The learning curve when you start your sales career is steep. I remember my first day working in a retail store like it was yesterday. Then I was a business development rep at a large company, where I cold called prospects all day and spent a large portion of my time logging activity in a CRM. To be honest, starting my sales career wasn’t fun or rewarding at all.
When I looked around me, I saw people who had done the same job for years and years without a promotion. When I started my career I had no good education, no business connections, no internship possibilities -- nothing! Moving up the career ladder in sales can be an extremely daunting and confusing task.
Nonetheless, I got promoted to an account manager role within four years and account executive in 10. Here are the five lessons I learned that can help you move up the ranks of your sales organization.
1) Lay the groundwork.
Performance is obviously the most important factor for getting promoted into a more senior sales role, so focus on consistently making your number. However, it's also important to prepare for the position you eventually want to assume. Many salespeople neglect this crucial step.
If, for example, you want to be promoted to an account manager who runs face-to-face meetings, you’d better start dressing and acting at that level of professionalism. More importantly, ask management what required skills and traits an account manager should have and work on developing those traits.
2) Never stop learning.
Everyone thinks they’re fantastic at their job, but the truth is there’s a lot of room for improvement, no matter how experienced you are.
First and foremost, you need to have the right education to attain your career aspirations. You can do LinkedIn research to identify degrees and certifications typical of your desired field and role. For me, that meant studying for my bachelor of commerce degree at nights and on weekends.
But just having the minimum required education isn’t enough. Many specialized sales roles require industry-specific knowledge and certifications. Find out whether your ideal career path will necessitate extra education, then get it!
In addition, you should always be learning from the best in your field outside of a classroom setting. Whether it’s a sales-specific blog like this one, or keeping up-to-date with trends in industries you sell to, make a habit of reading, learning, and implementing new lessons from at least one piece of content a week. Once you’ve mastered the new skill or internalized new information, share this knowledge with your team in meetings. In this way, you're not only providing value to your team, you’re also showing management you’re constantly working to improve yourself.
3) Go above and beyond in your current role.
A promotion means that you get different and typically additional responsibilities. Do your boss and your colleagues think you can handle these responsibilities? If you can’t show commitment and demonstrate that you are absolutely the person for the role while in your current job, you’ll probably never get your dream position.
So get out of your comfort zone and proactively ask to help your boss with more important projects. Help your colleagues who currently hold the role you want. Introduce new technology to your boss that improves the sales force's effectiveness and efficiency. Going above and beyond is a no-brainer, but be honest -- when was the last time you actually did it?
Of course, don’t ever let these activities interfere with the job you were hired to do.
4) Define SMART goals with your manager.
To set SMART goals:
Be Specific about what you want.
Define Measurable KPIs for success.
Make sure your goals are Attainable.
Make sure your goals are Realistic for both you and your manager.
Set a Timeline with an end date to achieve your goals.
Set these goals with your manager so they are aware of your plans and can offer advice on how to position yourself for a promotion as well as advocate for you. Your manager can also keep an eye out for opportunities to work on the types of projects that will get you noticed, so share your ambitions with them as soon as possible.
5) Establish a clear promotion path.
Your manager will be able to tell you if your company has roles that you can grow into, and offer guidance on how to get there. But what if you outline your goals and get told there’s no opportunity for you to get promoted?
No problem -- it’s time to move on to a new employer. When I just started out, I was very hesitant to leave my job for another company. I was afraid to leave my comfort zone and my colleagues. But eventually I had to do it, because it was the only way to improve myself. Accepting a more challenging position at a new company led to my biggest career leap to date.
To set yourself up for a sales promotion, stop doing what you’re doing now and assess if you need to improve or change anything about yourself. Be humble and willing to improve, and only then will you be able to position yourself for your next job.
Originally published Aug 18, 2015 7:30:00 AM, updated February 01 2017