The first 90 days: How to succeed as a rookie sales manager

Finally, the promotion you have worked so hard for. You've done your time and earned your stripes and now bear the mantle of regional sales ...

Finally, the promotion you have worked so hard for. You've done your time and earned your stripes and now bear the mantle of regional sales manager, district sales manager or whatever. When the corks have stopped popping and the back slaps have ceased, reality will set in. You now have a [new, bigger, different] job to do. That job is to turn the sales ship around. Gulp!

Transitioning from the role of superstar sales person to superstar sales manager is an exciting and anxious time. When inheriting a sales ship that needs to be put back on course the task can be daunting. A corporate sales machine has many moving parts. Affecting positive change is much tougher in the captain's chair than it looks from the deck chair.

Many new managers feel stress as they adjust to the demands of their new role. There is one simple way to ensure that you sleep well during your first 90 days as the big cheese. That way is to under-promise to your boss, and deliver on that promise. Not what you were expecting to hear, was it?

A source of much stress for the new sales leader is the belief that they need to move sales mountains – right now. This belief can come from two places. Understanding them will provide insight into how mitigate or eliminate them.

The first source is senior management. The sales house is in disarray and they have brought in you to clean it up. They set unrealistic short-term results goals and, in running to get that promotion, you accept them. When such goals are accepted and locked in all parties are perfectly positioned to be disappointed.

A worse situation occurs when senior management does not expressly state what their desired or expected results are. Now you are being measured by an invisible yardstick that, by not questioning, you have accepted. In this situation you are as likely to trip over that yardstick as you are to jump over it.

The second source of this stress is within you. A serial overperformer, you set unrealistic expectations for your short-term results and performance, then set about killing yourself to reach them. No mind that this is a role you have never done, and have not been groomed for.

Saying yes to unrealistic targets – whether set for you or by you, or accepting the invisible yardstick you create a fretful time. Either way you can do a few things to avoid cranking up the heat on yourself.

First, be careful what you commit to. When senior management approaches you with the goals for your first quarter examine them thoroughly. Use your knowledge of the current state of the industry, company and your sales team to assess whether the goals are achievable. If they are not, politely push back. They hired you because you have a brain and are confident in using it, right?

Next, communicate in business terms exactly why you feel the goals are unrealistic. Then propose alternate goals you feel are more appropriate. Be prepared to negotiate until all parties end up satisfied that you and the business are being set up for success. Then, set about ensuring you deliver the agreed to results.

Finally, cut yourself some slack. In any role it generally takes at least one year to achieve meaningful success, another year to repeat it and prove you are the real deal and a third year to show you are ready for that more senior role. Keep this long term view in mind.

If you still get impatient with the process, remind yourself that getting to that long-term sales finishing line is a marathon, not a sprint.

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