Should I quit my sales job? This is a question all sales professionals ask themselves at some point in their careers.
This is a guide on knowing when it’s time to leave your current sales job and look for a new one. This guide is written specifically for SaaS and other technology sales reps who work at venture funded companies, but it can be applied to other verticals.
Working in B2B sales is hard to say the least. If you’re at a small company, where generating new revenue means keeping the lights on, the existence of the company depends on your performance. That’s a lot of pressure. Likewise at a medium sized or large company, being in sales means constant competition with the entirety of your team for a limited amount of available promotions. That’s also a lot of pressure.
But sales, with its clear cut metrics, is a great way for a career driven individual to prove herself or himself in the workforce. Not to mention salespeople in Silicon Valley often make six figures within three years of graduating. Oracle’s highest performing sales reps make over $500,000 a year. Being good at sales will help you in your career, but knowing when to strategically change jobs will allow your sales acumen to deliver the highest return for you personally.
First we’ll go over the main paths of ‘success’ a sales career can take. Then, based on which of these paths you find most appealing, we’ll help you identify whether or not your current job is an opportunity worth staying at.
The 3 Sales Career Paths
According to Mark Roberge, professor at Harvard and CRO of HubSpot, here are three typical paths a sales career can take:
1) Moving into sales management.
This is great path for people who are passionate about leadership, teamwork, strategy and like to see the big picture. Sales leaders at medium and large sized technology companies are always richly compensated.
2) Remaining as an individual contributor, working larger and more complex deals.
This is a great path for people who enjoy independence, competition, and have an appreciation for detail. Sales people in the top 20% at SaaS and technology companies typically earn between $250,000-$500,000 year.
3) Moving horizontally into marketing or customer success.
This is a path for people who are using sales as a short term or medium term stepping stone. Many successful marketing and customer success executives began their career in sales.
In this guide we’ll focus on the first two paths, and show you some signs to help you determine when it’s time to leave your current role.
Individual Contributor Path
If your goal is closing the largest and most complex deals possible, changing jobs from time to time is almost a necessity. This is especially true if you begin your career working at startups (as opposed to somewhere like Oracle or SAP). There are two primary factors that determine the size and complexity of a deal — these are the size of the company with whom you are doing business, and the complexity of the technology you are selling. Let’s further review sales career pathing via the lens of this growth chart, courtesy of our friends at InsightSquared.
Most SaaS salespeople begin their career in the bottom left of this graph, selling relatively simple software to small and medium sized businesses. At the top row of this graph you have Silicon Valley’s highest paid sales people, selling complex technology to large institutions a.k.a. enterprise salespeople. This is where you want to get with your career as soon as possible.
Thus there are two directions you have to move. You have to move up, from SMB to Mid Market to Enterprise. And you have to move towards the right, towards more complex technology. Using this paradigm, it becomes relatively easy to determine when you should leave your sales job.
How to know when it’s time to quit your sales job
- Your company doesn’t sell to MM or Enterprise accounts, you’ve been a top 20% performer for 9–15 months and have nowhere higher to go.
- Your company isn’t growing fast enough to promote sales people to higher brackets.
With respect to selling more advanced technologies:
- Once you’ve made it to Enterprise sales, if you’re company is selling a simple, easy to sell product, the next move should be towards a company with a more expensive and difficult to sell product (thus a higher commission)
If you love your job and don’t want to leave, there’s no need to. However if your goal is to maximize your personal revenue as quickly as possible, using the above criterion to determine when to leave a job can be very helpful.
The best option is to leave for a promotion (i.e. leaving a mid-market sales role for an enterprise sales role).
If this isn’t possible, a great next step would be to leave for another company that is growing fast enough to support your growth.
When doing this, it’s important to gain an understanding of your new employers expectations i.e. what must be done to secure a promotion. If possible, secure an agreement in writing (if I achieve X metrics in Y amount of time than I am awarded Z promotion). Note that this is often only possible with early stage startups, and more difficult to broach with a developed company.
Sales Management Path
If you’re passionate about the idea of leading a sales team, there’s one major thing you have to look for in a company — growth.
If a company’s sales team triples in size, they will have to hire managers to help keep things in order. If your company’s sales team isn’t growing there’s no need for them to hire more managers, and you should look elsewhere to further your career.
There are three types of companies that can move you into management:
Large, stable sized companies.
They aren’t growing rapidly, or at all, but every once in a while someone retires, is fired or leaves. These promotions take a long time to achieve.
Medium sized, rapidly growing companies.
Some contemporary examples are Flexport and Mulesoft. These companies already have senior management in place, but teams are growing so fast that regional leaders are often promoted from the rank and file of sales reps.
Small startups with high potential.
Often times, an early Account Executive of a small start up will have an opportunity to lead the sales team when and if significant growth happens.
If you’re looking to move into sales management, the first thing you need to do is evaluate if you’re in one of the three above situations at your current role. If you’re not, then it’s time to find a new job.
If you are in one of the above situations in your current role, what you’ll need to do is gauge the likelihood of securing a promotion. Here are some things that will help you evaluate your changes:
- Are you performing within the top 20% of your sales team?
- Do you have good relationships with your team members, managers, and other superiors?
If the answer to the two above questions is yes, then you have a relatively good chance of securing a move into management. Now it’s worth engaging with your boss on this, seeing where she or he stands and letting them know it’s a priority for you.
If the answer to one (or both) of the above questions is no on the other hand, you likely won’t move it into management at your company. At this point it may be worth looking for other opportunities where you’ll be more likely to succeed.
Other reasons to leave your sales job
Ideally we leave our sales job strategically, in order to advance our career. Sometimes you’re stuck in a bad situation and it’s worth leaving regardless. Here are some reasons we think it is advisable for salespeople to leave their jobs for:
This can be anything from an ineffective sales strategy, to unfair personal treatment. If your boss or CEO prevents you from doing your job well, it’s most likely not worth sticking around for.
Company doesn’t value salespeople:
Low paying commission plans, unrealistic quotas that no one hits, and a not taking sales people’s feedback, are all signs that your company doesn’t value salespeople. It’s better to work for a company that does.
You don’t believe in the product:
If market adoption of your product is slumping, or if your company is failing to continuously improve the product, it’s time to look for a new role. As a salesperson, you only want to sell the best products — selling a product you don’t believe in is soul sucking.
Navigating your career through Silicon Valley’ sales world can be daunting. With so many companies being born, rising, falling, and stagnating it’s important to constantly evaluate how your employer’s interests align with your own. If you can consistently perform well at strong, growing startups then you’ll have incredible career. Transitioning companies at the right time is a skill that’s necessary salespeople to be in front of those career changing opportunities.
Too often people leave their company without a clear goal in mind or worse, they make their decisions emotionally rather than logically. Consider this guide a piece of empirical based advice to refer to when comparing your current situation with the situations described above. Use it to know when it’s time to leave your job so can constantly maximize the return of your talent and hard work. We want you to find the job that will get you to where you want to be in life.
Originally published at Sales Career Advice.