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Is There A Selling Career Path?

by David Brock on November 3rd, 2022

Recently, I had a fascinating conversation with a client. We talked about something I rarely hear managers discussing, and something I don’t see pundits commenting on. The topic was, “What kind of career path options do we want to develop for our people? How do we challenge and retain our people longer? How can we enable them to contribute at higher levels?”

It’s remarkable because it flies in the face of “conventional wisdom practice” in business. It seems that selling jobs, at all levels, are viewed as “temp” jobs. It’s an interesting phenomena, retention is not an “A” priority for most organizations. And, possibly, as a result of this, most sellers view their current jobs as a gig. They are committed to it, as long as it works, but for no more than 2-3 years.

I seldom hear career pathing discussions from sales leadership. Perhaps things like, we move SDRs into AE roles, possibly an account manager role. For a few, possibly sales management. But we are equally happy with recruiting for any and all these roles from the outside.

Managers, if they coach, coach for day to day, quarter to quarter performance. They seldom coach for longer term development. Perhaps, in their minds, there is no reason to–both they and their people will move on before there is a need to think about this.

As we observe the ever decreasing average tenure of sellers and managers, now about 11 months, one thinks: “We really aren’t training and developing our people for their job with our company, we are training them for their job with their next company.” We spend months onboarding them, we spend months coaching them up their learning and experience curve, then just as they start hitting their stride, they are off to a new job.

While it’s been a number of years since I have held executive roles with large companies, I remember the interviews with candidates–both candidates for leadership roles and individual contributors. A key part of the conversation would always be, “What future might I have with your organization? Assuming I perform well, what jobs might I be promoted into, what different, higher level roles might I compete for?”

As an executive, I was anxious to hear candidates ask that question. It indicated they intended to stick around. It helped reassure me that the investment we were making would have a much better payback than that resulting from the job we were trying to fill.

My executive team, and the executive teams in the companies I worked for, would periodically talk about this. “How can we create opportunities for our great performers? How can we retain them and grow their ability to contribute to our organizational goals? Can we create opportunities for them to mentor others?”

These conversations are important, particularly if we want to maximize our ability to grow our companies over the longer term. We invest in building capability and capacity in our people. They develop deep experience and capability to do more, both in their current jobs and in future roles. This is the core of a growth engine, and our success in continuing to fuel this engine creates more opportunities for our current people, and enables us to back fill them with new talent–continuing this cycle.

As we analyze the highest performing selling organizations, we notice something interesting. These organizations are consistently outperforming others in their industries/markets. Their growth rates are consistently among the best. Their margins tend to be the best. And their talent management, their ability to attract, retain, and develop the capabilities of their people. They invest in them both for this quarter/this year, but also for their long term contributions to the organization.

Some argue, “but gen Z is different, none of them will stay in a role for more than a couple of years….” I don’t know that this is true, or if it is, perhaps the cause of this transient behavior is that we don’t create workplaces that are committed to long term growth and development. My experience is, like any other generation, they are interested in personal/professional growth, they are interested in learning and growing their capabilities, they are interested in being challenged.

We’ve seen enough indicators with leading organizations that have high retention of gen Z and other “gens.”

We have to change our mindsets about talent. We have to change our mindsets around our own jobs. It is important that we achieve our short term quarterly and annual goals. It is important to attract and develop people that are committed to doing this.

At the same time, it is irresponsible to squander that investment. We have to stop developing people (at all levels) for their next job with another company. We have to develop career paths, both in management and as individual contributors, that retain people and enable them to grow and contribute at much higher levels.

This has to be a call to action for top management. Failing to heed this is a failure to your responsibility to your organization.

From → Leadership

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