What’s In a Name? Job Titles and Your Sales Career

In a world where labels reign supreme, how important is your job title? We explain the surprising and sometimes unexpected effects job title can have on your work performance, job satisfaction, and career trajectory.

When it comes to job titles and their impact on salespeople, there are two general schools of thought Sales VP’s, Sales Managers, and HR leaders tend to embrace. One suggests there are risks to inflating or distorting one’s job title. For example, if you are a Customer Guru it can be difficult to determine if your experience lies in handling customer issues or in initiating sales. Conversely, others see creative and imaginative job titles as simple yet powerful ways to increase employee productivity and creativity. This is known as reflective job titling and has been proven to alleviate job burnout and results in employees feeling more connected to and in control of their work life.

The divide on job titling is substantial: for every article on how creative job titles can increase employee engagement, increase retention, and psychologically motivate employees, there are just as many that argue job title inflation is a senseless and impractical practice. Some experts suggest creative or exaggerated job titles are a meaningful and cost free way to reward employees, leading to a higher performance level. However, just as many qualified dissenters believe that simplicity and consistency are best when it comes to employee job titles.

Here, we investigate the question of job title significance as it pertains to the sales world, where job titles can be particularly arbitrary and subjective. Account Managers, Sales Professionals, Business Development Specialists, Client Growth Consultants, and Telemarketers are all effectively salespeople, yet their titles signify a vast array of roles and responsibilities. Whether you recognize it or not, your job title impacts how you view your role in sales.

Responsibilities

When it comes to the responsibilities that your job title denotes, size and scale of your company are key indicators of the accountabilities of your role. You may serve as a Director of Sales at a company of thirty people, but at a Fortune 500 company, your sales role might best be described as a Regional Sales Manager. If you’re in the tech industry, well known for it’s inventive and outside-the-box operating principles, you may find yourself in a Guru Sales Hacker or Growth Expert role. Descriptive and imaginative job titles have been proven to significantly transform employee attitudes and perceptions about their job after retitling. This can lead to greater emotional job satisfaction and company engagement. Conversely, retitling can create unease because the responsibilities of your position might not translate well to other industries, or not be recognized in the same way that more traditional job titles are.

Laszlo Bock, head of People Operations at Google, explains in his book Work Rules! that he was hesitant to assume his current job title because he felt it failed to accurately portray his human resources expertise. Now, however, he appreciates the way the title signifies his connections to the people that make Google run. Ultimately, your job title will be specific to your industry and company, but you also want it to accurately portray your responsibilities, job functions, and the value you deliver to your organization.

Promotion Opportunities

When thinking about promotion opportunities, both within and outside of the company you currently work for, it’s important to have a clear idea of what metrics your current or future employer will use to measure your adequacy for the role. Think through how you can leverage your current job title as a way to strongly position yourself during an interview or performance review. For example, how has your work as an Account Associate set you up to be a great Account Manager? What are you currently doing as an Associate that will serve you as a Manager? The more directly you can draw links between job titles, the more authoritative you will be in your candidacy for the more senior role.

While job titles may appear to be only one small facet of your role in an organization, job title effects who applies for a role and influences who is attracted to the job. In fact, companies use job titles as a recruitment strategy, assuming that candidates who aren’t a cultural fit for their organization will self select out of the job opening. Someone who isn’t interested in being a Sales Guru, who views that job title as too frivolous or jokey, probably won’t fit into the other aspects that comprise the corporate culture. This is something you should consider when researching organizations as a potential employee.

companies use job titles as a recruitment strategy, assuming that candidates who aren’t a cultural fit for their organization will self select out of the job opening

Performance Measurement

The markings of uncommonly good sales organizations are that they are organized, disciplined, and results oriented, with high levels of employee accountability—all of which include well defined rubrics of performance measurement. According to the Peter Principle, however, eventually employees will reach a position where they lack specific competencies. While they will likely not receive further promotions, they will operate in a position where they are inadequate to the demands of the job.

Your job title is what ultimately defines your work accountabilities

Naturally, there is a direct relationship between the Peter Principle and job title because your job title is what ultimately defines your work accountabilities. This makes it even more important to be clear about job title when entering an interview or performance review.

Job Satisfaction

There are strong relationships between organizational commitment and job satisfaction. Organizational commitment can be understood as an individual’s desire to remain part of the same company, even in the face of new job opportunities. It also represents how closely you personally align with the company’s culture and vision.

Evangelia Katsikea et al. published a study explaining that a company’s ability to influence the attitudes and satisfaction levels of its employees is critical to an organization’s success. It further explains that this is particularly true for the sales division of an organization because sales serves as the primary way in which to generate revenue. This is important to job titling because it means that employers will generally be open to how you as an employee want to title your role. In fact, we have seen at Peak that employers are very flexible when it comes to job titles. Hiring Managers often ask us for advice in terms of titling positions because they understand that they can be, again, depending on size, somewhat arbitrary to an organization but also highly important to an employee.

The study also found that the more autonomy, variety, and feedback you receive from your job, the more likely you are to experience job satisfaction. In their research on export sales managers (the primary subjects of their study), job autonomy, variety, and feedback are positively correlated to job satisfaction: a key indicator of employee commitment to a company. One factor in job satisfaction rests on your attitude and feeling toward your job title. The more connected you feel to your title, whether as Account Executive or Sales Guru Extraordinaire, the more likely you are to be engaged in your role.

Irrespective of your level of seniority or industry, your job title influences your perception of yourself, your stress levels in the workplace, and your company to a significant degree.

So How Important Are Job Titles in Sales?

There are those who believe in the psychological benefits of creative and inflated job titles, and others who see value in levelling the playing field and creating an environment of employees driven by factors other than hierarchy.

As an employee, job titles are an integral part of how you understand and differentiate the workforce. They are powerful social symbols and have a surprisingly high effect on emotional stress levels. Whether or not you deem your job title as particularly important or worthy of thought,  they are an essential building block of a company’s culture and will ultimately effect how you view your role.

When evaluating how important job title is to you, consider:

  • Your job title should accurately reflect the responsibilities you hold and display the value you add to an organization
  • Job titles influence who applies for open positions: there are links to cultural fit and job title
  • The best sales organizations have clear performance rubrics that directly tie to your job title
  • There are strong relationships between job satisfaction and how accurately you feel your job title reflects your role

To advancing your sales career!

Jasmine Bosch

Content Marketer at Peak Sales Recruiting
Jasmine specializes in B2B and enterprise sales content marketing. She attained a master’s degree at Carleton University, and is a frequent contributor to the Peak Sales Blog.
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