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AHHH!!!! Surviving Your Sales Midlife Crisis

March 17, 2009

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As a fulltime POC (Purchase Order Chaser) the chances of screwing up your sales career and ending up angry and bitter are pretty high. The Greek proverb “there are brave soldiers and old soldiers but no old, brave soldiers” might be rewritten today as “There are sane sales rep and veteran sales reps but no salesmen over the age 35 with their marbles fully intact.” Friends, take the commission check and run while you still have your youth and sanity in check.

A great part of this mess is due to the difficulty of moving up in the closeted world of professional selling. In most jobs, career advancement means diversity and exposure to magical new nuggets of intellectual stimulation. In sales, progress = sell more peanuts (or assorted peanuts if you work for a particularly forward thinking organization).

A few astute individuals will make the leap into the heady world of sales management. Due to the basic the laws of supply and demand the number of available managerial positions to sales reps is too limited to make it a realistic career goal for 90% of folks. And your ability to take on a real management responsibilities (beyond micro managing an intern for the summer) is likely to be delayed until “Big Bill” vacates the corner office after a heart attack while playing golf with your clients on a Friday afternoon.
The other conundrum that messes up HR’s neat career model for sales is psychological traits. As a rule, salesmen are bred somewhere in the back hills of Sparta in abject isolation until their “Close or Get Closed” attitude is so strong they can survive in a Holiday Inn with no human contact for weeks at a time. This “*#!$ YOU! – I PUT *&)(, $#@$, %^^# FOOD ON YOUR TABLE!” attitude is hardly fertile soil for raising a collaborative manager who will nurture the seedlings of his or her young sales team.

Consequently, at some stage in every Closer’s career they must question their faith in corporate capitalism and consider the unimaginable: moving companies to progress. Jumping ship isn’t nearly as traumatic in any other occupation (including switching janitorial gigs). The number of potential career ending disasters is worse than a 60’s James Bond film without the safety net of a laser shooting Rolex to fall back on. Consider the unknown of a psychotic Sales VP, a turf war with the company’s current star performer and the very real possibility of chalking up a couple of months with zero sales.

Nado, zero, nul… this is where the real trouble starts. Generally when a midcareer sales person switches company they are brought in to build up a spanking fresh portfolio of business for their new employer. Or if are you being hired to “manage an existing roster of high performing customers” you can bet your last commission check any cash cows have already been cherry picked by the incumbent sales team or held back until you’ve “earned your wings”… hardly the dream start destined to set you up for success.

This puts you in the horrible position of having to prospect for business again and fast. Just as a great writer only has so many novels in him, every salesman has a fixed number of book building cycles that her psyche can endure before she retires into the setting Florida sun. You can forget about the day dream of simply bringing your old prospects network with you; many six month employment stints show up on a sales resume based on this widely held fallacy. Salesmen introduce prospects to companies, clients buy from organizations.

When you started your career, you likely owned one discount suit and were generally a pretty cheap resource. In your innocence you began cold calling just as your sales manager instructed you to and slowly you found an interested prospect, bid on your first project and finally popped the proverbial sales cherry. It was tough – you were young – you were naïve –you didn’t have a jumbo mortgage to pay off at the end of the month.

The reality is moving companies in sales is a lot like starting a new career with a bunch of agonizing unknowns thrown in for extra heartburn. Here a few tips for Closers to avoid the Sales Midlife Crisis:

  • Think carefully about the company you’re moving to. You need a better understanding than a head hunter can provider of market position, sales management and territory structure. Talk to people who work there, not just the company cheer leaders chosen by the recruiter.
  • Be proactive in you search – the chances of finding a position that you can excel in are much more likely if you’re driving the move rather than having it forced upon you at short notice.
  • Be realistic to yourself and in setting expectations with your new employer about what relationships you can bring with you – in the majority of cases it’s a fairy tale that you can simply transfer your book of business from one company to another.
  • Approach the new position like you’re starting out in sales again – you need a detailed plan for Week 1, Month 1 and Quarter 1 to get sufficient momentum for take off in your new role.  Quick wins for you and your new manager to validate your value while you’re laying the foundation for bringing onboard new revenue – stay visible and successful from Day 1.

Switching jobs is one of the toughest steps in sales but essential for avoiding a career rut – just make sure you put the same effort into marketing yourself that you’ve put into selling the fruits of others for so many years.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. April 7, 2009 5:00 pm

    Good article…how can we link our blogs?

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