How to Give a Promotion You Won’t Regret



Promoting employees from within is a smart practice — especially when it comes to your sales team. At Marketo, our data shows that internal hires to our sales team often ramp faster than outside hires. It makes sense: these hires are already immersed in our culture, understand the benefits of marketing automation, and have a good sense of how to succeed at the next level. From a management perspective, shifting a current employee into a new position can be challenging, but has huge rewards.

For example, at the beginning of each year, Marketo looks to our top performing Sales Development Reps, with the intention of promoting some to quota-carrying Account Executives. Our Sales Development Reps (or SDRs) are essentially our inside sales team, and their primary job is to qualify leads. Account Executives (or AEs) actually close the deals. The promotion is far from symbolic — it carries a lot of new responsibilities.

So once we’ve placed one of these “phenoms” into the AE position, how do we get them ready for prime time? At Marketo, we’ve gotten the best results from the following approach: Coach. Conquer. Grow. Repeat. 

Here’s how it works:

1. Coach

If you’re managing a newly promoted AE, you should have the skills and experience to lead by example. To start, ask your trainee to hang back and observe you do the job. Make sure they’ve seen the deal process from start to finish a couple times before you pass the torch. We also equip our team with sales playbooks, which walks them through our best practices.

Immediately after you hand over the reigns, stick close by. Your employee will make mistakes — guaranteed — so make those mistakes instructive. Identify each problem, and explain how it can be avoided. The first few months will set the pace, so make sure your newly minted up-and-comer is confident, having fun, and fitting in amongst his or her new peers. (Keep in mind that your new AE was recently reporting to those peers, so the dynamic might be rocky at first.)

In the first few months, you should expect your employee to be highly motivated and eager to learn, but you shouldn’t expect new AEs to develop all of the necessary skills overnight.

2. Conquer

Help your new AE succeed at all costs. This may require you to roll up your sleeves, but fresh AEs should taste the thrill of victory as soon as possible. Put your AE in a position to be successful, and make sure he or she is recognized publicly when certain milestones are met (first deal, first month/quarter hitting quota, etc).

3. Grow

This is when you start to step back. Take the position of a spectator, and encourage the new AEs to play their own games and find their own styles. Instead of giving direct feedback (i.e. “do this” or “try that”), ask them questions: “What do you think you should do?”

At this juncture, your AE probably know what needs to be done, but he or she will still need positive reinforcement. My mentor passed down this rule of thumb: When junior AEs ask you questions, they probably know the answer deep down. Ask them what they think. If an AE’s answer is at least 80% right, agree with the assessment. This will give your AEs the confidence to make decisions on their own in the heat of the moment, and to rely on their own intuition.

4. Repeat

Repeat this cycle again and again. With thorough, thoughtful guidance, your new promotions will soon become your top salespeople. In successful organizations, there is usually some sort of growth opportunity every two years — whether the opportunity involves larger deals, managerial responsibilities, or promotions. Your sales team will be happiest (and most effective) if their skillsets are continually expanded and developed.

In conclusion, giving a solid performer “the nod” with a promotion is a major milestone — for your employee, your team, and your company. Make sure you’re setting up your newly promoted teammates for success.

If you’ve recently been promoted, how did your supervisor guide you through the transition? Managers, how do you help your employees tackle new challenges? Share your best practices (or biggest mistakes) in the comments below.