September 11, 2020

How to transition from sales rep to sales leader

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Meghna Bailey has enjoyed a 20-year sales career in the technology sector. Most of that time has been spent as an individual contributor. But last year she made the leap to a sales leadership role, promoted to Internal Sales Manager – Public Sector at Lenovo.

“When I joined Lenovo eight years ago, I never thought I would be on the leadership team. That’s a really exciting achievement for me.”

Meghna shares her tips for new sales managers, why working at Lenovo is a great cultural fit for her and some of the ways she balances work and life.

Finding your cultural fit

Like a lot of salespeople, Meghna didn’t intentionally set out to be in sales. She initially had dreams of becoming a computer programmer, having studied computer science and management at university. But when she graduated it was around the time of 9/11 and the economic after-effects made finding a job difficult, so she took a sales role with a computer manufacturer instead.

“I saw it as a stepping stone job but I ended up loving sales,” she says.

In 2012, Meghna joined Lenovo as an internal sales rep, attracted by the technology company’s culture.

“Lenovo is a very good cultural fit for me. The culture is built on collaboration and engagement, and we’re encouraged to behave like we’re a company of owners, with customer experience at the forefront of our minds. Lenovo was very similar to my previous company but a global vendor.”

Making the leap to sales leader

Mid-last year, Meghna’s manager was promoted to a Global Sales Operations role, leaving the Internal Sales Manager – Public Sector position vacant. Meghna was hesitant to make the leap, but her peers encouraged her to go for it.

“I had a lot of support from our Sales Director who thought I had the qualities required to be successful. Many of my colleagues also suggested that I would do well in the role. That peer group support was very important to me, as it gave me a lot of confidence to take on the challenge,” she says.

“Your first management role is a tricky one because you want to do it and deep down you know you can, but you don’t have that management experience, so you doubt yourself a little. Sometimes you just need a bit of encouragement to make the jump.”

In the end, that jump felt very natural for Meghna.

“I was ready for it. I felt like I’d reached a point where I could contribute more to Lenovo’s objectives by supporting individual contributors and motivating them to achieve or exceed sales goals, than by being an individual contributor myself.”

“All the experience I’d gained at Lenovo over the past eight years, having done the role myself, has put me in a good position to excel in this role. I can use that experience to help my team develop and come up with new ways to solve problems.”

Looking back at her career, Meghna wishes she’d been bolder in her decision-making and taken more risks.

“I think if I’d done that, I could have been in this role earlier.”

7 tips to transition from sales to management

For anyone making the jump from sales rep to sales manager, Meghna offers the following advice:

  • Let go of being an individual contributor – ”You need to accept that you’re not an individual contributor anymore. Your success depends on that of your team. It is much harder to motivate a team of individuals but very rewarding at the same time.”
  • Develop self-awareness – ”Leadership is a long journey that begins with self-awareness. It is ok if you don’t have all the answers.”
  • Complete some leadership training – “Train yourself ahead of the transition if possible. I did Lenovo’s For Those Who Manage training, which was great. I learnt about differences between leaders and managers; how to understand your team using the DISC personality test; setting SMART KPIs; and how to maintain good culture, work/life balance and team diversity.”
  • Find a mentor – ”Get yourself a mentor who is a sales manager. For me, I developed my leadership qualities by observing the strong leaders I’ve been fortunate enough to work with throughout my career.”
  • Set goals as a team – “Developing goals together improves employee engagement.”
  • Master the art of listening – ”Always be available to listen to your team and encourage them to contribute ideas.”
  • Celebrate success – “Appreciate and celebrate success because that can sometimes get forgotten.”

Establishing an internal career pathway

Lenovo has a culture of growth and development, with people encouraged to create internal career pathways and be open about their aspirations – something Meghna values.

“I have always had open and honest communication with my manager about my personal development and career goals. This gave me direction and confidence that I could be a future leader of Lenovo.”

Meghna likes that in her new role she can coach and encourage people to make a career leap.

This is something she had the opportunity to do earlier this year when her portfolio was expanded to include Large Enterprise sales. She took the opportunity to restructure the team and create two Team Leader positions, providing management pathways for emerging leaders.

“We opened up the roles only to internal staff, which is great that the next set of sales leaders are coming through from within Lenovo. It was a very rewarding process to support two of my colleagues adapt to those team leader positions.”

Providing an internal career pathway is just one of the ways Lenovo has supported Meghna. She’s also been able to access flexible start and finish times as a working mother, helping her balance her work and life responsibilities.

“Maintaining a work/life balance is no easy task for parents with young children. But some of the areas I try to focus on are good time management, setting boundaries, taking regular time off, and looking after your mental and physical health and wellbeing”

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About the Author
WORK180 promotes organizational standards that raise the bar for women in the workplace. We only endorse employers that are committed to making real progress so that all women can expect better.

Looking for a new opportunity?

Our transparent job board only has vacancies from employers we endorse and lets you see what benefits, policies and perks come with the job.