From Salesperson to MD of HP

Andy Isherwood on how he got to the top

In November 2013, Andy Isherwood was appointed Managing Director of Hewlett Packard (HP) UK & Ireland after almost 28 years at the company, having entered the HP graduate training programme straight out of university.

Andy’s sales career has been varied and extensive. He started out as a sales executive winning new business, then moved into the development of large accounts. From there, he progressed into sales management at a UK and EMEA level, and then at a global level. He has worked across many of HP’s most significant business streams, including products, software, services and consulting.

As part of our series of thought pieces on sales management, we took a few minutes of Andy’s valuable time to find out how an individual can go from an entry-level sales role right to the top!

When and how did you move into sales management? Was it your performance as a salesperson, or had your management skills been identified?

After approximately six years of selling, I moved into a sales management role. My ambition as a graduate was a key indicator of my success: with assistance from senior management, through mentoring and coaching, I set out a plan very early in my career of how I wanted to progress through the ranks with a company like HP. This stayed at the forefront of my mind.

When you move from selling into sales management, you quickly realise that the skill sets are very different. Many assume that career progression in sales involves a progression from sales executive to sales manager, and then on up the managerial ladder.

However, a brilliant salesperson is not necessarily a brilliant sales manager – and vice versa. The roles are distinct. I’ve seen good salespeople move into sales manager roles and fail miserably. Typically, salespeople are not coached and trained to become great sales managers; it is assumed that a good salesperson will instinctively be a good sales manager. The differing skill sets between selling and sales management need to be understood by sales organisations.

As a leader, is this something to be considered in both the promoting and hiring processes?

Yes, it is key to understand the skill sets and attributes of a sales manager compared to those of a salesperson. Inherent and differing qualities are necessary for the two roles. If an individual does not display these fundamental characteristics, then hiring or promoting them into a managerial role could be a regrettable mistake. The mentality of a salesperson is very different to that of a sales leader, and you need to be able to work out who can be developed into a sale leader and who cannot or should not be.

Apart from fierce ambition, what are the other key drivers of success that have got you to your position as Managing Director of HP UK&I?

Reflecting on my career, there have been a few main drivers. First of all, clarity – being absolutely clear on what you want to achieve in your career and how to go about it is vital. You will have to adjust your plans, but having an idea of the steps is important.

Second, mentoring and coaching – really good mentors are key. Working with your managers and those you admire helps you to develop the skills and knowledge that get you from one point to the next.

Third, network – having a strong internal and external network is critical for career development.

Fourth, performance – it is very hard to look good in front of bad numbers. You have to be a high performing individual, but it is also important to bring a contribution over and above just the numbers.

Fifth, luck – being in the right place at the right time is unfortunately an uncontrollable factor, but it also can be a key driver to success.

Finally, environment – being in a great company like HP, where they foster the development of people across the organisation by encouraging them to gain experience in a number of roles, is something that enables people to develop quite quickly and succeed.

What would you say are the biggest challenges facing today’s sales leaders?

The rapidly developing sales environment is the biggest challenge for sales leaders today. Over the past four or five years, shifts in the buying behaviour of people and organisations have become much more dramatic. This is partly down to the web and social media, meaning that when people enter the Buying Cycle they are far more educated and have been exposed to a far greater number of influencers than before.

Salespeople need to stay ahead of this shifting buying behaviour. Sales approaches that do not recognise the changing behaviours of buyers will result in good salespeople using out-of-date sales methodologies and being out-competed by more agile sales teams.

What importance do you place on training within your sales team?

Training is really important. I consider sales training to have two dimensions: the training of content knowledge and the training of sales skills. Sales leaders have a tendency to focus on one or the other. Some leaders think that the key to having good salespeople is to give them lots of product and content training, others think the key to a successful sales organisation is to focus on sales skills. In reality, you should have a balance of both. You have to get the content right – in terms of not only the product or service offerings but also the business value they create for customers.

Sales training needs to provide the opportunity for the individual to outperform and excel and enable them to deal with changes in the marketplace. There are sales methodologies on the market that can be used as good frameworks, but you have to adapt these methodologies to the ever-changing nature of your own market and the behaviours of your buyers. Sales training must be completely relevant to the environment in which your sales teams operate.

How can Imparta help with this? Imparta’s Sales Management Programme (SMP) can smooth the transition from great salesperson to great sales manager, but it can also help established sales managers to refresh their skills, with a customisable modular design that encompasses subjects from recruitment to pipeline management.

SMP integrates with Imparta’s Sales Leadership Programme (SLP) to create a common vision and language across the management community. SLP is designed to help leadership teams gain the tools and techniques to view the business strategically and maintain an up-to-date sales strategy.

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