When I was recruiting, and even now as I work with clients on hiring salespeople, I see salespeople referring to their “career level” and getting it wrong. Mostly, it’s salespeople who call themselves “Senior Salespeople” but who in reality aren’t even close.
One of the least understood aspects of sales achievement is the correlation between job tenure and profitability/productivity for the company. For instance, in most sales environments, a salesperson does not become profitable for the company until somewhere between month 13 and month 18; hence, if a stint is shorter than that, you can rest assured that the salesperson was a sunk cost for the company.
Additionally, most salespeople do not reach maximum productivity until at least year three or four on a job – so if you have someone who has never lasted three years, they don’t even know what maximum productivity looks like.
For that reason, I’d like to offer up my own guidelines as a recruiter, hiring manager, and sales coach, on what the various career levels look like. I’d also point out that these are not industry-specific; industry changers fit here too.
Entry Level: Most people think that “entry level” means that you are just getting started in sales. It means that, of course, but it also has to do with your level of achievement in sales. Here’s my guideline: Unless and until you have had at least three years of sustained success ON THE SAME JOB, you are entry-level. “Sustained success” means that you have spent at least three consecutive years AT QUOTA OR BETTER, not that you’ve merely been employed for three years. You can have had fifteen years in sales, but if all your experience is 1-2 years and out, you’re entry level as far as I’m concerned. In fact, a salesperson with a number of short stints is actually LESS marketable as a candidate than a person right out of college, because a smart hiring manager will assume that the job-hopping will continue.
Mid-Career: A mid-career salesperson, in my opinion, has at least eight years’ experience in sales with at least a five-year successful stint at quota or above. You haven’t established the gold-plated track record of success that gains you entry into the high-end sales pool, but you’re on your way. The trajectory of your career is definitely up.
Senior Salesperson: Here’s the one that too many people misunderstand or fake. A “Senior Salesperson,” to me, is one with fifteen years or more in sales, with progressive experience and achievement. At least eight of those years should be spent at one company with a successful (quota or well above) track record, and promotions can also come into play. Outside of that eight-year stint, you need other success as well (if you have multiple companies in your fifteen years); if all your success is with one company, your skills might not be transferable. Yet, I see salespeople all the time with short careers and short tenures who refer to themselves as “senior salespeople.” If you want to be a senior salesperson (with all the money, perks, and opportunities that entails), you have to put in the work; it’s as simple as that.
Too often I see salespeople attempting to package and pretend their way into a job that they aren’t qualified for. Sometimes they do get hired (managers make instinctive hires rather than logical ones), but they fail badly. If you’re in that boat, you are far better off to be realistic about your status, find a job that’s appropriate, and decide that you are going to make a stand and be successful. Put in the work, put up with what you have to put up with, and you really can turn a career around. I’ve seen it happen, and I’ve seen it NOT happen. The choice is yours.