Some of our beliefs and preconceived ideas may be confusing us and probably blocking us from taking a great opportunity for success and development.
You are in sales, and you are on the look for a new, better and more exciting job adventure. Great. New company, new products. and the road to success. Great. When you start screening opportunities seriously though, you realize the wide variety of choices available…Chances are your first reaction will be to stick to what you know in terms of type of company, markets, products, or maybe make a radical change and go for something completely new. Going for something new is fine, regardless if it is driven by your genuine desire to expand your expertise, or because of bad experiences in the domain you know.
“The markets I know are slow”, I realized I’m not a big company person”, “I’d like to sell a product that is clearly different…” Read on… Are some of this beliefs holding you back?
The Big company vs. small company choice. Some people think it is better to join a large corporation, specially when they come from a small company, while others think the opposite. There is no better, really. Compared to a smaller organization a large corporation -most likely- will provide structure, methodologies, stability, a career plan, proven ways, tools and technology, etc. true… However, there is a chance that it will also offer somewhat outdated processes and approaches, a lower rate of innovation, relatively low risk taking, heavier processes and reporting structures, dis-alignment between departments, a preference for execution over creativity, and in some cases a good opportunity to settle for average, which for some -at some point- is convenient. A small(er) company though, may be comparatively less organized and structured, but it may also be pushing to scale, defining itself, receptive to creativity and offering room for contributions, risk-taking, and incorporating practices and capabilities it currently lacks off.
The Same Industry vs. new industry choice. Maybe you think, I’ve experience in this or that market, I stick to it. I know the products, the purchase flows, maybe the competition, and even I’ve a network that would help me get started with the right foot. Either if this may be true, these benefits are good in the short term, but won’t really give you an advantage in the long run without you making a substantial effort. If you’re on for a highly successful career, these are useless.
Jumping into a new industry on the other hand, implies a rather steep learning curve, and the opportunity to transfer your competencies to a new framework, which in turn means bringing a fresh outlook and a different perspective that can provide you with that advantage you’re looking for. I personally think taking the leap to a new industry is a great occasion for self-development.
The innovative vs. mature market employer choice. What is easier, more profitable, and more engaging? Selling an innovative solution that nobody knows, or selling in a mature market where everybody knows the product? It depends. Selling innovation means the ability to make the case and make room for a solution in your buyer’s strategy and company that probably nobody has even considered before. Is about closing the imagination gap, and giving proof that even if nobody has seen the thing working, it will give great results. Attractive? On the other hand, when selling in a mature market, every door you knock will have the problem solved already, most likely a stable vendor or pool of vendors, and will know by heart what the product does and doesn’t do, and how. You’ll have to be very creative too, but in a different way: incremental advantages, financing options, premium plans. Attractive too?
The commodity vs. a highly differentiated product confusion. This one is a bit similar than the previous one, but with a twist. Some sales people think selling a commodity product is easier, people know what it is, pricing is standard or close to it, buyers buy because they need it on a continued basis, and that keeps business going. This is attractive for some, boring for others. Sales people who find it boring maybe think they want to perform for a company with a highly differentiated product, a unique solution that provides clear and specific benefits. This seems specially true in the SaaS industry, where many products are so new and specific that they clearly become niche products, independently of the fact that they provide amazing benefits or not.
From the selling perspective, the problem with highly differentiated solutions is that if your solution is too different, you’ll need to be very good in linking the value of it with the strategic agenda of your buyer. If you’re too different, you’re challenging your buyer to change processes, take risks, and defy their own status quo. It takes a specific skill-set to do that and succeed.
Other highly differentiated solutions, especially those in highly crowded niche spaces, or spaces that are rapidly getting crowded (technology moves by trends, you know…), are not really that different in the eyes of your buyer, or to put it in a different way, is not that easy to explain the “uniqueness” of your solution compared to the other dozen of clearly (to you) different products or solutions. Again, it takes specific skills to succeed there, and succeed often. Just remember that most of us, when we assume the role of buyers, we tend to get confused and impatient when we can’t get our heads around the nuances of different options.
