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Finding the Right Home for Your Sales Skills

Mar 17, 2008
It's that time of year again when salespeople peak their heads up from their cubicles to see if there is a better opportunity out there. So, what do I mean by "that time of the year?" Actually, it's most every day. The way most salespeople are wired, they have an insatiable urge for more. More money! More responsibility! More, more, more! Recruiters will often tell you that it is easy to get salespeople to consider a new opportunity regardless of their satisfaction level with their current job. As one recruiter shared with me, "The mere mention of the possibility of more money gets the engines going with salespeople."

This is where many salespeople are to be held responsible for sales marriages gone wrong. They are too easily blinded by the hopes of more dollars in their wallets. They fail to look at all of the criteria that affect success. Don't get me wrong. Money is important, very important. However, focusing on money as a primary decision point makes the dollars a mirage. I remember those old Indiana Jones movies where Indiana would be thirty feet away from the treasure. A few quick steps and the treasure would be his. Or would it? Lining the thirty feet of cavern were the dead bodies of those who attempted to merely grab the treasure. Indiana strategically approached the treasure to ensure he got it, and equally important, survived the venture.

The treasure for salespeople (also known as commissions) can be wrought with the same peril. If the employer presents a $250,000 opportunity, but the skills or activities required are not your strengths of, will you ever see those dollars? Highly unlikely. When I lived in the Washington D.C. Metro area during the dot-com craze, I saw many of my friends leave solid sales positions with Microsoft, Oracle, and Cisco for the chance at millions of dollars in stock options. For most, it was truly a mirage. Why?

Imagine, for a moment, you are calling on an IT manager representing Cisco. Just say the name, "Cisco," and poof, you have an appointment. The same is true for Microsoft, Oracle and other big name technology brands. Changing gears, you are now selling for ABC IT Services. You place a call to the IT manager and it is not received with a welcoming reception, but rather skepticism and disinterest. The successful salesperson needs the skills to get in the door with this IT manager before any buying facilitation can begin. If your background has been selling household brands and you haven't had to do this before, how likely are you to be successful at doing it unless the company is willing to teach you that skill?

For salespeople to put together a healthy, successful sales marriage with an employer, they need to formulate a profile just like employers do when hiring salespeople. For salespeople, it is the profile of the ideal sales opportunity. To formulate the profile, a historical and futuristic perspective is needed. The convergence of the two yields the profile.

To begin the exercise for formulating your profile, answer the following questions for each sales position you have held. Be totally honest with yourself in performing this exercise.

1. Historical Strengths
a) What are the attributes of the products that you sold? (tangible, intangible, product, service, etc.)
b) What is the nature of the buying relationship? Is it a one-time, transaction sale or a repetitive, complex one?
c) Is the product a component of something broader (niche) or is it a comprehensive solution?
d) How recognizable is the product and company in the marketplace? Does the market know the brand?
e) In contrast to the competition, where is the product priced?
f) How are leads generated? (self-generated, company-generated (warm), mailing lists, etc.)
g) What is the average length of the buying process?
h) Is the product "off the shelf" or does it require you to creatively build a solution?
i) At what level is the purchasing decision made? Who are the other buying players that influence the purchasing decision?
j) What sales support is provided by your company? Are you expected to go from end to end or are you only expected to handle certain parts of the process?

Once you have completed this question series for each of your sales roles, the next step is to review your responses to those questions in search of commonalities in your background. This will allow you to complete the statement below which specifies your historical strengths.

Historical Success

I have extensive experience in selling a ____, _____, ____ (1a, 1b, 1c, and 1d) product that is _____ (1e) positioned in the marketplace. My role in the buying process included: _____, ____, ____ (1f, 1h, and 1j) which included working with ____(1i) -level executives in a buying cycle that averages ____ (1g).

Moving to the second part of formulating your ideal sales opportunity profile, you will identify the criteria for your next sales role. What is important to you in your next home? Answering the series of questions below sheds light on that direction.

2. Future Desires
a. Company Size. Quantify in terms of revenue, employees, growth, or other metric(s).
b. Market Position. (market leader, new provider, high value/price, etc.)
c. Breadth of Offering. (comprehensive solution or niche provider)
d. Buying Process Support. What sales support do you need to be successful (marketing, lead generation, subject matter experts, etc)
e. Sales Management Support. It is important to be truly honest here. Salespeople are quick to respond that they dislike micro-management. Be specific to the support you need to be successful.
f. Stability (what is your tolerance for change?)
g. Personal Development (what do you desire to learn from this company?

With part 2 complete, you are able to provide a laser-focus direction to your search. This is extremely important when communicating with recruiters or searching for jobs online. This allows you to say:

Future Role

The type of role that is best for me is with a company that is ___ (2a), that is a ___(2b) offering a ___ (2c) solution. I operate best in environment that offers ___ in terms of buying process support and (2d) ___ (2e) for sales management support. An environment that is ___ (2f) and offers me the opportunity to learn ___(2g) is best for me.

Putting these two components together, rounds out your ideal sales opportunity profile. You now have clear direction on your historical strengths and future desires. What do you do with this information?

* Make sure your resume and cover letter communicate a consistent message regarding your historical strengths and future desires.
* Contact recruiters and share this with them.
* Use key words from the profile to search online job boards.

One final thought on the exercise of finding a new sales home. When you are interviewing with the company, keep in mind that you are also interviewing them to see if they meet your profile. It's all about putting together a strong, healthy marriage founded on synergies between your needs and desires with those of the employer.
About the Author
Lee B. Salz is President of Sales Dodo and author of "Soar Despite Your Dodo Sales Manager." He specializes in helping companies and their sales organizations adapt and thrive in the ever-changing world of business. Lee is available for keynote speaking, business consulting, and sales training. He can be reached via his website at Sales Dodo or by phone at 763.416.4321.
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