From Individual Contributor to Manager: Seven Lessons Learned Along the Journey

By: James Moss

February 7, 2022

Talent & Culture

Individual contributor sales development positions can serve as a launching pad for a career in other departments in a company. When I started out in this type of position a few years ago, I knew what direction I wanted to take my career.  After transitioning to a couple of different companies, I gained more experience and proactively challenged myself with new responsibilities. My career track led to full-time management.

Seven lessons I learned along my journey:

Give Extra Effort

Your work ethic is critical to success as an individual contributor. In most cases it not only leads to outstanding personal results, it demonstrates to upper management and your future staff that you are willing to go beyond the job description to meet or exceed objectives. This means giving undivided attention to your duties, putting in additional hours and making other personal sacrifices when necessary. And, when you become a manager, you’ll set an example of giving extra effort to those on your staff with similar aspirations. 

Learn How to Handle Stress

At times when you are not meeting quota benchmarks, you need to keep stress from becoming an obstacle. Do this by maintaining faith in your ability and concentrating on factors you can control. Take charge of your daily tasks and goals. Let stress lead your actions… and chances are you will not be successful in sales and in turn you will not be able to graduate from an individual contributor role. 

Communicate Effectively 

Every successful manager must be an effective communicator.  Whether delivered verbally or written, to colleagues or customers, it should be clear, complete and concise plus grammatically correct. Managers must be effective in communicating a wide range of information to people at many levels…from company policies to potential and new hires…to incentive programs and strategies.  Tip: I have found that being a good listener, asking more questions and being concise often help optimize communication effectiveness and results. 

Challenge Yourself

Set daily, weekly, and monthly goals for yourself. Meeting goals, activity goals, quota goals, personal development roles. Be competitive with your colleagues. Let other people’s success fuel your drive to beat them out of the top spot for the month or quarter. Challenge yourself to go beyond what your peers are doing.

Be Clear About Your Management Career Intentions 

As you begin to set the groundwork for a path to management, it is important to make sure that path is there in the first place. Discuss where you wish to go in your career with your manager. He or she likely knows the roadmap for the months to come and where future positions might be available, and help you get to where you want to go.  Remember that they were once in your shoes of pursuing a career in management. So don’t be afraid to bend their ear every once in a while.

Don’t Wait to Coach & Train:  Determine Your Management Abilities Early

You want to be a manager, but will you be a good one? Will you be able to effectively train your team once you move into the role? Taking on additional responsibilities for coaching & training others now can help answer these questions.  Coaching and mentoring to achieve top performance means creating individualized plans based on a person’s learning style. Work with new team members by using coaching techniques like role-playing, to ensure effective skills are being absorbed and applied.

Use some of the time in an individual contributor’s role to hone your coaching techniques. It most likely will accelerate your journey to management. 

Be A Driver of Company’s Mission…Not a passenger

Once you buy into your company’s mission and truly believe you offer a great solution, you begin to move away from sounding “salesy” and into the realm of a professional problem solver. The depth of your product knowledge and understanding of your prospects’ needs will help guide you to success.

If you are a high-performing individual contributor who enjoys coaching others for success and contemplating where to take your career next, management may be a viable next step.

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About the Author:

James Moss is a Regional Manager for Account Development in the Americas at Clarabridge.  Jay has a vast background in cold calling and pipeline generation for small, medium, and large global technology companies which has led to millions of dollars in closed revenue. As an individual contributor and as a manager, Jay has been a consistent top performer and leader.