"'I'm a Regional Sales Manager Who Wants to Go Back to Being a Sales Rep. But How?"
02/02/23 Edition Stephen Says Column

Dear Stephen,

I have had a great career in the furniture industry. I started as a sales rep for a major manufacturer and was eventually elevated to a regional manager. Briefly, I even held a director level position and then returned to sales management - you know how the industry goes; different companies have different titles for basically the same job.

I now realize management is not for me. I do not want to be a leader; I want to make money and focus on client relationships. So, after years of trying to climb the corporate ladder, I finally realize the job title is not my priority. I hated hiring and firing people, doing employee job appraisals, and the politics that is part of staying on top as a manager.

Now, I have decided I want to be back in front-line sales, and I should say I am 51, so this is not age related (meaning I am not so old that I want to coast in sales). I just realized I can make more money and have less stress back as a sales rep.  Plus, less traveling in a big region and less corporate meetings at HQ.

If I approach a recruiter like you, they tell me it is difficult to step back to a sales role. And when I start to interview directly with companies, initially with the HR recruiter, they see my resume and get scared because they can’t figure out my motivation to change, and they say I’m overqualified. They seem suspicious. And the sales managers I interview with may be intimidated—who knows. Often the “base salary” comes up, because my current base as a regional is higher than what would be offered to a local sales rep, but that is OK with me, and I tell them that. I am sincere in wanting to get back into sales for, what I feel, are the right reasons. What do you think? Can you give me a strategy?

A Seller at Heart
Dear Seller,

This is a very common problem. I've seen this movie many times.

A high-performance salesperson strings together some really good years, making money for himself/herself and for their company. They gain confidence, and reason that if they are good at sales, they would be good at sales management. It’s only logical! They start to ask senior management at the dealership or manufacturer for a promotion and since upper management is worried about losing them, they get the new job. In some cases, it all works out wonderfully. In other cases, not so good. The star salesperson no longer feels like a star – their job now is to hire, mentor, monitor, train and create new stars. They go on joint sales calls, but the client is no longer their client, the relationship belongs to the salesperson. The thrill of closing the sale is no longer quite as thrilling because the salesperson takes the credit. And then there’s the constant nagging about CRM updating – whether it’s #Salesforce or something else, they’re essentially all the same. Don’t forget about HR issues and approving expense reports. Finally, if your team doesn’t meet goal, you’re in trouble. “Yikes! This wasn’t quite what I thought management would be like.”

So, I get it, and I am not one of the recruiters that would discourage you, but I would tell you to carefully inspect and reposition your LinkedIn profile and resume with an eye towards being much more modest than they probably look now. Get away from terminology like the now-so-popular LinkedIn hashtags, “#Mentoring”, “#Leadership” and the all-time worse “#Storytelling." Instead, focus on sales related activities and results, and hashtags like, “#Selling” and “#Hunter”.

When it comes to your resume, amplify the years when you were a salesperson, listing specific accomplishments – not “I called on design firms throughout the region” – who cares about that - it’s the projects you closed and the dollar amounts you got specified through design firms, that’s what counts. Be prepared to talk about specific projects, how you developed the relationship, how long it took, how did you decide which products to sell, and how did you close the deal. That’s what employers who are interviewing a salesperson want to hear. Take an “old fashioned” approach and consider putting an 'Objective' on your resume, like when you were first looking for a job. For instance, the "Objective" could be something simple and direct that the #AI algorithm will pick up like “Seeking an outside sales position for a company where I can utilize my relationships with designers and specifiers to generate sales." As far as your management experience and titles, you certainly can’t lie about them, but you do not have to magnify them. During the interview, do not over-explain your motives, just talk like the salesperson you are, and sell yourself. You can do this, if you keep your ego in check.

Good luck. I believe if you frame it correctly, laying out your motivation and reasoning, and come across as sincere, you can get hired in a selling job again – if, as you say, it’s what’s in your heart. And I know how you feel because I’m the same - I’d rather sell than manage!  


​#HighPointMarket #SaloneMilano #Haworth #Steelcase #MillerKnoll #HermanMiller #Knoll #RH #Thinklab #BIFMA #NeoCon #FurnitureDealer #ContractFurniture #SalesRep #TheViscusiGroup #LinkedIn #BoF #MMQB #OfficeInsight