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The Path to Sales Director

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Can an old Model T Ford beat a Ferrari? The tortoise never really beats the hare, right? Not in a sprint, no, but if we apply these analogies to FMCG careers, the sprinters are finding themselves beaten for the big jobs by those who take their time. Let me explain. I’ve been a passionate FMCG career recruiter and coach for over 20 years and those who are selected, today, for the senior roles to run a function or a business have developed what McKinsey calls the “T” career, as opposed to the “I” (aka Ferrari) career.

What the T?

A “T” career depicts someone who has deep functional skills (the vertical line) and the ability to collaborate across functions (the horizontal bar that makes the T).  This is in stark contrast to previous generations where high performers would advance quickly in a linear path, the “I” model, in a particular function with best reaching the top the fastest.

What does this mean in FMCG sales?

Let’s apply this to FMCG sales careers. In an “I” career you move from a grad or entry-level sales role to a National Account Executive (NAE), a Junior National Account Manager (NAM), a senior NAM, National Business Manager (NBM) then Customer Director, maybe have a stint running the field sales force then, if you’re lucky, driven and capable enough, Sales Director. The fastest could get there by their early thirties. But, where next? Many get stuck at a particular level and start drifting, disillusioned and struggling to reconcile the growing gap of their actual career with their planned career.

Slow it down, to go further for longer

A “T” path follows the same steps but includes many lateral, broadening moves. These left and right steps gather experiences and skills in other functions. It’s also been referred to as the Christmas tree career.  Looking again at FMCG sales, you may step right into a Commercial or Category Analyst or before junior NAM. You could then step left into supply chain as a demand planner or right into marketing to run a brand for taking the NBM role. Next could be another left or right step to run the category team before getting back onto the sales path and into Customer Director. And here’s where it gets really interesting. Those with an eye on becoming a CEO will push for big leadership roles that test them, not just in their natural function, but across the organisation. A Sales Director may target a move into an HRD role or take a stint at running Operations. They hold little subject matter expertise but, in a progressive organisation, they bring the leadership and collaborative breadth that comes with a model T career.

In practical terms, some of these steps are easier to facilitate within your organisation than talking yourself onto an external shortlist, but increasingly a recruiter scouring the open market will be asked to include candidates that have more than the security of functional knowledge. These Model Ts will not be running along the career path as fast as the Ferraris but they will win the race to the top.

Are you on a clear career path to Sales Director?

[axr] has created The Sales Director Incubator program where you will learn first hand about the career journeys of today’s Sales leaders.  Arrange a career chat with our Sales & Marketing Director, Mike Dickson and find out how our Sales Director Incubator program can help you become a Sales Director.





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