Photo courtesy of Anthony on Flickr –

Here’s some really basic advice – If you are looking to get promoted into a sales management role, you should focus on getting promoted where you are currently working rather than trying to achieve that promotion through a company move. 

Why is this the case?

Simply put, hiring managers looking to hire current sales managers, want a proven track record of at least one year in sales management – where another firm has taken the risk on getting you trained up in management. They also want to make sure that your direct reports are truly that – straight, hard direct reporting lines into you with quotas and numbers rolling up to you. Dotted line reporting to you, a lack of a quota rollup of your reps’ numbers to your overall number, loose “team lead” or mentoring roles, all these elements of experience rarely count as hard-core sales management experience and tend to get discounted immediately. by hiring managers.

So how do you deal with the catch-22? i.e. getting the experience when you have none

Try and focus on getting that experience where you currently work and are a known and trusted entity. Don’t expect to be promoted for good sales performance or other factors alone. In fact, if you are killing it in sales, the last thing your manager might want to do is put you into a management role for obvious reasons! You often need to ask for it. Also, don’t expect immediate results. These things can take time and there might be interim steps that can help you get there – mentoring, team lead roles (without hard quotas rolling up to you). If your manager is on board with a move into management ask them to create steps for you to achieve it and make sure you leave regular placeholders on their calendar to keep them honest on their commitments to move your agenda along.

Are there exceptions to this? Can I ever jump into management by moving company?

Yes. Friends / colleagues that you previously worked with and who trust you an know that you are ready to step up to management responsibilities may provide a path where you can move companies to get into management. Recruiters are rarely a good path for such a move as they are typically asked to find someone doing the job now with some tenure under their belt. Anything less than that and the clients may give them grief so they avoid presenting those options.

What if I really have to make a move, don’t currently have sales management experience but want to get it?

Firstly, focus on a growing company that has a flat sales organization currently but is growing so rapidly that they are going to need to create management layers as they grow. Ask you recruiter which are their fastest growing companies that they are working with. Some marketing tech plays are so niche that those management roles will never materialize. Look for big rounds of recent funding, historical growth in sales positions and focus on “hot” technology plays with broad markets beyond niche verticals.

Secondly, be very clear with the hiring manager that you have management ambitions and set milestones for getting there or at least milestones to talk about getting there before you take the role. This can, of course, be deemed pushy and therefore slightly risky but you can simply ask something like this:

“As I have management ambitions can we put a placeholder in the calendar 6 months / a year from now about how we get a path to management plan in place?”

One other major factor to consider – Are you prematurely moving to management?

This is an interesting one and I see the potential risk of premature moves to management it in a few different scenarios:

a. SDR / BDR looking to move to SDR management

b. Inside sellers looking to move to Inside Sales management

c. SMB seller looking to move into SMB sales management.

When you are in those situations you have to ask yourself, are you better off staying as an individual contributor, making more money, solidifying a new baseline of W2 earnings and experience and THEN moving to management roles? So what then are the alternatives the people in these roles face?

for a. This would mean being promoted into an end-to-end sales role

for b. This would mean moving from inside sales to an outside sales role

for c. This would mean moving from an SMB sales role to an enterprise sales role.

Which scenario is better? The reality is that it very much depends on compensation and the opportunity cost of the experience you would gain by taking the different path. A recruiter will generally be able to guide you on the opportunity cost of different career paths long term but, most of the time that I have given this advice with full context on compensation, I have recommended in these 3 scenarios, staying as an IC and ultimately getting enterprise sales exposure before moving to management. My reasoning is that you create a higher baseline of earnings, solidify that by performing at or above plan and then move, at the top of your game, earnings wise to management. if you don’t do that you run the risk of being underpaid later or being excluded from enterprise sales management roles because you never got the experience selling as an IC at an enterprise level.

The one exception can be with a. (SDR management).This is an emerging field and, depending on the company, can be an end goal in itself. There has been a big uptick in the deployment of such teams across sales organizations. Right now, though, comp for these roles is basically all over the map (!) so it remains to be seen whether this is a valid end game career wise, long term. When the comp settles down it will be easier to determine whether this should be an appropriate end-goal for you. 

If you are in the process of considering a career move in sales in the marketing, ecommerce or broader enterprise SaaS technology arenas, please get in touch with me on LinkedIn or Feargall at

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