During lunch while interviewing for a sales job in the computer leasing business the hiring sales manager made the following statement that I will never forget: “Your responsibility as a professional salesman is to be with the right company with the right product at the right time.”
That statement has had a tremendous impact on me to this day. If you take the time to reflect on it the statement is obviously true, but do we all adhere to it? If in fact we make decisions to stay in sales long term. Shouldn’t we be aware of the changing markets in our industries and reevaluate our current positions and opportunities?
Don’t misunderstand me. I am by no means advocating annual job changes. We have all seen sales reps who are constantly changing jobs, looking for the big hit. This is counterproductive and will ultimately be detrimental to your career. What I am saying is that you should not place your head firmly in the sand and never evaluate other opportunities. Some folks get very comfortable and have blinders on, and convince themselves they need to stay because they have been there for so long. Or perhaps they are scared of change.
There is certainly nothing wrong with loyalty. It is a good thing. We just need to be careful not to take it to the extreme. And, most important, do we really know if the company would show loyalty to us? Just because you have been a valuable employee for fifteen years, do you really believe you have more value than someone they are paying less who has been with them for two years? When the rubber meets the road, corporate America will do what it needs to do to survive. And if it means taking out a number of long-term employees, you might be a casualty.
There is value in staying with the same company as long as it is financially stable and continues to provide products and services your clients purchase. A key question to ask yourself is this: are your clients buying from you because you have a superior product or service, or are they buying primarily because of the relationship you have built over the years?
Are you losing ground to the competition? Or is the competition clearly offering a better alternative and you are heavily leaning on your business relationship to continue to win business? It is your responsibility to monitor the market and industry to ensure the product you represent remains competitive.
Think about it from another perspective. As a professional salesman you have spent many years earning trust and respect from your client base. They buy from you because they trust your recommendations and believe you will not steer them in the wrong direction. Perhaps in some cases they don’t spend a lot of time evaluating the competition because they trust you and your company’s product. You know your company is falling behind the competition, but you continue to do business because of the tight relationships you have with your clients.
At some point these clients will become aware that you and the company you represent have not kept pace with the industry. Or maybe they will find out that your product is overpriced. Regardless of the specific details, the fact is your client will feel you took advantage of the business relationship. It will be hard to recover from this scenario, especially if your product is inferior and overpriced.
As a professional you are supposed to have your clients’ best interests in mind. You are supposed to be the trusted advisor who does not take advantage of a relationship for selfish purposes. It takes years to build trust and respect. Unfortunately they can be taken away in an instant. Protect these valuable commodities buy monitoring the industry you sell in and the competitive landscape. You want to be proud of the product and company you represent. If this changes it is your responsibility to evaluate your options and determine which company and product will serve your client base the best. In other words the client base is the constant; the company you represent may change based on a variety of circumstances.
A decision to leave one company and move on to another should not be undertaken lightly. And it never should be done for money only. For example if you have an excellent reputation for representing a product in a given territory, you are in fact a valuable commodity to a competitor. You will most likely receive calls from executive recruiters or directly from competitors with job offers. They want you because of your experience and, most importantly, your strong client relationships.
Be mindful of the fact that a competitor may want to leverage your relationships for their benefit. Once your job is done the compensation package might change significantly. Do your best to determine if you make a move it will not be for a very short period of time. The move should be a win-win!
There may be good reason to make a move to another industry. Perhaps yours is dying. Or perhaps you just don’t enjoy selling the product or service anymore and you need a change. Maybe your industry simply doesn’t pay well. The fact of the matter is certain industries pay more than others. You could be one of the top performers in the sports apparel field and you might not earn as much as an average performer in the high tech field. This is a fact of life. It might not have anything to do with talent.
As a professional sales exec it is your responsibility to seek out the industries that pay the most. That is if income is the most critical component of the job. It’s like deciding you want to be a waiter or waitress for the next five years. You have a choice of employers.
Would you seek employment at Ruth’s Chris Steak House or at Denny’s? You are in charge of your destiny. Make a conscious choice regarding the industry and companies where you seek employment. After all, it is YOUR career!
It is often difficult for a successful sales exec to change companies after many years of success and relationship building. That is why I spent a significant amount of time on this chapter; ” Career changes both in and out of your industry”, in my book. The decision should not be taken lightly. Universal Sales Truths ( UST) is dedicated to providing these resources for professional sales execs.