Are you inheriting an orphan sales position?

You just started your new sales job. Your sales manager has introduced you to the rest of the sales team and maybe some key employees.

If you are lucky, your manager may even take you out to lunch on your first day. He may also have created an agenda outlining your training for the next week or two before you hit the phones.

orphan sales positionFinally, after your training, your day has come. It’s time to make sales calls and start generating some money. Like most new salespeople, you probably begin by reviewing your existing accounts or leads. You want to get the lay of the land, prioritize your top accounts, begin making introductory calls, and start building up your pipeline.

But as you review your accounts in your CRM (Customer Relationship Management), a sickening feeling begins to develop. At first you don’t see it, but as you start examining your accounts and leads more carefully, you begin to see a disturbing pattern. You discover that a lot of salespeople over the years have been contacting or managing the same accounts and leads. But where did they go?

Some are now working in more lucrative sales positions in your company. But most are no longer working with your employer at all. In fact, you notice that some sales people only worked your accounts or leads for a few months before moving on. Others a little longer, but not much. You go on LinkedIn, and track those former salespeople down. You discover they are now working in other companies, and that their tenure in your position was short.

Then it dawns on you. You have inherited an orphan sales position.

What is an orphan sales position? It’s a position that has been abandoned by several sales people over the years. In short, there has been a lot of turnover. It is also a position that is not well supported by the company for a variety of reasons. Maybe the company feels its sales and marketing budget should be allocated in more profitable positions. Maybe the company feels that sales will only pick up when they hire the “right” salesperson. Maybe the company feels it’s a “starter position,” i.e., one where they know little revenue will be generated, so there is no risk for the company to hire a new salesperson to season him up for greater challenges in the future. (We all have to crawl before we can walk). Or maybe the company is waiting for the sales fairy to come along, and wave her magic wand and the orders will magically appear.

abandoned sales positionSometimes an orphan sales position was created by accident. For example, a company may have bought another company, and then allocated most of the best accounts to senior salespeople, while giving less experienced salespeople smaller accounts. The thought may have been that the smaller accounts would eventually grow. But to date, that has not been the case, thus the cycle of high turnover and abandonment begins.

Frustrated, a company keeps hiring new salespeople to turn things around, but with no avail. Promises are made, but not kept. Prices are adjusted, but don’t work. Salespeople keep abandoning the position, and soon it becomes an orphan.

However, from your point of view, your greatest concern right now is should you even consider staying in an orphan sales position, or start seeking a better job.

After all, you would like to make a long-term commitment in your job. You don’t want to be seen as job hopper. But on the other hand, you don’t want to be seen as a loser either. There is nothing worse than starting a new sales job, only to have your colleagues taking pity on you, or avoiding eye contact because they feel you got a raw deal. Sure, your colleagues may be professional, and even downright friendly, but you can’t shake that “you’re a loser vibe” every time they glance your way. Hell, for all you know, some of your co-workers may be taking bets on the side on how long you still stay around. (This actually happened on a regular basis at one of my previous jobs).

Soon, you become a running joke in office, and you have to endure the daily facades of plastic smiles and chirpy “Good mornings” as you head towards your desk. When you arrive at your desk, all you want to do is hide underneath it.

You see, with an orphan sales position, your biggest challenge is convincing existing accounts and prospects to order from you. But from their point-of-view, why should they even bother? If you are the fourth or fifth salesperson to hold your position in two years, how confident are your accounts and prospects that you’re even going to be around long enough to care about them? How motivated do you think they are going to be in offering you referrals if they feel you’re going to leave the company soon? Why should they accept your phone calls or respond to your emails if they think you’re going to run when the first good opportunity comes along?

On the other hand, an orphan sales position may put you in the catbird seat. Unless you are working for an extremely conservative or stuck-up company, your employer may be more willing to listen to your suggestions. They may be more willing to go out on the limb and experiment with new sales or marketing methods. While your colleagues are sitting at their desks making sales calls, your employer (or sales manager) may invite you in the conference room, where you can sit with some of your company’s major players, and hash out a game plan to increase sales. In short, your employer may appreciate you more because they realize the challenges that you are facing.

