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A new manager for an old team: The challenges of taking over an existing sales team

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Congratulations! You just landed a new gig as a sales manager. So many things to do and people to see that you don’t even know where to start. I’ll tell you where: always start with the people.

Starting at a new job is always tough, and I realize that you have a lot on your plate — getting to know the company’s inner workings, making sure the little stuff is working (like getting your business cards ordered), and becoming familiar with the local customs, schedules, processes and procedures. But you should never allow all this to overshadow the most important thing a new sales manager must do: getting to know your new team thoroughly.

Do your homework up front

If you landed this job, you probably already know about the company’s history, the territories in which it operates, and where it sits in relation to its competitors. But you probably don’t know much about your team yet. Start by taking a look at the performance reviews and history of the team as a whole, and the individuals. Who’s who, what’s in the pipeline, who are the prospects etc….


Start scheduling one-on-one meetings with team members as soon as you can. Once you’ve identified the team’s core values and reviewed the general results, this is the time for an individual assessment. When sitting face-to-face with a team member, ask about what they do on a daily basis — their current projects, tasks and responsibilities. Ask them to be specific about what makes them happy about their job, and what they see as a waste of time. People might be more likely to be more honest about their viewpoints in an individual talk than they would be in a group meeting; and they’re most likely to do it now, when you’re brand new, than after you’ve been there for a few months.


Rule number one when you’re a new leader on an old team is: keep asking questions. Hold a bunch of onboarding and informative meetings (independent of the one-on-one’s, above). The goal here isn’t to let the people know about your awesome changes — at least not initially. Instead, lead people to tell you what they expect ftp deliver, and what they expect from you as their new manager. You can also give them an overview of what you expect from them in return, and talk about whether the expectations are realistic. Being straightforward from the very beginning and communicating openly are your best bets.

Keep an open mind

“Too often, new leaders squander … (the opportunity to gain the new team’s respect and support)…, barreling through team member’s reservations by ‘taking charge’ — meeting challenges head-on, combating inaction with action, filling silence with speeches, and answering argument with counterargument.” —, E. Braverman & N. Lovergrove

In a new position, we often feel the need to make immediate changes. However, tearing everything down and immediately building anew on top of what’s left is not necessarily the best approach. I can’t stress enough the importance of taking the time to listen to the team carefully. The general reaction of people to a change, especially if it’s coming from a boss they barely know, isn’t usually positive. And that’s true even if it comes with the best intentions.

The bottom line is: take your time, and be attentive to the voices you’re hearing. You’ve been hired to keep things going, whether it’s through improvement or maintenance. By identifying which parts of your new organization require which, early on, can help you avoid some very unpleasant situations down the road.


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