In a previous article, I noted that every business has a life cycle – from the initial concept through its formation and operation, all the way to the point when the business has run its course. The same is true for the career path of a sales professional; it represents a life cycle of sorts, typically a journey from salesperson to executive to mentor or Advisor. If you are a sales leader, you probably recognize where you are on this journey, but do you recognize the signals for when the time has come to transition to the next phase – perhaps a shift to sales leadership or to VP of Sales or even a career in sales consulting as an Advisor? Read on to see if you are ready to take the next step.
The Corporate Sales Life Cycle
Sales can be a challenging but also gratifying and lucrative career for those well-suited to its demands. It is also a career that requires proving yourself before you advance to higher levels in the life cycle. In other words, a sales career routinely rewards those with proven initiative, talent, determination, and productivity.
Before advancement occurs, of course, the typical corporate career sales path begins at the salesperson level – “carrying a bag” and being a sole contributor. Experience success there for a few years and you can then move into entry-level sales management, perhaps as a District or Area Manager. Succeed at that level and you might progress to a regional sales management position, maybe at the VP level. Eventually, continuing sales leadership success will position you for an executive sales management role, perhaps as a corporate VP of Sales.
Of course, not every sales professional takes every step, nor should they. I know I bounced back and forth between the role of sales rep and sales manager a few times before I realized I wanted a career in sales leadership. I have also known many great salespeople who knew their skills were best in a direct contributor role, and they denied the call to move into sales leadership. They realized that not every great salesperson makes a great sales leader. They also realized there is no shame in not moving to the next level, if it isn’t right for you.
For most, if not all our sales careers, we typically believed our business life cycle ends as a VP of Sales or perhaps a move to CEO or President. For many of us, we arrived at executive sales leadership in our 40s and were content to live out our remaining business career in this last role. But, after 10 years or so at this final level, many of us decided we needed another challenge, for staying in the same role for the last 20+ years of our business career no longer was stimulating; you could even call it boring. After all, we knew how to do our job in our sleep. And yet, we weren’t aware there were other options. When we started our careers, this is where it ended.
But now the sales career life cycle IS different. So, what does the next phase look like?
Life Beyond a Corporate Sales Career
I’ve written often about how eventually even the most successful sales leader begins to yearn for something more. I have noted, for example, that “if you’re like me, you’ve enjoyed a fair amount of success in your professional life. You’ve put in your time, honed your craft, and climbed the corporate ladder,” only to find that “your growth and recognition – and your sense of fulfillment – have stalled. You feel stuck. You feel as if you still have plenty to offer, but you also feel underutilized, undervalued, underappreciated.” Thus, the yearning begins, and it is this yearning that can take you from “success to significance” as described by the late Bob Buford in his book, Halftime.
When that mindset shift occurs, the corporate sales career norm of “my success is our success” can change to “your success is our success.” So, we begin to seek opportunities to make a difference, armed with the new reality that money, prestige, and stature are no longer our primary driving forces. Instead, we seek opportunities to use our experience, expertise, wisdom and tools to serve businesses in need. And it is in that great synergy of desire and need where opportunity lies: the opportunity not only to extend our own sales leadership life cycle, but also the life cycle of the businesses we serve!
Ironically, even as we seek to satisfy that deeply rooted need for significance, owners of small and medium-sized businesses are often seeking something, too: survival and a return to sustainable success.
It can take time for a business owner to come to terms with business threats: competitive industry forces; rapid technology advances; diminishing sales; loss of market share; aging equipment, hardware, software, and facilities; human resource challenges – and most threatening of all, complacency and malaise.
But eventually, the combined weight of these factors grows so heavy they can no longer be ignored. This compels the business owner to recognize the seriousness of the situation, realize he or she can’t fix it, and seek help. And when that happens, the planets align for the sales leader (who is now at the Advisor level in the sales career life cycle) to serve the business owner, whose company is dangerously close to the end of its life cycle.
Sales leaders and smaller businesses have this in common: they have professional life cycles based on survival, success, and significance. When the sales leader reaches the stage when becoming a sales consultant and outsourced sales executive fulfills the need for significance beyond financial and professional success, small and medium-sized business clients can benefit tremendously, creating a win-win situation. If you are interested in learning more about how to move beyond success to a life of significance as a sales consultant serving a huge (and growing) market of businesses in need, click here, or simply contact us today at 844.874.7253.
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