The flagship vs. anonymous company choice. Sure, “everyone” wants to work for the known logos. But, is that for you? Popular companies have traction, what that means is that they can pick the best talent (provided they have the right tools for that), so the competition for positions is fierce. I personally believe luck plays a share here, and that standard hiring processes are soon to be disrupted big-time, but when you have pools with 400 or 500 candidates, most likely the top 40 or 50 would be perfect for the job. Be prepared to be ignored during selection processes, and don’t take it personal, there’s just too many of us. Working for a flagship company most likely means a well organized system where you can grow, learn, be coached, and with your share of effort, achieve great things. I’d say go for this if your goal is to explore a career in this type of company, and/or if you want to get strong in best practices, methodologies, tools, etc, and will use this stage as a preparation for your next move.
If you’re really interested in your success and development, do your due diligence research, understand everything you can about the company, where they are headed and how you actually fit in that strategy. Set your preferences straight and think things true, for if you don’t this will show in the interview in the form of a fuzzy vision.
- Big company or small? It depends In general, avoid disorganized teams, job descriptions that overemphasise the stress of the job, fuzzy strategies, weak value propositions, outdated branding, too much product-centricity, high rotation of people, and look carefully at their values and culture. In both cases, find the relevant people on Linked in, if possible those who would be in your team. You’ll be working with people.
- Same or new industry? Again, it depends. In general avoid job postings that overemphasise necessary experience in a specific field or market. That could mean outdated HR practices, unexperienced sales leadership (your future boss) and too much product centricity. Research and experience show that in many cases learning agility trumps experience, that sales competencies are transferable from one industry to another, that statistically, people actually changing not only industry but career are some of the best performers, and that if you understand customer centricity you can adapt to any given industry by learning the specifics.
- Innovation or mature markets? You guessed it… it depends. In the case of innovative and startup companies look for growth figures, direct and indirect competing solutions or products, funding, flagship accounts, and other indications that the solution is or can be welcome in the market, and hopefully get passed the early adopters. In the case of mature markets, look for innovation signs in their offer, in their culture, or some indications that show they can turn things around (you know the new Starbuck’s in the old and boring coffee industry), new markets or niches they have conquered; but also tenure of other sales reps, growth, and career development opportunities.
- Commodity or high differentiation? In the case of commodity industries employers, you’ll be interested to understand the fix/variable split in your compensation plan, as this is linked to how long or hard sales cycles typically are. Also interesting to consider where the company you’re interested in ranks in that industry, and definitely, if the industry in question is a marginal or significant business for the company, as this is may be an indication of future investments and continuity. High differentiation products are normally produced by innovative companies (not exclusively startups, but also corporations), so check the signs described in the paragraph above.
- A flagship or an anonymous company? Many anonymous companies are great places to work for. Tons of brilliant B2B companies are totally unknown for the public, yet when you do the research, they offer amazing opportunities. When considering anonymous companies, I’d say check their growth rate(s), the products they’ve launched, and how often, their strategy and where they’re headed. What roles are they hiring for and if they’re partnering or opening in-country offices are also great indicators of where they’re headed. Depending on the context, an anonymous company can be “a comfortable” place to strive, do a good job, and keep anonymous, which for some people is ok. On the other hand this can be a great place for the “intrapreneur” type, that individual who wants to achieve a lot, contribute in creating a name, a brand, and go big, and this option is ok too.
New job, new opportunity to succeed. You’d be surprised how many sales professionals move form company to company when they get enough from the present one (and their performance starts declining), and they can’t really seem to pull off a great achievement in terms of fulfilment, revenue and true career advance.
Taking action here means taking responsibility: your boss, your team, your product, your commission plan, the market… all those count, but the determining factor of your success is YOU.
Success depends greatly on you, and where you play and perform is secondary. All companies, all industries need superior players and have enough of average performers. In any industry, market or company, there is always room for greatness, and for doing great.
If you’re looking for a job, success.