So what should you do?

Do your homework before accepting a sales job1). Do your homework before accepting a job offer. The best way to avoid landing in an orphan sales position, is to do your homework and ask the right questions during your interview. First, go on LinkedIn and find out how many past salespeople worked at the same position you are applying for. If you notice a large number, that should give you pause. Second, contact some of those previous sales people through LinkedIn and ask them why they left. You will be surprised – sometimes they will give you an honest answer. Third, go to  Glassdoor – do you see a pattern of negative reviews from anonymous current or former salespeople about the company? While not completely scientific, seeing a lot of negative reviews should also give you pause. And finally, ask the interviewer why the position is open. Sure, he may lie, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

2). You did your homework, but you still got screwed. OK, you did the above, you thought everything was alright, but to your astonishment, you still ended up in an orphan sales job. Now what? Don’t panic. If there is high turnover in your sales department, chances are you will land a better sales position within 6 months to one year in the company. If you can hang on that long, hunker down, be patient, go through the motions, and wait for your turn to move up the ladder.

3). Maybe things will turn around. The company may realize that they have created an orphan sales position, and not wanting to see more turnover, will invest more in your position. They could provide better leads, improve the marketing efforts, or if you are lucky, enhance the product or services that you are selling. And if you are extremely fortunate, the company may decide to increase your compensation plan in an effort to lure you to stay and stick it out.

4). The position was orphaned too soon or too much. The position may not be as bad as you think. It could be that due to a strange set of coincidences, the position was orphaned before anyone really had a chance to profitably work the accounts and leads. It’s not unusual for leads to remain dormant for a long time, and then suddenly, without warning, you start seeing a flood of orders. The trick is to ensure you continue to see a steady flow of orders.

talking to your sales manager5). Talk to your sales manager. Look, your sales manager may already know you are in an orphan sales position, and he is tired of seeing high turnover. Unless your sales manager is a wimp or idiot, if he’s a smart, he will bend over backwards to help you. Talk to him. Pick his brains. Get some ideas on how both of you can be successful. Notice I said “both of you” – that’s because your sales manager is also earning commission or bonus based on your success. Come up with a short list of ideas or reasonable requests. Brainstorm with him. Maybe together both of you can turn things around, and create a win-win situation for everyone.

An orphan sales position may not be as bad as you think. With a little nurture and care, your position may blossom. Be patient. Be persistent. Work smart. Work hard. But don’t be taken for a fool either. Give an orphan sales position your best shot, but after you have done all you can, if your still feel you are fighting a losing battle, quit and move on.

Life is too short to be a loser.

Note: If you like this post, please check out my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.

In Sales, when do you Fold ‘em and Quit?

Most of us are familiar with Kenny Rogers’ song “The Gambler”.

In one of his most famous lines in the song, the lyrics go like this –

“You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em,
Know when to walk away, and know when to run.”

when do you quit in sales?Contrary to popular belief, the best professional poker players don’t bluff their way to winning with a bad hand. When they get a bad hand, they know it’s better to fold quickly, cut their losses, and wait for a better hand. Unless independently wealthy, they realize they only have so much money to gamble with, and they don’t want to lose by bluffing. Sure, sometimes they may get lucky. After all, it’s gambling. But the professional knows that in gambling, while it’s good to be lucky, it’s always better to have a winning hand.

But what do you do in sales when you are dealt a bad hand when assigned a sales territory or group of accounts?

It happens. You start a new job, or a new sales manager is hired, or there is an influx of new salespeople, or there is a reorg of your sales department, and suddenly, all those great territories or accounts disappear, and you are left with a losing hand.

Now what?

Before quitting, access your situation and see if you can turn your bad hand into a winning one.

