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.
Finally, 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 salespeople 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 salespeople over the years. In short, there has been a lot of turnovers. 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 to 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.
Sometimes 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 to 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 to 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?
1). 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 salespeople 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.
5). 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 you 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.