Everyone enjoys being promoted. Everyone enjoys career development and growth. The big question in technology sales is: What happens when you are offered a promotion and personal ambition and the appeal of a title trumps readiness? This is a very important question and with technology companies it is “The Peter Principle” on steroids sprinkled with the speed of light. This happens due to the pace of change, growth and innovation in the technology market. In career growth this can be like a massive vacuum that can easily overwhelm you and voila in no time at all, assuming you are competent in sales, you will be leading a team, managing P&L, interacting with an investment board and driving a big revenue number.
In the very young technology market, career advancement often happens without training. Some will succeed but statistically, if it happens too fast, the majority will not. So, again – what happens when ambition trumps readiness? Well it is analogous to the old saying – “You need to walk before you run”. If you don’t walk first and learn how to build the core and key muscle groups your chances of sustaining a running pace will be diminished. In no time at all you will revert back to walking and in some cases with serious injuries. The same can happen in your career. Taking on too much too quickly might hurt you and leave you in a situation where you are explaining why you want to return to your superstar days of being a sales person individual contributor versus leadership. As a recruiter I see this all the time. The other thing I see is entitlement based on title versus credentials. In these situations there are lessons for all. The technology company needs to step up and provide development programs and the rock star sales person needs to understand there are no short cuts.
These are 3 tips for rock star sales people as well as 3 traps to avoid.
Tip #1 – If you seek management/leadership don’t let this focus dilute your role which is to focus on the task at hand. Do an exceptional job and the opportunity to progress in your career will follow. Simply let your manager know your future career aspirations and put in place a parallel plan to develop your skills. As you demonstrate competency in your current role seek out mentors, management programs and a clear path to readiness by leaders who are in your company. If management programs are not available participate in external education programs.
Trap #1. You are a flight risk and a small company’s revenue will be vulnerable without you. Voila they counter with a promotion. That’s great career progression but are you both ready? Conduct a skills assessment, identify your strengths and weaknesses and work with your company to bolster your skills. Hold them accountable for helping you fill in the gaps with training, mentoring and if necessary external management programs that they should fund.
Tip #2 – If you are offered a team lead position, define a clear set of objectives and MBO’s and determine what type of training is available to ensure your success. Also determine and delineate your role from your managers and find out what your manager’s participation will be. Ensure there are a clear set of performance metrics as well as defined timeline associated with your new position. Make sure you quantify the expected performance. Also make sure you assess the work effort and impact on your current role and build this into a work plan.
Trap #2. Many well-meaning technology company leaders will promote you believing they are aligning with your career advancement goals. When this happens it should be a win/win. The truth be told there are also those well-meaning leaders that use a team lead role to solve a problem. The problem is they are spread too thin. Make sure you know the difference. Also the manager should hold HR accountable for defining roles and determining career development options. When a structure like this is in place it is a win/win.
Tip #3 – Emerging technology companies often count on “The Player-Coach role” in sales to help them with their market ramp. This role often has a Director or VP title. Go in with your eyes wide open as this is one of the most difficult roles in the industry to perform because your own “Bill of Rights” is constantly being challenged. Let’s face it; in sales if you are closing a deal and one of your team members requires guidance on sales strategy – where do you focus? Well you know the answer. This means you are now competing with your direct report. This role although difficult can work as long as there is a clear balance of responsibilities weighted against key performance metrics. Make sure you are clear on what you are signing up for and don’t let title alone seduce you. You need a well-defined plan to be part of this.
Trap #3. An emerging technology company will promote the player-coach role as a VP Business Development Role. An accomplished CEO will recognize the role for what it really is and ensure a plan is in place to help you succeed. The trap happens when they make you solely accountable for the role, plan and execution. Find out if the CEO is open to your input. Also if you have a seat at the executive table find out how your peers will participate in the execution of this plan and success of the role. This means the CFO/VP HR (if they are the same), or VP Sales Operations has a well-defined on-boarding program, clearly defined role definitions and clearly defined development programs for career progression. Also, ensure the VP of Marketing provides good insight on the market opportunity and GTM strategy which should also include sales role alignment. An accomplished CEO will also provide insight on performance expectations and goals that you need to achieve for your role to evolve to a full leadership role.
As you progress in your career you don’t need to compromise your competencies. Simply plan for them and you will be a rock star every step of the way. A lot of companies and sales people reach out to external recruiting agencies who can help with the planning and overall preparedness surrounding career advancement.