Here are five things to consider –

1). Is your situation only temporary? If you are working in a start-up or a fast growing company that has a high turnover rate of salespeople, chances are if you are patient and can afford to wait, the tide may turn back in your favor when other salespeople quit and you are assigned their good accounts. Even professional poker players know that you have to play the waiting game before you win a large pot. So don’t bitch or complain. Smile. Be professional. Play the waiting game. So when the bodies start falling by the wayside, and everyone else is playing duck and cover, make sure you’re in a position to pick up the good accounts and run towards success.

2). Is your assigned territory or accounts really that bad? Just because the prior salesperson didn’t do well with his accounts, doesn’t mean you can’t turn things around. Sometimes a new salesperson coming in with a different approach or perspective is all it takes to turn bad accounts into good ones. Maybe the chemistry wasn’t right between the last salesperson and his accounts. Maybe the last salesperson didn’t make enough cold or prospecting calls. Maybe the last salesperson didn’t have a good understanding of the market or your company’s products or services. Maybe the last salesperson was just lazy and coasting in his job. Whatever the reason, don’t be so quick to judge your assigned territory before you had a chance to dig in, do some research and make sales calls. There may be diamonds in the rough that haven’t been found yet.

For example, I worked at a durable medical equipment company where a new salesperson was assigned the “garbage” accounts by a senior sales rep. The senior rep had enough on his plate, so he figured he didn’t have anything to lose by dumping his crappy accounts on the new guy.

Did the new guy cry? Hell no. He worked the accounts and ended up getting one of the largest orders in the company’s history from an account that everyone thought was dead. Furthermore, the new guy blew his quarterly quota out of the water, and ended up gaining the respect of his colleagues and the owner.

Garbage in is not always garbage out.

3). Do you have great support from your Marketing Department? Has your employer finally weeded out the deadwood and hired better marketing professionals? Are you seeing an uptick in social media activity on Twitter, Facebook and other sites? Is your Marketing Department publishing quality content on your company’s website to draw in more prospects? Are you seeing an increase in your company’s trade show attendance? Are you receiving a better list of prospects to contact? Maybe the real reason why the prior salesperson didn’t do well was because he didn’t have good support from his Marketing Department. If your employer is finally waking up to that fact, you should stick around and ripe the awards of their efforts.

I once worked for a small publishing company where the marketing director worked remotely out-of-state. While she had all of the  job skills, she was spending most of her time doing freelancing work for other companies. Frustrated and angry, my employer finally canned her and hired a new marketing director. After that, our marketing efforts slowly started to turn around. Like my colleagues, my sales began to pick up with a new marketing professional in place.

4). Is your employer introducing new products or services? OK, so your accounts are crappy. You’ve done everything you supposed to do, but you’re not getting anywhere. You’re getting the evil eye from your sales manager, and the cold shoulder from colleagues because they feel you’re a loser. But wait! If your employer is introducing new products or services, that could be the ticket to save you. If that’s the case, sit tight and see if your sales will increase.

5). When all else fails, talk to your sales manager. Contrary to popular belief, smart sales managers know that high turnover hurts their bottom line, and can badly affect their professional reputation too. Like you, sales manages want to make money. They don’t want to waste their time constantly hiring new fresh blood because sales people are quitting. If you have earned enough brownie points, proved that you are a reliable and hardworking professional who “gets it”, plea your case to your sales manager. Based on your evidence and other information, he may assign you some better territories or accounts.  It never hurts to ask.

Selling is like playing poker. You have to work with the cards you’re dealt with. Sure, you could fold ‘em and quit your job.  Just make sure your cards are not as bad as you think before hitting the pavement seeking other opportunities.

Note: Like my post? Please check out my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.

Are you selling vitamins or medicine?

One of the most common questions that salespeople ask their clients is “What are your pain points?”

Now, maybe you don’t actually ask the question in that matter. Maybe you phrase it differently. But the underlining goal of all salespeople is to determine what type of pain points your clients are suffering to see if what you are selling will solve his problems.

