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When I speak with recent college graduates, they tend to want to explore a few careers.  These include marketing, management, becoming a drug representative, public relations, but most of all they want one thing:  that $45,000 pay check.  To a recent college grad, (including myself years ago) this is like making it big time.  If you don’t believe me, feel free to come to the office when we’re recruiting for a big drug company.  I could pitch the position in Latin.  As soon as they sign on the dotted line, little do they know, they may in for a bumpy ride.   Later in this article, I’ll explain the reason why I typically won’t submit a sales representative from a Fortune 500 firm to any company that has less than roughly 1,500 employees.  Every now and then, there is an exception to the rule because a few of America’s marquee companies are great as well as the talent pool in which they possess.  Though, I can’t help myself that when I see the words “Sales” and “3M” next to each other on a resume, I get a little skeptical. 

The Army of Support

First, true sales are learned at a company where not everything is done for you.  Personally, I worked for both a small and large, public firm doing sales.  Not only did I learn a heck of a lot more at the small company, I became more self reliant.  People coming from large companies such as Pfizer, Coca-Cola and AT&T are backed by thousands of marketing professionals, advertising MBAs and even in-house psychologists whose sole job is to figure out why people buy what they do.  Not only that, but the largest companies have the money to make sure that no one can enter their space.  Thus, the sales representative has no real competition constantly attempting a run at their paycheck.  Not all, but some lay back, go with the flow, collect their paycheck and move on.  For them this is fine and I am no one to judge.  As a recruiter, though, the reason I like sales people from a small business is because they constantly have to stay vigil.  They will have to keep on top of whom they’re losing accounts to and use their own creativity to get around any suspicious rebuttals which come their way and much more.  Luckily, for those who embrace all the aspects and challenges that a small business faces, tend to come out on top.

A Luke-Warm Call

The worst thing that most Fortune 500 companies deprive their sales representatives from doing is cold-calling.  Yes, I’m sure that they make cold-calls every now and then.  However, let’s call it spades.   A cold-call from IBM is not exactly a cold-call.  If someone called here from IBM, I would pick it up for a various number of reasons – there could be something wrong with my servers, I could be up for a renewal, there may be a cool new product that I would need, I may have a virus or I just may be flattered, who knows.  It comes down to the fact that I know and respect their company and will speak with them.  Out of the eighteen million companies located in the U.S., this only rings true for less than one thousand.  Also, IBM makes sure that you are targeting high percentage leads.  Companies like Motorola pay millions to analyze the buying patterns of particular social groups, races and organizations, then they use it to their sales team’s advantage.  A real cold-call should take a few months to get in touch with the decision maker and should take work on the sales representatives’ part.  That is why when I glance at a sales resume from a Microsoft, the numbers become somewhat confusing and arbitrary.  

Making Solid Contacts – A Tough Feat

Another thing that is hard for some who sell for Fortune 500 companies (there are some exclusions) is the difficulty in making and retaining solid contacts with outside organizations.  If you’re selling for a one hundred person company, you are in constant contact with your client even after they purchase the product.  At a Hewlett Packard, you sell five hundred computers to a school, don’t see them again and let your army of technical support deal with any problems thereafter.  Case closed.  The impersonal nature of a transaction like this impedes the sales representative’s ability to correctly problem solve and maintain a great relationship.  Many become accustomed to this and, when they move to a small company, their account management skills are lacking and must be brushed up on.  From what some of my clients have reported, a lot of these sales representatives can’t rely on some of their former clients for business.

Watch Out or You Could Become a Lemming

The small room for advancement provides little or no competitive spirit in a Fortune 500 organizations (again there are a few exceptions ie. Lehman’s performance bonuses based solely on numbers, not opinions).  A group of sales employees are typically under one manager (hate her or love her) who has been there for thirty years and who does not want to stir anything up.  This means that until the person above them retires (from what is usually a cushy job with a good pension waiting), you have virtually no shot at a sales promotion.  Even when they do retire, your odds are probably less than ten percent that you’ll get the promotion.  In the first year working at GE, Jack Welsh quit because of this.  Luckily for the company, a manager from a different division persuaded him to stay.  That is why I strongly feel that the personalities who stay at organizations like this for over ten, twenty years are probably not going to exceedingly effective at mid to small size organizations. 

What I Have Seen From the Sales Candidates Coming from Some of These Companies

After you read this, you will understand why I pass over many of the employees from the big companies.  It is not because I don’t think they are great companies nor do I think the people aren’t smart; they some of the best firms and personnel in the world.  I just feel that their corporate culture does not breed sales people who are meant to be outside of the large corporate machine. 

The first incident that comes to mind is when a woman from an investment bank was going to do institutional sales for a client of mine (about 30 person co.).  With no stipulation on how much she sold, the candidate demanded a guaranteed $50,000 bonus at the end of the year.  Why her current company had that policy, I’ll never know, but that is what she needed.  Being a good businessman, my client wasn’t naïve; so, I found someone else for them. 

I also tend to find applicants really hawking on their base salary number.  This is usually the first sentence that comes out of their mouth.  The main reason why is that companies who are at the top always (and I mean always) make it a point to pay their employees $5,000 – $10,000 above market.  You can’t argue as it does sometimes help them procure the best talent.  This is fine.  Though, it becomes a different ball game if you’re referring to sales.  For one who is truly dedicated to their craft, when looking at the potential upside, commission should play the bigger part.  Due to this fact, with younger professionals, I’ve just found it easier to simply move on to the next candidate.   I don’t have the time or patience to lecture them about some of the possible downsides that come with their current paycheck.  Additionally, if they are afraid to take a five thousand dollar pay cut, someone else will inevitably step up to the plate. 

Furthermore, from the newly and elderly employed, I also always get a sense of dissatisfaction on to how my client’s website is structured.  People don’t understand that companies like Exxon can afford to have a few hundred pages of marketing material and PR writings on their site, have it look super flashy and important.  It could cost the average company thousands of dollars a day to match this.  A lot of people have trouble coming to grips with the fact that not everything is going to be handed to them at a smaller company.  Some can, some are unable to do so.  Those sales people who are unable to do so, get caught in corporate America and are unable to get out.  On a positive note, many enjoy a very successful career, however I occasionally get asked by some clients why I don’t send people from the “big guys” and now you know why.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Sometimes it’s really that simple, isn’t it? I feel a little stupid for not thinking of this myself/earlier, though.

    January 8, 2010
  2. I cannot believe this is true!

    January 9, 2010
  3. Hey, ok, I get it, I guess – but does this really work?

    January 11, 2010

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