendency to open up, feel more relaxed, and be less guarded, whether it’s over lunch or a cup of coffee.

Here’s how you can approach this conversation:

You: “If you’re not in the middle of something, do you have a few minutes to discuss my new role as your manager, how we can develop a valued relationship, and how I can best support you?

Salesperson: “No, right now is fine. What’s going on?”

You: “Well, I know that yesterday you had been working with a manager that you’ve told me you struggled with, but now that’s changed. As your new manager, I have the opportunity to support you in being as successful as you can. I know there might be some discomfort around this. Quite frankly, I have no idea how you like to be managed, or your perception of me, what you think a manager should do, or even how you want me to interact with and assist you. That’s why I would love to get your thoughts, so I can be the best manager for you, and make sure we address all of your concerns to ensure we achieve our goals together.

To me, we have an opportunity to create a positive relationship that would help each of us. And, just like all the best athletes have coaches on the sidelines, that’s the role I want to play for you. That is, to help you continually better your best while enjoying what you’re doing. Please keep in mind I’m not here to start changing things or telling you what to do or how I want it done, because you have been successful in your own right.

That’s why I’d love to learn more about you and your goals, as well as get a better understanding of how you do things, so I can learn from you as much as you can from me. Now, regardless of your past experiences, are you open to setting up our relationship the best way possible from the start, so that expectations are clear regarding how we can most effectively collaborate and support each other, especially around your goals and the company’s objectives, in a way that works for you?”

If and when your employee responds with a “yes,” below are a few questions you can use to start to facilitate this new dynamic and relationship:

  • What would your expectations be of me and the role I can play in supporting, coaching, and managing you?

  • How would you describe an ideal relationship with your manager?

  • What were some of the things you didn’t like about your past managers?

  • How do you like to be managed?

  • What concerns do you have that we need to address to ensure they don’t get in the way of us working together effectively to achieve your goals and our business objectives?

  • What are one or two things I need to be mindful of when coaching and managing you?

  • What would you like me to do and avoid doing?

  • What type of management style do you best respond to?

  • How do you like to be communicated with if you don’t follow through with the commitments you make? What's the best way for me to bring this up?

  • How can I be the best accountability partner to ensure you’re staying on the path to achieve the results you need, while feeling supported rather than micromanaged?

As you can see, this conversation helps reset expectations, while doing a deeper dive into understanding what each individual needs from you and what an ideal relationship would look like as you take on your new role as a manager. Otherwise, you run the risk of battling resentment, judgment, and costly assumptions (for example, “You’re going to be the same as my last manager.”) based on past experiences your co-workers have had. Without addressing this in a proactive way, it can easily sabotage the positive impact you want to make, as well as your ability to build a collaborative team of champions.

lt all comes down to having a one-to-one conversation with each person on your team. Take the time to reset proper expectations to ensure alignment.”

Keith Rosen | Author of "Coaching Salespeople into Sales Champions"
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