In Sales, Managing up Throughout your Career

At a recent AA-ISP DC Chapter Meeting, Bobby Moran, VP of Business Development and Strategy at POLITICO, gave a short presentation on “Managing up Throughout your Career.”

Actually, it was more of a question and answer session, with some final thoughts at the end by Mr. Moran. In any case, it was a good meeting with lots of comments and questions from the audience.

Here is the major point Mr. Moran made during the session from his slide presentation –

“When you own something, you take better care of it – whether it is your car, your house, or your career. The goal of this training is to discuss what it means to take ownership of a process, project, or problem through upward management. Ownership and effective upward management, in addition to strong performance, will speed up your career development and enhance your personal brand.”

managing up your sales careerAnd here are some of the key takeaways from the session along with of my own advice sprinkled in –

1). One of the best ways of managing up throughout your sales career is to do the best job you can every day. In other words, make sure you master the basics, whether it’s cold calling, prospecting, lead generation, product knowledge, etc.

2). Outline clear goals and make sure your sales manager knows what they are. While some may argue that introverts make better salespeople than extroverts, when it comes to your career, you can’t afford to be a wallflower. Speak up. Let those in charge know actually what your expectations are, and vice versa.

3). With regard to sales meetings, whether it’s one-on-one, or in a group, take notes and try to stick to an agenda. I’ve attended too many sales meetings that turned into bitch sessions and drag on endlessly with complaints that could better be handled at another time. In my experience, sales meetings should last no more than 30 minutes. Why? Because time is money.

4). Believe it or not, your sales manager is a human being – so treat him like one. Rather than always meeting in the office where there could be constant interruptions and distractions, why not meet offsite in a coffee shop? And don’t always talk shop – talk about yourselves, your interests, hobbies, vacation plans, etc. The more both you and your manager see each other as human, the more he will treat you like one.

5). You’ve heard it before, but always under promise and over deliver when dealing with both your co-workers and clients. When you go beyond expectations, people start to see you in a more positive light.

6). Take responsibility for yourself and take ownership of your sales territory, accounts or leads. Your sales manager isn’t your mother. If you make a mess or need help, speak up.

Final note – if you are not a member of AA-ISP, I would encourage you to become one. The organization offers a lot of resources, including a Career Center, Webinars, and a Mentor program.

Should you work in a High Turnover Sales Department?

high turnover in a sales department is like riding a roller coasterAfter months of job hunting, you finally landed what you think is a good sales job. No more interviews. No more sending out resumes. No more writing cover letters. No more attending network events. No siree Bob, you finally arrived and are now ready to start earning serious money and move on with your life.

But after working at your new job for a few months, you begin to see a pattern.

High turnover.

At first, you don’t notice it because you’re too busy learning about the products and services, getting to know your co-workers, and adjusting to your new work environment. Plus, you wanted to find out where the best coffee shops and fast-food restaurants were located near your company.

But then, about every other week or so, you start reading emails that begin with “Joe Smith is no longer working at this company. He has moved on to other opportunities.”

And then you notice the guy who helped mentor you leave. And then the sales manager, who you thought was a good guy, is no longer coming to work. He’s been replaced by an outsider who is clueless about what your company is doing or what you’re selling. You see small groups of other salespeople meeting quietly, talking in whispers, and glancing over their shoulders to ensure no one is listening. The HR director is always meeting behind closed doors, and rarely makes eye contact when you walk by.

Employees come. Employees go. It’s a swinging door.

Congratulations. You have stumbled upon the classic high turnover sales department.

Now what?

Most salespeople stay where they have a good opportunity to earn a good living. But when there is high turnover among a sales staff, it’s usually a bad sign that something is wrong. Unlike most employees, the sales team is serving on the front lines. That means if something good or bad happens to a company, they are the first ones to feel the impact.

High turnover occurs for several reasons, including

1). The products or services are bad, or little improvement has been made in recent years. This could occur because the company isn’t reinvesting in product development, or there is too much infighting within the development team.

2). The compensation package is lousy. Every other month, you receive a new comp plan, or “adjustments” are repeatedly made.

3). Management is terrible, which usually turns into a serious moral problem. The managers could be incompetent, lazy, too demanding, etc. You get the picture.

4). The Marketing Department isn’t providing you with enough good or qualified leads. For example, inbound marketing is nonexistent, or the department is not effectively using social media to enhance better branding and name recognition. There could also be cutbacks in attending a key trade show or other events.

4). The company isn’t doing a good job of hiring and qualifying candidates or isn’t setting the right expectations about its sales positions.

To learn more about the causes of high turnover, please read the following articles –

“What Are the Causes of a High Turnover Rate of Sales Personnel?” by Chris Joseph, Demand Media
“10 Causes of High Sales Rep Turnover – Which One is Yours?” by Steve Loftness

Some companies may tell you that turnover occurs because they have “high expectations” of salespeople; if they don’t achieve their goals, they are asked to leave.

What they are really telling you is that the quotas are extremely or unrealistically high, and frankly may be out of reach for most salespeople. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Some companies are looking for the crème de la crème. If you can’t hack it, don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Selling is hard work. Maybe they are not looking for glorified order takers, but real hunters and aggressive closers. Maybe they are looking for salespeople to work late hours or be road warriors and travel to all parts of the country or world. Just know that if you accept this job, you had been warned upfront about the high turnover. Be prepared for a major sales workout.

But is high turnover always a bad thing? Not necessarily.

High turnover may open up room for quick advancement, or a chance to grab some large accounts or good sales territories. Just be prepared for the stress and anxiety that may follow in a high-turnover situation. If you can ride the storm and come out ahead, more power to you.

sales woman on top of victoryI once knew a woman in sales who had worked for a small family-owned business that was struggling financially and had high turnover. In fact, the entire sales staff left except her. She was the last woman standing. The other salespeople who left the company were dumbfounded when she decided to stay on. To make a long story short, the business slowly turned around, and the owner made her the sales manager. He was grateful that she had stuck it out through the bad times. As you may now guess, as the company grew, she acquired most of the larger accounts and earned a commission based on both her own sales and those of her sales team. Financially speaking, she was on top of the world. All because the other sales reps left, she was able to take advantage of a very chaotic situation, and earn herself a good living for several years. (The company was later acquired by a large competitor and the entire sales team was laid off).

High turnover is not for the faint-hearted. But if you can endure the ride, you may turn chaos into your success.

If you want to take a gamble and find a company with high turnover, make a habit of reading the help-wanted ads about once or twice a month. Look at the “sales jobs” column. If you find a pattern of companies advertising for the same position repeatedly throughout the year, chances are you found a high-turnover company. You may also want to regularly read, which provides anonymous reviews of companies. If you read a lot of negative comments from salespeople, that’s usually a good sign of high turnover.

Once you found your high turnover sales department, enjoy the bumpy ride.

However, for most of us, a high turnover rate is too nerve-wracking to deal with. If you can’t stomach the pressure and anxiety, don’t waste your time. Move on.