Let’s say you discover those pain points. What next?

Are you selling vitamins or medicine?

By vitamins, I mean are you selling a solution that is holistic and a “nice to have.”

By medicine, I mean are you selling a solution that is really necessary and a “must have.”

Let me give you some examples –

Are you selling vitamins or medicine?A good vitamin sales example is someone selling books, subscription courses or videos about enhancing professional development in your field. Of course, we all want to improve ourselves and do better in our careers. But is it an immediate need? Unless your boss or manager is demanding that you improve your skills or craft, chances are you don’t need to order any professional development tools right away. It’s something that you will put on your check list and consider when you have the time or money.

So a vitamin sale, based on the client’s view, may be way of preventing a future problem, but it’s a minor pain point that he can deal with for now. There is no sense of urgency.

Are you selling vitamins or medicine?A good medicine sales example is someone selling password security software to prevent hackers from breaking into your network. With all the news lately of hackers stealing credit card and Social Security numbers from major retailers, banks, government agencies and colleges, your software will probably be on the top of an IT director’s list. Sure, the IT director may negotiate the price with you, but in the end, he clearly understands the threat of security breaches and he will make a purchase. The only question is will he be buying your software or someone else’s.

So a medicine sale, based on the client’s view, will prevent an immediate problem, that’s becoming a major pain that he must deal with now. There is a sense of urgency.

There is nothing wrong with selling vitamins or medicine. But if you want to jumpstart your sales, reexamine what you are offering, and see if you can make your solution more of a medicine rather than a vitamin sale.

While Mary Poppins is right when she sung “that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,” finding the right pain points and offering medicine instead of vitamins could be your best solution.

Note: If you like my post, please check out my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.

The Holiday Season is not a slow sales time

Unless you are working in retail, most salespeople consider the holiday season to be a slow sales time. And for good reason. Many key decision makers are taking a long holiday break. Some companies will close down between Christmas Day through New Year’s Day. And even if you are making a lot of sales calls, you are being told to “call back next year.”

But don’t be fooled.

lazy salesman during the holiday seasonHere are five reasons why you shouldn’t slow down during the holiday season –

1). Key Decision Makers may be working – Not all decision makers are taking a long holiday break. For some, the last couple weeks of December may be a quiet time for them to work. They assume that most salespeople are not going to call them, so they give their receptionist time off. Without the gatekeeper present, this is your chance to catch the decision maker off guard. Lonely and perhaps eager to speak with someone, the decision maker may actually take your call and engage in a good constructive conversation that could yield an order.

2). Holiday Cheer – perhaps happy for having a good solid year, the decision maker may be more receptive to taking your call and speaking with you.

3). Your competitors are not calling – Your competitors are under the age-old assumption that the holidays are a “bad time” to make sales calls, so they are taking a long holiday vacation. With your competitors out-of-the-way, you will have a better shot at reaching the decision maker.

4). Build up your prospect list– OK, maybe you are in one of those industries where historically many of your clients are not going to be available during the holidays. So what are you going to do? Drink all the eggnog, pig out on all the Christmas cookies, and feel sorry for yourself? Hell no. Start building up your prospect list. Do some research and start uncovering some hidden gems that you didn’t see before. While you may be riding the gravy train receiving inbound leads, not all prospects are going to call you. Track them down, enter them in your CRM (Customer relationship management), do some research on them, and make plans to call them early next year.

5). Brush up – Now is the time to brush up on your product knowledge. Maybe read some industry newsletters or learn more about what your competitors are doing that could impact your sales. Sure, kick back and watch some classic Christmas movies, but don’t forget to read some classic sales books too.

The holiday season is a time to relax. A time to connect with your family and friends. I get that. But don’t be completely off your guard or do a brain slide. Because while you’re spending time ringing in the New Year, your competitors may be ringing the cash register with all the new sales that you should have received.

Note: If you like my post, please check out my book – Advice for New Salespeople: Tips to Help your Sales Career.