I worked as a sales rep for almost twenty years at a major manufacturer. The company was acquired. I thought I wasn’t going to be happy with the merger, so I left. Yes, you guessed it, I worked for #MillerKnoll!
I was a top individual contributor and made a great income as a sales rep. Yet, as you know, there is very little career advancement opportunity in the furniture industry unless you can break through that invisible barrier between sales and sales management. And even then, you must wait until the regional manager leaves, is fired, or relocates to HQ. This was always lingering on my mind, but I stayed in sales.
As the years went by, the more I thought about it, the more I yearned to be a manager because I felt I had a skill set to teach other people about building relationships, and I wanted to develop a sales team. But it was just never going to happen. When the company was taken over, I took a package and left, along with a lot of other great salespeople.
Some of my colleagues across the country went to dealers, others went to other manufacturers: I have a couple of friends who even opened their own independent rep groups. There were a number of job offers made to me, and I decided to go to work at a dealer as a VP of Sales, where I’ve been for the past year. (And not a MillerKnoll dealer!) This dealer offered me a fantastic base salary, way higher than what I was making at my manufacturer, and my objective was to build out a sales team. I would also be doing some selling since I maintained excellent existing customer relationships. It finally felt like the opportunity for career advancement that I had always wanted!
Now, here I am a year later, and I hate my job. It ends up I don’t like being a manager after all and all that comes with it, especially training and recruiting new salespeople! I’m finding I’m impatient as a leader and miss-selling directly to my customer base! Life was more rewarding when I was selling, less pressure, less stress, and more money! I just earned it differently at a manufacturer, the base was lower, and the incentive was higher. I miss being directly in front of customers and being the star of my own sales!
This, Stephen, brings me to my question: working at this dealership is fine; it’s just being a manager that I don’t enjoy. The owner is the second generation involved with the business, and, as I should have expected, they always want more. More sales, higher profits, faster hiring. The hardest part is recruiting people to come to work here. And, by the way, it’s a good dealership; this is about me! What should I do? I want to go back into sales and not have the pressure of managing a team.
Be Careful What You Wish For
Yes! Many salespeople I interview in the furniture industry tell me the same thing: they start in field sales, but their ultimate goal is to move from field sales into management, and management opportunities in our industry are very limited unless you want to relocate to another city or to corporate headquarters.
For the record, this is not unique to contract furniture. This is simply the way field sales works. Individuals make money by producing revenue (selling) and reporting to a regional sales manager. It’s almost the same in every industry. It is also true that generally speaking, many great salespeople, like yourself, don’t enjoy being managers once they are given the opportunity. One difference I’ve noticed between a great seller and a great manager: When a big project is booked, great managers will give the credit to the team or an individual on the team; a great salesperson wants to get credit for themselves and bask in the limelight for a while. Neither person is right or wrong, just different.
So, it’s essential to recognize that just because you’re unhappy in your new role doesn’t mean that you’re a “bad” manager or that you’re not cut out to be a manager, but just that you are a better salesperson who enjoys finding business and closing deals. You’re excited about entertaining prospects, building client relationships, discovering business opportunities, explaining the virtues of your product and brand, and closing the deal. Instead of being a boss, a good salesperson is basically their own boss. And there is nothing wrong with that! In fact, it’s a lot of freedom with a lot of reward.
If I were you – I might ask my old boss for my job back at #MillerKnoll. From what I read on #LinkedIn, they are hiring everywhere. And I’m told the combined company is way better than what people even thought, according to the MillerKnoll people we interview.
There’s a career lesson here for you, however. Sometimes you end up somewhere you don’t like, so you can learn to appreciate what it is you do like, and that is what you learned over the past year. So now, you’ve learned what it’s like to work at a furniture dealer, but you already know what it was like to work at a furniture manufacturer. That alone was worth investing in the last year of your career.
To answer your question, the way I see it, you have a couple of options. If you like working at a dealer, why not ask your current boss if you could just go into a sales role? Or if you don’t like working at a dealer, find a new manufacturer that you want to work for. If there are things you don’t like about working at a furniture dealer, almost every manufacturer is hiring right now. Go online, go to their websites, go to the employment page, and upload your resume. Everyone is hiring!
It’s a great time to be looking for a new job. And you’ve discovered an important thing about your skillset a lot of people are not willing to admit and learn, which is that there is nothing wrong with loving being a great salesperson!