John McDonnell: How To Make the Leap

John McDonnell: How To Make the Leap

When you’re unhappy in your current situation, it’s easy to make a career transition–dissatisfaction is a strong motivator. But what if you’ve got it pretty good? So good that you’re vice president of sales at a company you’ve been with for 17 years?

John McDonnell found himself in that exact situation. After 17 years at Alexis Exhibits, Inc., leading the sales team for the provider of trade show exhibits, John became director of business development for Signum Displays, which produces product displays for retailers.

John was interviewed for our podcast, Sales Lead Dog, and shared his thoughts on making the transition.

John’s Career

John started his sales career with a business-to-business provider of long-distance phone service. Not long after, he transitioned to a sales position at Alexis Exhibits, a then-fledgling company run by his stepfather. As that company grew, John took on sales leadership roles, culminating in his position as vice president of sales.

After 17 years at the company, though, he jumped to Signum. How–and why?

Making the Leap

After all that time at Alexis Exhibits, John felt he had accomplished all he could. Although the trade-show exhibit industry is constantly changing, with new trends and styles emerging all the time, he found himself wanting a new challenge.

Making the transition was harder than understanding that he needed to do it. After all, Alexis Exhibits was a family business. But an opportunity at Signum Displays presented itself, and after weighing the pros and cons, he decided just to go for it. He found that contemplating the change was harder than making the actual change.

John’s New Role

John’s departure from Alexis Exhibits was amicable, and he has never regretted making the transition. The Signum Displays position gave him the new opportunity to build a sales team from the ground up. It was a unique opportunity that enabled him to develop new skills.

John says that finding good people is the hardest part of his job.His strategy for building a sales team is to sek young, hungry go-getters with a desire to learn. It can be difficult to tell which candidates have those traits and which ones don’t. In the end, you have to give them a chance, set clear expectations, and coach them. You can often tell within 60 to 90 days whether you’ve made the right choice.

When a sales team member isn’t meeting expectations, though, it’s time to be especially transparent, John says. Let him or her know there is a problem and work together to correct it.

John’s advice to young sales professionals includes:

  • Get out of your comfort zone. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
  • Be your authentic self. Clients can tell if you’re faking it.
  • Don’t worry about what others think of you. Relax and use your natural skill in relating to people.
  • Either you do it or you don’t. Own your stuff.

Thoughts on CRM

John loves customer relationship management tools–a good CRM solution helps him stay organized and on task. In addition, he finds that CRM helps build alignment between sales and marketing, so that the sales team sees marketing as a tool for making their jobs easier.

Final Thoughts

John says the top three contributors to his career success are:

  • Developing the discipline to keep at it
  • Having a short memory and not letting rejection get you down
  • Being authentic: “You’re selling to a human being. Be a human being.”

For more on John’s thoughts about sales as a career, sales leadership, and CRM, listen to his interview on the Sales Lead Dog podcast.