Four Experiences to Prep for Commercial Leadership

leadership management promotion sales
Four Roles That Prep You For Leadership

Figuring out what roles and experiences you need to climb the commercial ladder can be daunting. Most mentors you ask will prescribe roles that they had. Well, that might not work for you.

Most mentors my age, 48 and older, likely advise a talented professional to climb straight through their vertical. For example, if you're in a sales rep, become a sales manager, then a sales director. Stay in your lane. 

A marketing leader might advise the product manager to become a marketing manager and then go overseas for a marketing director role in a global geography. 

Although fair advice, it's not going to get the talented professional ready to tackle today's demanding business topics.

Savvy mentors have a different take. They'll advise the up-and-coming professional to get diverse experiences - titles matter less than diverse experiences that build critical business skills muscle.

I advice that diverse experiences are required to accelerate to leadership roles. Different roles broaden skills and perspectives. You'll build your knowledge databank with rich insights and confidence.

If your career vector points toward sales leadership, marketing leadership, or general management, listen up (or keep reading). There are four experiences I want you to seek out to get you ready for the big gig.

Ideally, seek opportunities in the following FOUR commercial functions:

  • Sales
  • Sales Operations
  • Marketing
  • Corporate or Strategic Accounts (aka big accounts)

With these four experiences, and assuming you had some people management roles along the way, you're ready for that senior position. Let's break down the value of each one a bit further:


Time spent with the customer is mandatory work to build a robust commercial foundation. Sales teaches the following critical career skills:

  • Voice of Customer. Customers are everything to a business. Without customers, there is no revenue. Understanding what customers need and how they value your products guides decision-making in the boardroom. Learn how to listen to and react to customer needs. A sales role helps you build this muscle. 
  • Problem Solving. Every customer is different. Unique solutions are needed to meet your customer's needs. Learn how to craft, build, and sell persuasive solutions for your customers' problems.
  • Negotiation. A vital professional and personal skillset. Hone these skills with customers. The negotiations only get bigger the further you move up. You'll be ready for the most critical negotiations by exercising this muscle in sales.

Sales Operations

I started my corporate career in sales operations. I wrote variable compensation plans for medical sales teams. I learned much about finance, persuasion, incentive plans, and communication. An assignment in sales operations provides the rising talent exposure to:

  • The machinery behind the sales force. This includes comp design, quota management, forecasts, and sales analytics. 
  • Sales Strategy. A well-oiled sales ops team will design new territories and craft account segmentation.
  • Cross-functional teamwork. Sales ops engage with the sales force, corporate accounts, marketing, finance, and HR. Learn how to persuade without power from the perch of sales ops.


Before I sold, I marketed. I launched a world-class medical device, built the brochures, and crafted the go-to-market strategy. As a marketing manager, I had access to senior leaders and direct access to the boardroom.

Great marketers are excellent communicators, persuaders, and strategists. Running point for a product launch can elevate top performers to next-level roles. Marketers also lead through challenging moments. If there is a product recall or damaging news about a product, the marketer will be the point person and first responder.

Corporate Accounts

Think about your company's largest customers. They usually require special attention:

  • Top sales support
  • Senior management connections
  • Partnerships with internal colleagues
  • Contracting excellence and more

Experiences managing the largest customers give up-and-coming leaders responsibilities at scale. Complex and multi-stakeholder customer management is a skill set on its own. Get that experience in a corporate account role.

A diverse set of commercial experiences is the best preparation for a leadership role. In addition to these diverse roles, seek people management responsibilities and global opportunities. Your competitive advantage in the extensive interviews for the senior role will be the diverse set of experiences and successes you've cultivated. You'll be ready to go, and the organization will benefit from your broad experiences and unique perspectives.

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