Thrive Global – Why I Left a Successful Career in Sales Leadership

Sales leader walking through a crowded street

Anyone who has spent time in sales knows how challenging it can be. Few other careers publicly monitor your progress so closely — your value and worth are only calculated in dollar signs. That sort of scrutiny can wear anybody down, and it’s one of the many reasons why I stepped away from a successful corporate career in the field.

Like most career paths, working in sales leadership includes many pros and cons. Sales leaders aren’t just responsible for their own success; they must also work to ensure the success of their teams. Sales leadership is about supporting, empowering, and encouraging, but it is also about accountability and tough conversations. It is wonderful to help other people achieve their goals, but it can be frustrating when salespeople don’t put forth the effort necessary to be successful — and when their lack of success affects you.

That lifestyle can be extremely draining on a physical, mental, and emotional level. Sales burnout makes it hard to maintain a reasonable work-life balance. Sales is also typically the only role in a company where everyone knows how you are performing at all times. Your goals are public, and your results are public — what other department has that dynamic? Sales VPs are typically only in their roles for 19 months, which can give superiors a sense of “What have you done for me lately?” The pressure takes a toll on you.

Time to Move On

At some point in life, we all undergo a transition when we no longer value the title, responsibility, money, and prestige of our careers — or at least we don’t value it as much as we once did. We realize that no title is worth as much as time with our families and that no amount of accolades is better than a meaningful relationship. Perhaps you have been chasing all the wrong things for so long that it has become difficult to know how to find your true purpose.

I knew it was time to leave my corporate sales leadership role behind when I realized I had lost myself in many ways. Five signs helped me see that it was time to move on:

1. My work-life balance was abysmal.

When I was in the throes of my sales leadership career, I missed important events in my kids’ lives. Heads of sales are expected to be on the road a great deal. Even when I was home, it didn’t feel like my time was actually my time. When I should have been eating dinner with my family, I was on calls supporting my reps and the corporate office. I realized that if I waited too long, I wouldn’t get another chance to watch my children grow up.

2. I felt like I was in meetings 24/7.

I spent my days stuck in back-to-back meetings and was no longer helping my team members become the best they could be. I was spending more time with peers and superiors than with my team (which is what I always loved to do). I didn’t want to have career regrets about spending my days talking to other leaders instead of helping my team in every way possible.

3. The corporate bureaucracy was overwhelming.

Because of all the corporate nonsense that takes place in many organizations, it’s almost impossible for common-sense decisions to be made in sales. People are too often more worried about posturing and agendas than getting the job done. Projects drag on, and inefficiency runs rampant. That was extremely frustrating to me when I wanted to be able to move projects forward.

4. I lost my voice.

As the head of sales, I was arguably more knowledgeable about sales than any other person in the company — but I felt like I wasn’t being heard. I didn’t expect to have my opinions acted on all the time, but I did expect to be listened to and respected. I knew I had a valuable perspective to share, and it was disheartening to feel like I was constantly being dismissed.

5. I felt compelled to give back.

I had acquired a lot of knowledge throughout my career, and I wanted to put it to better use to help others. It was scary and exciting to think about going out and making it on my own, and I didn’t want to let any more time go by without at least trying.

Finding your true purpose in life is easier said than done. But now that I’ve switched over to sales advisory, my life is far more meaningful. I’m helping build and develop companies while empowering the people they work with.

If any part of my story resonated with you, it might be time for you to reevaluate your true purpose and work to avoid rocking chair regrets. How do you evaluate your success? Revisit how you define success and whether the sales burnout you’re experiencing will be worth it in the end. If not, it might be time for a change. It’s a wonderful feeling to know you’re truly doing meaningful work and giving back.