How to Transition to Managing a Sales Team

Making the leap from individual contributor to sales leader? Here’s how to find your foundation as a first-time manager.

Written by Michael Hines
Published on Jun. 13, 2023
How to Transition to Managing a Sales Team
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Perhaps no field in tech better prepares people for management than sales. 

Contrary to the Hollywood perception of sales as a job for hard-charging lone wolves, it’s actually a highly collaborative field, one where teammates work together to level each other up and close deals. Organic leadership opportunities are common, whether it’s running quarterly sales contests, providing mentorship to a new hire on how to navigate a CRM or helping a peer sharpen their presentation skills.

And even with all of that, making the transition from individual contributor to manager is still difficult.

Sean Breen learned this for himself when he took on a management role at HR tech company Finch

Breen initially joined the company as one of its first account executives and sold alongside the founders, wearing many hats and learning the ins and outs of business development in the process. Once the company began hiring business development representatives, Breen was the natural choice to lead the team. However, despite coming in with deep knowledge of Finch’s product and the day-to-day responsibilities of a BDR, Breen still had to prepare himself as he stepped into his first-ever management role.

“I try my hardest to have a full view of whatever I’m focused on,” Breen said. “Applying that to this promotion entailed reading tons of articles, reaching out to some of my old colleagues who led me when I was a BDR to hear their advice and speaking with current reps to understand where they needed additional support.”

Reading up on what it takes to lead a team and seeking advice from previous managers was crucial to helping Breen prepare to take the next step in his sales career. Continue reading to learn what else was crucial to helping him find his foundation as a newly minted leader.

 

Sean Breen
Manager, Business Development • Finch

Companies use Finch’s API to unify their disparate HR platforms, making it easier to update employee information and for employees to utilize their benefits.

 

How did you prepare for the shift from individual contributor to manager?

As an early member of the sales team, I was fortunate to have already done a ton of business development work when it was just one other account executive, the founders and myself selling to customers. We didn’t have a business development team to support us so we were doing everything from sourcing to running deals and onboarding customers. That gave me a real view into the day-to-day responsibilities of the role, and prior to making the switch I led a number of growth sessions with the current business development representative team that helped me develop plans to address areas of the role that were challenging and directly teach the team. 

Our executive team is really great at giving people the opportunity to expand into roles through direct experience and then providing gentle guidance on the specific areas to take a second look at or what adjustments can be made.

 

What was the biggest adjustment to make upon becoming a first-time manager?

The biggest change moving from an individual contributor to a manager is you can no longer simply push harder or do more work to affect results directly; you need to enable your team to be successful. 

I had an “aha!” moment around my sixth week as a manager where I finally understood what I could control to impact results and what was out of my direct control. It’s really all about helping your team be more efficient, supporting them with context and making their day to day easier while consistently providing clear expectations. Then it all comes down to trusting your team and making adjustments when you have more data or a deeper understanding.

It’s really all about helping your team be more efficient, supporting them with context and making their day to day easier while consistently providing clear expectations.”

 

How do you quantify or qualify your success as a first-time manager? 

The nice thing about sales is that quantifying your impact on the team is automatically baked into the function. So on the quantitative side, we have opportunity-generation goals that directly align with company revenue goals, the individual quotas of my team and my cumulative team quota. We’ve had our largest opportunity generation months in the history of Finch since the new team members joined, which is super exciting and encouraging to see. 

On the qualitative side, knowing your team and the goals they have in place for themselves is critical. Some want to be promoted to account executive, and being a part of those promotion paths has been really rewarding. Others want to be able to contribute to larger team initiatives or chip away at personal goals like financial stability, buying a house or having the life they see for themselves. Whatever it is, it’s amazing to get to be a small part of their lives and to help get them to where they want to go.

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images via Shutterstock (banner image) and Finch (headshot).

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