Recruiting for software sales professionals can – at times – be a straightforward task.
It sounds strange to say it, given how hectic a recruiter’s week can be, but when you boil it down to the basics I attempt to match sales talent with employment opportunities that provide candidates with greater upside and potential. That might take the form of a stronger commission plan, a bump in base salary, a more competitive product, a stronger team or a larger territory in which to hunt for prospects… but looked at from any angle, the list is long when it comes to factors that can enhance the career of an out-and-out sales executive.
Similarly, the career path is often clear cut: either candidates continue chasing a financial updraft, looking to continually improve their positioning to be successful in producing personal sales, or they seek a move into a leadership role where they can reinvest their experience in a growing team, and perhaps take a step back from the sweat of day-to-day hunting and client acquisition.
On the sales support side, however… things aren’t so simple.
On top of placing sales reps, another major aspect of my work is to help find career openings for Sales Engineers, Pre/Post-Sales specialists and other sales chameleons who are gifted with the twin skill set of technical product knowledge and the interpersonal know-how to bridge the gap between tech and sales.
Ask any top Account Executive, and they’ll tell you that a strong sales support team can be the backbone of a successful sales group.
The trouble is, the career ladder for sales support professionals isn’t always so clearly laid out as it is for their ‘front line’ counterparts.
Top SEs know their value to a company – they witness on a daily basis their ability to join a sales process at a key stage and play an indispensable role in quarterbacking an interested prospect over the line.
When it comes to the ‘next step’ in their careers, however, it’s seldom obvious.
So what are the options?
The most obvious – and the most common – is moving into a management spot leading a team of other Sales Engineers.
While this can work out great, the major obstacle in comparison with options open to sales reps is the quantity of SE management roles in a typical sales hierarchy. An organization may employ scores of reps, each at different levels of maturity and seniority and needing plentiful mentors and team leads. The sales support team in comparison is often much leaner. This leads to fewer senior roles, with most SE teams unlikely to have the same numbers of regional, mid and senior management that the outbound sales org will.
So when the roles simply aren’t there to ascend into… SEs have to look elsewhere.
Another potentially successful move – though less frequent – is a move over into direct sales. SEs who can master the skills and rhythms of prospecting to make their own opportunity, instead of working ‘on call’ when invited into a sales process, can be extremely successful. They have exceptional technical product knowledge and can often carry a sale further and faster than a less technical rep who needs frequent support. On the right commissions plan, this can be a financial game-changer.
Alternate career doors which may open up include moves into R&D – product architecture and innovation, working to guide product evolution in guide with customer needs and emerging technology trends.
Another possibility is a step away from the front line of prospect closing and onboarding into broader fields such as Solutions Architecture – channeling technical expertise into larger, more complex customer engagements where multiple tech platforms must be aligned and integrated.
Depending on the organization, Professional Services may be an option. This can open up a whole new set of career challenges, as the PS team can frequently function as an independent revenue-generation unit and therefore involve more strategy than a floating ‘support’ unit whose primary function is to execute on opportunities they themselves do not necessarily identify or drive.
One last point well worth mentioning is that very few SE roles are in themselves created equal. So much – both from a professional development and a financial earning perspective – depends on team, product, corporate vision, funding, team size/structure etc. that it can be a major error for an SE to consider that a move into another SE-titled role is by default a ‘lateral’ move. In fact, this is almost never the case in my experience, and each role must be evaluated on its merits before a snap judgement is made that the same title = the same job.
Just look at the IT recruitment world and think whether all UX designers are having the same career experience, some at stagnant 20-year-old tech giants and others building interfaces for the world’s hottest and most-used products.
So when it all gets put in the balance… my professional advice?
The options are definitely there, they just take a bit more work to uncover and a little more lateral thinking to identify. SEs who feel they have nowhere left to grow may just need to get a little more creative with what their unique skill set can accomplish!
Oh, and… talking to a recruiter never hurts, either!
Feel free to reach out to him on LinkedIn for a networking conversation!
Tel: (760) 814-9231
E-Mail: chris.kuech (at) adaptive-ca.com
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