How to Take Ownership of Your Sales Career

Collin Stewart, CEO

05 June 2019

There are, without a doubt, some esoteric elements to sales. Even the most seasoned, even-tempered sales rep will tell you that a cold call or demo is a dynamic experience that could turn on a dime – regardless of how much you’ve prepared.

Despite that fluid reality, the output of a sales rep (and their team) is black or white. How are you doing this month? This quarter? This year? Check your numbers – they don’t lie.

As such, sales is the ultimate meritocracy. You will succeed if you work hard and put the time in. Sure, there’ll be ups and downs, but if you respect the job and respect your prospects by doing your due diligence day in and day out, you’ll find a home in the sales world.

Whether you’re in retail and consumer sales, software sales, professional services sales, or telecommunications sales you need to plan how you attack the arc of your career, not just your daily grind. As you grow your skill set, gain valuable experience, and enjoy some success, you’ll need to be able to discuss that holistic career picture – both at your job and with your professional community. It will show those around you what you’re capable of. And it will show you where you still need to put in more work.

“There are so many moving parts in an organization. You have managers, and they have managers – everyone is focused on so many things. That’s why it is important to discuss your successes,” says Alexandra Adamson, Executive Director of Women in Sales, on a recent edition of The Predictable Revenue Podcast.

“Your direct manager might see your accomplishments, but others might not. You can’t assume everyone is going to see it, they have a thousand things going on. So always be sure you are being proactive about how you are helping your organization.”

What is a mentor? (And, how do I find one?)

How to take ownership of your career is a question we’ve all asked ourselves at one time or another. And, it can feel like a daunting task. 

But, it doesn’t have to be.

According to Adamson, you can start with simple initiatives such as having your own internal board or notes, where you keep track of goals and accomplishments. But for a more powerful ingredient to propel your career, however, find yourself a mentor.

The effect a mentor can have on your career is huge. It can help you hire, fix bad habits, and create new business models (which help bring in new revenue).

To be sure, this is hardly a one-size-fits-all task – every role will present unique options for establishing an effective mentor-mentee relationship. But, says Adamson, there is one important rule to follow when your first set out to find a mentor: look outside your company.

“Having a good mentor network, is so important. But more important to have mentors external to your company,” says Adamson.

“You will have questions that you want to bounce off people that don’t work with you. For example, you may have questions about the way things are running that you want to take outside your company.”

Another option is to seek out mentors younger than yourself. This seems counterintuitive, but for those in leadership positions, seeking out mentors younger than yourself can be a big help, particularly with learning about how to communicate effectively with junior team members.

“At Women in Sales, younger mentors happen a lot,” adds Adamson.

“Younger mentors can help for temperature check to make sure you are communicating things properly.”

Cultivating a relationship with a mentor

Once you’ve done your research and outlined a potential mentor – or mentors, you can have more than one – it’s important to reach out to them in an appropriate way. Remember, a mentor is someone you lean on for advice and knowledge to better yourself, it is not a paid relationship.

As such, you want to refrain from asking for too much of their time (meeting for an hour once per quarter is a good cadence), and be flexible with your schedule. The last thing you want is to go back and forth in a lengthy email chain with someone because you can’t accommodate their availability.

Another key consideration: just because you’ve reached out to them for help doesn’t mean you can’t add value to the relationship as well. In fact, you should be prepared with something to share when you meet – either a relevant blog post to share with them, or suggestions on their company’s job postings. You can, and should, send these types of messages after your meetings as well. Helpful content or relevant suggestions are always welcome. 

“Mentors aren’t just someone you take from. They help, but you can give them something as well. There is always a way to be helpful,” says Adamson.

“If you can’t think of anything in advance, ask them how you can be helpful to them. Always offer value in return.”

(Editor’s note: we had Pendo’s Bill Binch on the pod a while back to talk about how to hire and train great salespeople. You can read about our chat here, or listen to the whole in-depth interview here)

The subtle art of job descriptions

Finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t talk a bit about effective job postings. It’s easy to look at the concept of taking control of your career from the perspective of the employee, or individual contributor.

But careers, particularly those of women, can be greatly affected by how roles are communicated in job postings. For example, too often the terms associated with sales are hungry and gritty etc. According to Adamson, women sometimes shy away from those terms.

So, Women in Sales often works with companies to reframe those descriptions, to make sure women are successful in applying for jobs and are successful in their organization.

“When you’re successful, you can talk more about other things you can do. But this is different for women – they tend not to talk about success, and only apply for jobs if they think they’re perfect,” says Adamson.

“So, we make sure to talk about how job postings are worded, as well as how to advocate for a promotion or how to join other departments because you see a pain point there.”

For more Adamson’s thoughts on charting the right career path – including a discussion on her personal journey in sales and more on what Women in Sales does to empower the community – watch the full interview below.



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