How to answer the promotion question

If you’re a sales manager, you’ve undoubtedly had members of your organization ask how they can get promoted. 

It’s tempting to give the cookie-cutter answer. “Do your job well and you’ll put yourself in the position to get promoted.”

Stop saying that. The person in front of you is intelligent, so that’s not really the answer they are looking for because that’s pretty obvious. There are better answers you can give, and it depends on who is asking. For the person asking you that who isn’t putting up the revenue you need, well that’s a shorter conversation. You should first commend them for thinking about moving up in their career. “I’m glad you’re thinking about how you can advance within our organization…” But you have to then be honest with them. “You have to put up the numbers first before we can have  further discussion about promotion.” That’s a short and simple conversation.

But when the person asking is someone who is making their numbers, you can’t tell them “Just sell more.” For a talented, intelligent sales professional who is meeting goals, that’s not what they want to hear. Their question isn’t really “how do I get promoted.” It’s really more a statement: “I want to be promoted. Tell me the steps I need to take to get that promotion.” There are some keys to making this conversation work.

 First, you create a succession plan with that person that tells them where they can go. Let them know that you want to promote successful team members. Make the plan with them and put it down on paper. Whether the end game is to put them in a management role or some other position, the exercise is the same. Create the roadmap and write down what has to happen at each step for them to get promoted. By simply doing the exercise of writing down what has to happen to get promoted, you’ve shown this person that you’ve taken the request seriously. You’ve empowered them by helping them to visualize their career path, and it only took a few minutes of your time. 

A second key is to explain that to being promoted doesn’t just require meeting sales numbers; it’s also about leadership. At that point, you help them come up with some leadership projects. It might be leadership project training, teaching, coaching… whatever you feel is appropriate to the situation. The idea is to give this person additional responsibilities. You want to make sure to teach all the skills about being a sales leader or sales manager because you don’t want it to feel like a slap in the face when the promotion actually comes. They need to be prepared for how difficult it is to be a sales manager. It isn’t as easy as it looks. You deal with multiple personalities. You have a quota to hit. You have pressure from above. You have pressure from below. You have to be a master at recruiting. You have to be a master at development. You have to be a master at influence. You start giving this person projects to execute on them. The world is tough. So when someone wants to get promoted and wants to join you on that journey, teach them, give them opportunities to develop at your expense. That’s what sales leadership is. You teach somebody all the skills of leadership and management long before they’re on that road. That’s because you can only get a promotion when you’ve mastered all the skills of the job before you even have the title. And I assure you, as this person executes on that project, it won’t take 30 days. It won’t take 60 days. It won’t take 90 days. It is a project. It takes time for these people to develop these skills. 

As this person is developing those skills, you as the sales manager have a job too. It is your job to go out and petition that person for future leadership opportunities within your organization. We only advance in our careers, when our immediate supervisor is ready to go to bat for us and tell everyone else in the organization why we deserve to be promoted. 

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