The Sales Manager’s Apprentice

The popular BBC1 TV series "The Apprentice" - the programme in which Sir Alan Sugar sets weekly tasks to test the abilities of the contenders and then grills them in the Apprentice Managersboard room before firing one of them in order to decide who will become his business partner has just finished. Whilst Sir Alan's methods would not be appropriate in the business world for determining who should be promoted the development of an "apprentice" approach for the systematic training and developing of sales managers is a good idea.

The systematic training and development of junior sales managers is often neglected. If a senior sales manager leaves suddenly, there is an urgent need for a replacement. One way of solving this problem is to develop a system of apprenticeships. The sales director or the area sales manager is given an assistant in a supporting capacity, who, in turn, is given the opportunity to become acquainted with an area of sales in its entirety.

Training a sales manager’s assistant can take between four and six years, if started from the initial recruitment of the person into a junior sales role. A sales management development programme typically involves the following 4 phases, with the trainee’s responsibilities increasing from phase to phase.

The introductory phase begins with the trainee accompanying experienced sales people on sales visits and participating in important internal negotiations and client discussions. While the sales manager is on vacation the trainee may also take over the manager's functions on a temporary basis.

Following the introductory phase, the organization gives the trainee the opportunity to work on special sales related projects (phase 2).

The third phase develops essential leadership skills by allowing the assistant to take over the leadership of a small regional sales team or a specialist area of the sales opperation.

The final phase of the sales management development programme sees the trainee as a member of the top management team, or as a leader of a larger profit centre for the organisation.

As well as day-to-day business matters, the apprenticeship programme will show trainees how to carry out organisational and economic analyses, marketing and the development of sales strategy, all of which they will eventually need to perform independently.

With a systematic development programme in place the assistant does not simply wander from department to department observing, but gains valuable hands-on experience. Consequently the assistant is integrated into the work process from the outset and carries out some tasks independently. Moreover, he or she gains important experience, learning from the decisions and working methods of his or her boss. During the course of the sales management development programme the assistant is, therefore, given more and more responsibility and deals with more and more aspects of the business.

This approach may not be as dramatic as the TV show - but it does achieve the required result: a well trained and effective sales manger!