Short Sales Leadership Tenures

A reader writes, "In the last five years I have had three different sales leadership positions at three different companies. I was laid off from the first position, resigned from the second to accept a job at the third and got laid off again. This experience has been stressful and damaged my confidence. More than anything, I want to stop this from happening again. What steps should I take?"

Let's start with some simple math. Five years equals 60 months. With three different jobs, you've averaged 20 months per stay. Regrettably, you're right on track. Sales leaders last, on average, less than two years in the job. Sometimes, it helps (a little, anyway) to know you have company. Sales leaders (sales managers, directors of sales, VP's of sales) rarely enjoy long tenures.

Take an Assessment

Before you accept another position, make sure you have the necessary competencies and skills. Talented reps (of which you were probably one) don't necessarily make talented sales leaders. If you haven't already, take an assessment specifically geared toward the sales profession. Avoid general personality assessments or deals that seem to good to be true.
Should the assessment show you not to be a strong candidate to manage others, take that seriously. You'll have to work hard to succeed.

If it shows you have the capabilities to manager others but shows some areas of weakness, pay close attention. Hone in on those and get some training or coaching to help you address any problem areas.

Conduct Your Own 360°

Go back two jobs, contacting your direct supervisor and a few reps you managed. People sometimes speak more freely when enough time has passed. Ask them for a candid evaluation of you management abilities. 

Be brave. Include a rep you suspect didn't enjoy working for you. We're talking about your career here and you need to understand what's happening. Explain why you need this information. Not everyone will agree to participate, but some will, especially if enough time has passed.

Once you've completed this exercise, look at the notes you took when speaking to the different individuals. What did you learn? Were there any "Aha!" moments and patterns?

Break Down Past Interviews

Think about the interview processes you went through for you prior positions.

  • What questions were you asked?  
  • Which ones did you find to be the most effective and thought provoking?
  • What questions did you ask?
  • What did you not ask that you should have?  
  • Did you get the answers you were looking for?
  • Who interviewed you and how many times?  
  • Did you meet a wide range of employees or remain almost entirely in the sales department?  

If you kept notes from past interviews, look them over. Be aware of inconsistencies or red flags.


When you formally accepted these three jobs, did the responsibilities you took on bare any resemblance to what you learned in the interview process? What came as the biggest surprises (negatives and positives)?  Did you experience any significant let downs? Think about any "If I had known this beforehand" moments.  

Create columns on a spreadsheet for the three past sales leadership jobs. List the various pros and cons for each one. Again, look for patterns.

Final Thoughts

The four exercises I recommend should help you develop a better understanding of yourself as a sales leader as well as what might have gone wrong with past jobs. It's important work.

In next month's newsletter, I will address the job interview itself, making specific recommendations about questions you should ask throughout the process.