Sales Leadership: Avoid the Career Stall

March 7, 2023

At the onset of the pandemic, I had countless career calls, cold calls, meetings, and frank discussions with Sales VPs, RVPs, Directors, and Sales Managers. These conversations shed light on the issues those at the top of a sales organization are experiencing.

Who Are They

The not-so-scientifically gathered demographics of the people I have spoken with recently have several very striking similarities.

All came up through sales and spent 3 to 5 years in Sales Team Management prior to jumping from managing individual contributors into managing managers then senior leadership.

They all relied upon new learning to succeed in new roles. Throughout their careers, they’ve had a certain level of understanding that the skillset they have today would not suffice to get them to the next level.

Where They Work

The majority of the Sales Leadership Executives I’ve spoken with are working at companies of a similar size:

  • Approximately 50% lead sales departments at companies with between 500 and 2000 total employees.
  • Approximately 25% lead sales departments at companies with between 50 and 300 total employees.
  • Approximately 25% lead sales departments at companies with between 300 and 500 total employees.

Similar Short & Long Term Goals

Each of the individual sales leaders I’ve spoken with is intensely focused on accomplishing their mandated goals for 2020 and understand the importance of consistently over-delivering against plan. Exceeding targets is the vehicle they’ve used to arrive at their current level of career success and it is the tactic they will continue to leverage to continue leveling up their careers.

Similar Frustrations

Similarities between Sales Leadership continued when asked about factors that continuously frustrate their efforts to achieve greater levels of sales and career success.

I want to be clear, without fail, all of the VP’s and sales leadership professionals I spoke with were keenly aware that their success is always reliant upon the teams they lead.

Problem #1 – High sales rep turnover & low tenure – Current US Sales rep turnover is reported to be from as low as 27% (HBR) to as high as 34.7% (Bridge Group). That is over twice the rate in the overall labor force. The AVERAGE sales rep tenure is just under 2 years. Although some attrition is good (low producing reps quit or are terminated), not all turnover happens at the lowest rungs of the sales performance ladder. Furthermore, only 69% of companies are able to achieve the “ideal” attrition rate of 15% or less.

Problem #2 – Poor Selection – Finding truly talented business development professionals is challenging. Over-reliance upon internal and even external recruiters that either do not possess a deep understanding of the sales vocation or have never worked in Enterprise Sales for an extended period of time will continue to dilute the ability of sales teams to achieve their annual targets. This will also put long-term career goals at risk.

Problem #3 – Open Territories – Sales Managers, Directors, and VPs are watching the weeks and months roll by and have too many open sales roles and each month that ticks by is 1/12th of that total quota gone like tears in the rain. AND quotas are never adjusted DOWN to account for unmanned territories

As these problems persist, career stagnation and oodles of stress remain on the horizon. US unemployment remaining below 4% for the past 2 full years makes it more difficult to find, approach, entice, assess, and hire the talent needed to execute against their goals.

Who Are You?

Are you the VP of Sales who wants to take a step into that next level in your career, or an RVP that wants to climb into that VP spot, or the Sales Manager eager to start managing managers?

The solution to either kick-starting a stalled sales leadership career and/or avoiding a stall entirely will continue to be investing in yourself first (learning new skills & self-development) and hiring the best talent possible every time you’re given the opportunity.

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