How to Successfully Transition from Field Sales to Sales Manager

sales manager 2Most sales manager positions are filled through the field sales pipeline.  Although sales person and sales manager both share the word “sales” in their titles, their roles, responsibilities, skills, and schedules are different unless the sales manager has the dual role of sales.  In fact, some highly successful sales people do not enjoy or make the best sales managers. However, if your expertise is sales, and you are now responsible for managing a sales team versus only yourself, below are some strategies that might set yourself up for success in your new role.

Organize Your Time

As a sales person you likely had one primary goal—meet your sales target.  As a sales manager, you will be managing multiple people, programs, and priorities. Multi-tasking will be required, because you will likely be pulled in several directions on a daily basis. Although everything will seem urgent, one of your most important assignments will be to manage and lead your sales team.

Leveraging a 2-month rolling schedule, you should block out time to travel with your sales people as they visit customers.  Treat this time as untouchable.  You will use this valuable time for those one-on-one conversations to strategize, coach, and invest in your sales people so they feel part of the team.  While spending time with them, keep the phone turned off to minimize distractions.  Spending time in the field will also allow you to get a pulse on the market, gather first-hand information on your customers, and strengthen your relationship with your sales team.

Manage Your Boss

If you were a sales person meeting your sales targets, you likely did not have to manage your boss. Your focus was managing your customers.  By default the numbers managed your boss.  Your boss likely left you to your own devices as he focused on more pressing internal demands.

In your new role as sales manager, you may need to manage your boss to minimize your daily distractions.  Using your calendar, establish a reoccurring weekly meeting with your boss—preferably on the same day and time of the week.  Agree to save items to discuss during this uninterrupted time. This ritual should help to minimize daily distractions that break your concentration.  Prior to your regular meeting, send an email listing the topics you agreed to discuss.  If you overlooked any or your boss has additional items, you can add them to the list and still have time to prepare.  One hour should be sufficient.  If you find yourself routinely short of time, agree to schedule separate meetings to discuss those weightier topics.

Exercise Your “No” Muscle

You were your customers’ advocate for price, quantity, quality, and service.   You were chartered and commissioned to sell.  Because you were conditioned to say “yes” to the customer, telling the customer “no” was likely a word that made you feel at least slightly uncomfortable.

A sales manager has a responsibility to weigh all the benefits and costs from the customers’ requests and make a decision that is aligned with the overall interest of the company.  Successful sales managers typically find they say “no” more frequently than they did as a sales person. Get comfortable saying “no,” yet be open to negotiation and compromise.

Build Alliances with Internal Stakeholders

As a sales person, you were by design externally focused on winning your customers’ business.  You likely spent little of your valuable time developing strong relationships with the internal stakeholders beside Sales, Marketing, and Customer Service.  The reality—no one in the office was buying the products you were selling.

The sales manager position is part of the company’s leadership team, and in order to lead well, you will need strong relationships with other members in Finance, HR, and Operations.  These relationships with other department leaders will make it easier to negotiate requests for deadlines and streamline work.  You are now an advocate for the sales staff, clearing the path for your sales team so they can meet their sales goals.

Putting It All to Work

Although these four guiding principles are not all-inclusive or a one-size fits all, incorporating some or all of these strategies will likely help you successfully transition from sales person to sales manager.  If you have any other suggestions that worked for you, I welcome your comments and stories.

About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach and consultant with an extensive background in leadership and business development.  She coaches individuals as well as designs and facilitates workshops.  She has a passion to help organizations engage all their employees.  You can learn more about Sandra by visiting her website at

3 thoughts on “How to Successfully Transition from Field Sales to Sales Manager

  1. Sandra, first up a great article that shows the true difference between what the role SHOULD be and what the role generally is. All too often the Sales Manager as you suggest ends being a dual role where actually you are a senior Sales Rep/Engineer/Exec (insert name here). I am just starting out blogging about my own experiences to aid sales professionals and would really like to use your article to showcase the difference between what the role should be and what, in reality you will end up doing if you don’t exercise your No muscle.


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