In “The One Hour Manager” I listed opportunity among the seven things I would like in my sales environment as a rep. Every sales organization can benefit from grooming talent to prepare for future management positions, especially because it is so motivating to reps to see a career pathway beyond the next sales goal. What reps really want is the chance to grow personally and professionally through challenges such as the chance to lead, train others, open territories and break new ground.

This is the most challenging of my seven management goals to live up to. It’s hard work to develop people, and in startup mode, you might not have the time or sales background yourself to do it well. You might be thinking investors will be more impressed if you recruit senior talent from experienced outsiders instead of promoting from within. Guess what? Investors are even more impressed when you experience triple-digit growth each year, so you might do better by leveraging leadership opportunities to create a highly motivated sales culture with low turnover. No one will know your product, customers, and corporate vision more than those reps that take a chance on you in your early days. We talk a lot about the lifetime value of customers, why not also measure the lifetime value of reps?  It’s entirely possible to cultivate your motley crew to be the professional team you need when your product is hitting its stride.

Think about why an individual arrives at sales as their vocation. They like the risk-reward equation involved in commission-based compensation. They are competitive and goal-oriented. There’s a bit of ego behind the personality, and thank goodness because 75% of their day is rejection. The best reps are not content to stay in the same position or income level for very long. Retaining them means showing them a career path that rewards effort.

In startup mode, this shouldn’t be difficult. Growth begets the opportunity to earn more, take on leadership duties, and plenty of upside. As madcap growth levels out over time, the org chart is starting to settle down and there is less organic opportunity for career advancement. Your work to generate those opportunities begins.

There are usually two career paths for a sales rep; the master salesman track and the management track. When you spend 1-on-1 time with a rep, start to discuss his vision for his own future. Does he prefer the parts of his job which are selling and meeting with educators? Does he prefer the parts that are strategic planning and teaming? Not that you have to pigeon hole everyone early on, but there is no truer axiom than you can’t get what you want until you know what you want. Ask reps to consider the future they would like at your company so you can help them get there. Just asking is already establishing a culture of opportunity.

The Master Salesman Track

A master salesman is a person that wants to perfect their sales skills and advance in their career by selling more and larger accounts, opening new and larger territories, mastering new or more complex product lines. Develop and retain these individuals by including them on large district presentations, have them handle national charter school organizations, and find them training and experience working with C-level administrators (curriculum directors and superintendents) and large school districts.

Consider using them as regional resources that support other reps on large district opportunities. You can parachute them in to assist on complex sales. Pay the local rep their full commission, but add a small percentage to your paratrooper. They get career satisfaction from getting the call, and the money feeds their optimism about income potential for the future with your company.

If you have a large enough group, you can offer multiple job titles for similar roles such as Sales Associate, Territory Consultant, Senior Territory Manager, etc. The pay structure and status should increase giving your rock star sellers something to shoot for. Other forms of recognition should be used to maintain a culture that retains top talent.

The Management Track

This one is a little more traditional, and in B2E this pathway is pretty crowded. When you hire a lot of former teachers, you have a built in training machine. Teachers turned sales reps are fabulous at identifying where they were successful, documenting the process, and delivering that knowledge to their peers. There is a lot of strategic and business knowledge needed for management as well as being a cultivator of talent, so not every former teacher is cut out to take on an RVP or VP role. Just be sensitive to disappointing internal applicants for each promotional opportunity. My rule of thumb was if any one applied for more responsibility they always walked away with some. If they lacked the experience for that particular role, I’d give them an assignment that was an opportunity to get there. This could be something small such as running the agenda at their bi-weekly team meeting, or bigger like becoming a liaison between the sales and product teams.

Other ideas to groom managers, and contribute to the culture of opportunity are to ask for volunteers to train their peers on a particular best practice or product feature, or lead a session at your next sales conference. It’s also nice to have a mentorship program. It gives new reps a resource to ask their really embarrassing questions to, plus it helps the mentor take the best first step to becoming a manager. Ask for volunteers to mentor new reps so that every new hire has a go-to resource. You’ll have fewer on-boarding responsibilities and the mentors develop a new skill.

If you’re feeling challenged by any of the above, you might consider support from an outside consulting group like Selling B2E that can handle some of these staff development responsibilities for you until you’ve got those groomed managers to take it on for you. Let’s talk!

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