Business and Sales Diversity Career Stories Management

Vice President of Sales learns to adapt in tough economic times

This vice president of sales for a small family owned company shares how he went from a career in scientific research, to excelling in management and sales roles in a completely different industry.

What is your job title? How many years of experience do you have in that field?
My title is Vice President of Sales. I work for a small internet company and report to the CEO. I’ve been with this company for 8 years and in a sales role for around 15 years.

Would you describe the things you do on a typical day?
Working for a small company, I wear many hats with both sales and other responsibilities. A large portion of my time is spent strategizing with the sales team about current accounts and new potential accounts, creating solutions to set our company apart from the competition and winning their business. I am also involved with recruiting new sales people, marketing our products, giving interviews and product development. I’m involved with most things except for IT.

On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What would it take to increase that rating?
I am very satisfied with my job, right at the top of the scale. I have flexible hours, I work in a nice office, I have great coworkers, I have job security, I am involved with the direction and business decisions of the company. I wish our office was closer to my home as I am much more productive at the office, though I do have the ability to work from home from time to time.

What did you learn the hard way in this job and how did that happen?
Firing and laying off people is difficult. That might seem like an obvious statement, but as I mentioned above, I like and have enjoyed working with practically ever single person that ever worked here. With the economic downturn a few years ago, our company needed to let go of a dozen employees, and it was not all in one sweep; rather, it happened on a painful one-at-a-time course. Being in a leadership role, I have been involved in more of those conversations than I’d like to remember. It gives me no satisfaction to call someone into my office and let them know they are being let go, answering the bewildered questions while remaining firm. Even with the few rare times we actually fired people in a contentious way, those were not easy situations.

What don’t they teach in school that would’ve been helpful to you?
I have a science degree. I even had a science career post graduation before jumping into a sales role. Personally, I wish I’d have been pushed into a business role and steered away from science. I don’t know who should have done that, certainly not my chemistry professors, but business classes more easily translate to the real world than science classes.

How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?
I guess I partially answered that question already. I’d have switched my educational path. I am very proud of my academic achievements, but post graduation, I ended up in a research job where I would not have the opportunity to advance without more education. I wish post graduation, I’d have taken some more entrepreneurial chances in a sales or marketing role, while I was still single and had no kids. Sales is more financially rewarding than any science role I could have attained, and it’s more people oriented and non-repetitive. I’ve found what I’m interested in doing in sales.

What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?
I’ve needed to call the paramedics to our office for a sick coworker. I’ve needed to call the police to our office for a burglary. I’ve needed to call the security alarm company multiple times to stop them from sending the police. It’s not dull.

On a good day when things are going well, can you give an example of something that really makes you feel good?
I feel good when someone on my sales team wins a difficult contract that we worked on together. We met the client’s needs creatively and cost effectively and everybody wins.

When nothing seems to go right, what kind of snafus do you handle and what do you dislike the most?
Months when sales are not so great, when companies push their decisions back, trying to get by to try to make a month satisfactory. Those months seem to attract unsatisfied customers too that want to chat with me.

How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance?
My job is not stressful overall, though it has its moments. I do have a healthy work-life balance. I can work at home if necessary, I can take my kid to his orthodontist appointment without being worried that I’ll be punished. However, with that balance comes the responsibility of answering the 10pm sales person’s important call or figuring something out on a Saturday afternoon.

What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough considering your responsibilities?
Salary is only part of a sales professional’s compensation. Performance based commissions are an important piece of the puzzle. I’ve worked in sales jobs that are 100% commission based and been highly successful. Those are usually a bit more stressful but more financially rewarding, even topping $100K. I started with this company in a sales role and moved to management. A sales person here can earn between 50K and 100K, perhaps even more, depending on experience, skill, position, and all are greatly affected by the general economic environment of the country.

What’s the most rewarding moment you’ve experienced in this position? Of all the things you’ve done at work, what are you most proud of?

I’m proud of the growth the company had the first several years I was in a management role. But I’m also proud of the accomplishments and achievements that happened as our revenues were cut in half in the economic downturn. Creating a successful new event series, diversifying our business line, and forward thinking to where the industry would be years down the line.

What’s the most challenging moment you’ve experienced? What would you prefer to forget?
The most challenging was cutting costs as business slowed a few years ago. I think everyone including myself in this company was in denial a little too long, was a little too optimistic about a quick rebound, dragged feet on cutting expenses that were deemed necessary. Hindsight is nice. I’d prefer to forget being involved with laying off the people we did in order to cut payroll costs, as I’ve already mentioned.

What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
I believe a college degree is a huge plus, though it’s entirely possible to hold this position based solely job experience. Companies need to take note that awesome sales people are often terrible Sales Managers, and that transition is often impossible. Patience, reliability, fairness, firmness, excellent product knowledge are key. Being able to handle strong personalities and reward success and encourage improvement are also important. Strong computer and research skills and industry business knowledge are musts. Excellent writing and speaking and phone skills are necessary as well.

What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
It is not day-to-day. Your paycheck will go up and down like a see saw. But it can be rewarding. Pick an industry that interests them as every company sells. You need to be passionate and believe in the product and industry.

How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?
I have plenty of days to take. I should take more advantage of them.

Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?
Respected sales people are consultants for their clients and that’s the kind of team I strive to have. No one wants to be the sales person that is known as a nag or fits the stereotypes that “sales” sometimes has.

Does this job move your heart? If not, what does?
I am passionate about the job and love the combination of speed from both advertising sales and being online!  I am passionate about other things too, but they are centered around family. I am very involved with my two boys’ little league baseball teams.

If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?
Since my work location is flexible, I’d like to take this job to a more rural location, one that isn’t hot and isn’t cold. One where there’s no traffic and I can go fishing at lunch time.

Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?
Though I am a sales manager, I almost never see any of my sales team. I’m not sure that’s unique, but many people may not realize that is the way technology has changed this type of position.