“Get back in the game!” We constantly hear this expression amongst alcoholics, gamblers, and addicts as they both pressure and encourage each other.

I keep company with sellers… a motley crew of misfits on ‘Promised Land’ island. This article is not about seller’s flagrant bedside manner, it’s instead about whether they should work for a particular tech company or not. Pay close attention.

If the product doesn’t fit the market, you MUST quit. You cannot pivot your way into serving a marketplace where there is zero demand. It’s vaporware! 

So many sellers are A-team players working for C-grade companies. Lured with promises but inevitably they end up like the guy in the main image above… prayer or despair? If you’re selling ‘file sharing’, get out because it’s commoditised and crowded. If what you’re selling is a ‘nice to have’ and you know in your gut that there is no compelling business case for your buyer to change state, also get out! I doesn’t matter if you only have 4 months on your CV in your current role…

If the product/market fit isn’t legit, you must quit. Sounds a bit like Johnny Cochran (RIP) I know:”If the glove doesn’t fit, you must equit” 

I’m not placating you or blowing smoky platitudes but look, who are you fooling… really? Your entrepreneur CEO drank the kool-aid and raised 80MM in 5 rounds and they are still pre-revenue. No one is going to come along and give you a billion dollars to bail out a bad Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Maybe you’re traded on the NASDAQ as a penny stock.

Sellers need absolute clarity and must immediately DO what Lee Bartlett swears by: Survey the market before you jump from the frying pan into the fire. Look before you leap and don’t be a sheep. Sheeple are everywhere!

I had a bizarre conversation with a rep recently who was moaning about a SaaS company where nobody hit their target. He ended up jumping ship to another company where I already knew there was a bad product/market fit and wait for it… nobody hit their comp plan OTE (on target earnings) there either! The poor soul. Months of agony only to double-down on a previous mistake.

So how do you prevent disaster? What’s wild is that I’m not recommending something that’s easy to do. So many start-up companies are smoke and mirrors and promising top reps the world to save the revenue line, bail them out of jail, or create a Christmas miracle.

Too many ‘career management pseudo sales leader’ proffer up apples, carrots and sticks of 50/50 splits on comp plans where the sales cycles are elongating, Average Selling Price (ASP) is reducing and fuelling the malaise. Low morale and attrition are like an infectious disease, sinking in like for the failed Presidential campaign on inauguration night when they don’t get to release their balloons and fireworks.

Before you make any career move, you’ve gotta back-channel. You’ve gotta find reps that were at the company and get them to confess. Get them on the phone or if they’re in town, get them to lunch. They may have a ‘mutual non-disparage’ clause in play so they can’t ‘legally’ {pretty hard to enforce} tell you just how demoralising it was working at Mega Evil Virtual Corp!

This is where Glassdoor is your best friend. If Glassdoor says: “Management is asleep at the switch with bats in the belfry and blow-torching the staff while cackling like Lord Voldemort,” you probably want to give it credence. Especially if there are multiple candid comments like this. Run for the hills!

If Glassdoor is squeaky clean, still don’t trust it. Go the extra mile and verify. Get on the horn and get at least a few former Account Executives or VPs of Sales to come clean about what really went down there. Why have they churned 3 CROs in under a year? Why has the entire sales team turned over in 2 years? Use LinkedIn Sales Navigator to look at the total employees and sort it by “past employees” and do some back of the envelope math to look for anomalies. 

You’ve gotta then find the top rep who won President’s Club and then left the company. Did they get equity? Was the company acquired? Was comp in line with performance? Why did they leave? Is the product disruptive enough and early enough to fit a market where you can make a bonafide killing? 

Now here’s the kicker and why Lee Bartlett is TOP GUN: Go call their biggest customers and find out how well that company serves them. Are they past customers that churned? What was it really like working with the sellers and and fulfillment team? A totally honest, open and constructive question. It’s still a free country. (Or, so I hope you’re reading from one!)

I think it’s gutsy to employ the above tactics. It’s also not for the lazy, faint of heart Caspar Milquetoast. Lazy is to put on your happy ears while the HR team, recruiters, and sellers all seduce you into Lord of the Flies meets Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, seller euthanisation machine. Oh, and it’s cloud based and SaaS!

Don’t listen to the Lost Boys and think you can actually thrive in Never Never Land without ever growing old. Aka needing commissions to pay for stuff like yeah, that family of yours (alimony), insurance, kid’s education, mortgage. #realtalk

Serious sellers: you can’t go to the “bro” culture company living off base, ping pong and a kegger. You really need to take the OTE seriously and vet it out. Can (or any carbon based bipedal) can actually make the hard dollars you want, as promised? Are only 5% of this company’s best sellers making quota? And was the ramp really 90 days or it more like 18-24 months? How often is the comp plan changed? Have they moved from Services to SaaS lately? Are they pivoting with you rotating on the spit of “move fast, break things” like perhaps the shattered dreams of fallen sellers everywhere?

I recently heard a recruiter say flippantly, “Well, the max we’ll pay is $15,000 less than the competition but we need people that ‘get Enterprise selling’ and can do seven-figure engagements to Fortune 1,000 C-levels on an 18-month sales cycle. Oh, and bring your Rolodex of CXOs.” Translation: “Would you like to openly break your non-compete while taking a pay cut for 18 months so that you can get a measly 9% on a pilot deal from a whale you reel in nearly two years from now?” That’s completely insane if you ask me. Get ready to live off frozen dinners and like you have no wife, kids or dreams to support!

Everybody should read Lee Bartlett’s book “The No.1 Best Seller” as he’s the first person I’ve ever seen talk sense about this. Before Lee, no one in world history told the truth. Apparently, his Editor pruned the book because it was so hardcore REAL about what’s actually going on in these high-tech companies. He lowered the veil and opened the kimono and the censors stepped in. I desperately hope this is not the case with my new book, COMBO Prospecting, as it goes through the editing process with AMACOM.

Lee Bartlett - The No.1 Best Seller

Better margins led to the avaricious marginalisation of frontline sellers, moving more profits to the C-suite at all costs. Costs were cut even further by employing interns or recent college grads in a revolving door of BDRs to SDRs masquerading as “path of advancement.” Your CEO shouldn’t be getting paid $600,000 a year if the company is in $30M of debt and raised a $40M round just to keep the lights on. Oh yeah, and that’s all just so they’ll get acquired. “It’s a lifestyle business, Goose!”

You don’t want to get kicked out the door and be writing a $25,000 clawback check. Trust me on this! 

Quit while you’re ahead. Be that quitter. Recruiters will respect you. Bounce now and do your due diligence on where you’re going. Be ready to take a haircut on your base salary if all the top reps are clearing $300,000 per year. That’s okay, you can easily go from the gutter of flight school to the stars of TOP GUN by doing homework and contacting all these people. Take the risk; get in the Mig for the 5G role.

No alt text provided for this image

Put down those cigarettes and get on a treadmill. Selling for flash-in-the-pan start-up companies is as addictive as street drugs like K2, aka “The Spice!”

And make sure the Equity is real. Get $25-50K in equity that has a realistic vesting schedule! Every sales commission plan favors the company. They keep shifting gratification into allowing Procurement’s pilot and POC so more and more revenue comes in on renewals (for deals you brought in), where Client Services people are paid a lower percentage. They’re allowing customers to PILOT because ‘The Man’ is making it on the back end. It’s Black Jack and the house is winning baby! 

I saw a seller get a $1.2M quota moved to a $4M group target. The company has only ever done one 7 figure deal. This is sheer lunacy!

If the product doesn’t fit, you must quit! Repeat after me.

I hope you have a technical family member or best friend who can just look at the open source code and tell you it’s a dog. Lee Bartlett’s book is loaded with cautionary tales from the crypt the Vulture Capitalists on Sand Hill Road who don’t want you to read this… and he nails the global ethos precisely, even from the UK, with eloquent glass-shattering Brexit fervor! – “The game is rigged, Mav.”

Much of happiness in life, or not, comes from who you marry. Oh yeah, marrying a n’ere-do-well company can be even worse! I feel bad for all the frontline sellers at Enron and rest my case.

Elon Musk gets it! We need to be building nanotech to cure cancer and figuring out how to colonise Mars as we burn this planet to a crisp. Let’s not build or seek to sell more photo sharing apps that will disappear. Let’s get serious people. Stay out of the “sexy” verticals and go SELL something of REAL VALUE. Do it consultatively with something that actually revolutionises the revenue and efficiency of real CUSTOMERS. Or get out – yes you! 

What have been your horror stories and real world drama experiences with all of this? Help your fellow sellers avert career suicidal disaster and perhaps for the good of future humanity! Marlon Brando summed up the future state of Global Sales Compensation in Apocalypse Now: “The Horror!”

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like’ button and also share via your Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook.

Previous articleSix Traits Of Great Sales Reps
Next articleLeadership Q&A – Jeremy Mead
Tony Hughes
Tony is an international keynote speaker, best selling author, leading professional selling educator, award-winning blogger and the most read LinkedIn Author globally on the topic of sales leadership. As an experienced CEO and company director with 35 years of sales and business leadership experience, he is ranked by Top Sales Magazine as the most influential person in professional selling in Asia-Pacific. Tony has served as Director of Sales for public corporations and as the Asia-pacific Managing Director for a number of tier-one global technology companies, and teaches 'modernized selling' within the MBA program at the University of Technology, Sydney. Tony also sits on a number of advisory boards, with clients including: Schneider Electric, New Zealand Government, Salesforce, TAL Life, Zip Water, Findex, BAE Systems, Flight Centre Travel Group, Red Hat, Agilyx, NEXTDC and UBT with their 4,000 member companies globally.