Why do we hire salespeople, at great effort and expense, and ask them to do non-selling work like completing reports?
“Because, aside from selling, that’s what we pay them to do,” is the response I’d expect from many a manager. Still, would you hire a plumber for your sink and ask him to fix a ceiling fan? Even if he agreed, wouldn’t you expect him to get the plumbing work done first?
Just as your Spring lawn looks it’s best when your landscaper isn’t also doing your taxes, salespeople sell more when they’re focused on selling.
If we want salespeople to give us marketing or decision support data, we should pay them for it. In lieu of money, this can mean lowered sales expectations or increased time off.
Seriously, don’t we have to pay for most goods and services of value? Non-selling activities take away from what salespeople are hired to do, sell.
Bigger salaries? Better commissions? Bring ‘em on! Whoever coined the phrase “less is more”, was clearly not in sales where rewards reign supreme.
A few years ago, I interviewed for a sales job with a prominent IT company. The realistic pay expectations offered were multiples higher than my current salary.
You can imagine my elation after both learning this AND being put into the company interview process. What would this new lifestyle mean? A better house, car, or schooling for my kids? “Be realistic! The job’s not yours yet!” I would tell myself. However, a couple of interviews later, I had myself fooled. The job was mine to lose.
Weeks went by with no answer. Then, BAM! Hearing the regretful words from the elusive hiring manager felt like a botched skydive. And, on came the guilt. How could I have gambled away such a bright future? It was past 9pm with a cold, pouring rain outside. I went for a run.
On a smaller scale, big sales rewards can have the same debilitating effect. Managers often want 100% of the sales force to believe they can win a prize given to only the top 5%. And, who can blame them? Inevitably, some us take the bait and chase the dream.
Salespeople need to remember that luck is, and may always be, part of our results. It’s nice to have the opportunity to win big. We just need to remember the money isn’t ours until the check has cleared.
We’ve all thought it at some point. Either we forget or ignore the truth: it takes a hefty dose of conformity to obtain power within most sales organizations. This diminishes anyone’s ability to enact change, unless they get to the top of the pyramid. By then, few understand the challenges of the front line. In your last sales meeting, did the sales managers question policy or promote it? Yes, there are people paid to offer innovative ideas. They’re called consultants.
Even the noblest among us, when setting out to cure a company’s ills, can become infected. The status quo is the conscious choice of your current leadership. Chances are, they’re not inviting you to question it.
Instead, try changing what’s in your power to change: yourself. Want your boss to be less critical? Be less critical of yourself. Want to have more money? Spend less of it. Want to help others?
“If it’s work, they try to figure out how to do less, and if it’s Art they try to figure out how to do more.” – from his TED Youth Conference talk, “Stop Stealing Dreams”
So, by Seth’s definition, what is sales, merely a job or an art? For most of my career, it’s been the latter. Obviously, our quotas and deadlines don’t allow for such silliness. Only recently did I learn that I approached sales non-creatively by choice. Following Mr. Godin’s logic, throughout my career, I naturally did the least amount of selling required. Fortunately, this was not always true. There were times, albeit few, when I liked the job itself, not just the reward.
Surely salespeople can’t be artists? Consider for a moment, that artists, essentially use creativity and skill to express unique ideas. Contrast this with sales, where we find solutions for now and seek to repeat them for other customers. This process works – until it doesn’t.
When a sales solution stops working, tradition is to wait for management to acknowledge the problem and tell us how to revise our approach. As we grow, we learn to use our creativity and communication skills to overcome challenges ourselves. Creativity and skill. Sound familiar? This approach, when effective, can be more enjoyable than copying someone else. Not to mention, it also results in more business and resume-building experience.
Still, it’s easier to grab someone else’s answer to an objection than to formulate one. If being “artistic” in our sales approach is so great, wouldn’t everyone do it all the time? Unfortunately, the following barriers block us from doing so:
Salespeople are often capable of delivering tremendous value, provided they don’t act like box-checking robots. Without knowing it, we can fall victim to the assembly-line mindset. Yes, many of us sell tangible products, but what we work ON, is people. We can’t simply repeat what we say or do expecting the same result from them. Still, we insist on explaining lost sales in terms of adherence to set procedures. As a result, salespeople win promotions based on their deference to current processes instead of their ability to improve them. Even worse, this mentality pervades up the chain of command making creativity a privilege of a high-ranking, ill-informed few.
The culture of sales overtly uses tangible wealth as a measure of success. The more we sell, the more we make, and the better we are. Therefore, we learn that the act of selling has no value, unless accompanied by money. Again, it’s just a job. To make things worse, American culture pressures parents to have high incomes. We acknowledge the need for family time and communication, and answer it with expensive youth sports and vacations. Ironically, these require us to work more and be away from our families. If we simply raise our tolerance for mediocrity, we may find we’re Ok with not having the best of everything. We may even gain more freedom in the process.
Years spent focusing on survival can change us, if we allow it. Quid pro quo is at the heart of the traditional sales mentality. And, more and more of what we do in sales is measured. It’s no wonder salespeople become calculating in their customer, work, and personal relationships! Ironically, this incessant need for fairness robs us of finding it. It’s a problem of mental real estate. The less time we spend measuring ourselves and others, the more time we have to be creative in our jobs.
Outcome Hyper-focus and Irrational Fear
Are you like most others in believing that earning a lot of money automatically makes you a good parent, spouse, or person? In contrast, some of the most popular historical figures (ie. Gandhi, MLK, Rosa Parks), are known for their bravery in doing something new, for the betterment of others, and not for wealth. If you lost your job today, would you instantly become a loser? If you don’t believe you’re worth more than the wealth you generate, why should anyone else? When we’re free from fear, we’re free to create. It’s that simple.
For better or worse, the purpose of salespeople will continue to be revenue generation. We can’t change how others will measure us. Still, it’s impossible to lose a game we refuse to play. We can let others judge us while we continue to work creatively. Jobs, like salespeople, are replaceable. Artists are unique. Therefore, we can ask more of our current employers and the ones we chose to join. This may mean seeking flexibility and freedom over money.
In order to change the current, perform or die culture of sales we must first loosen its grip on our minds. Let’s release ourselves from factory work and embrace creativity. Sales will be nothing more than a job until we do.
It’s easy to love winning and envy winners. That is, until it’s us on the podium. In the meantime, we like to play the victims of circumstance. Do we ever consider how much we, as losers, have to gain?
Consider the following pitfalls of winning:
Winning never lasts
The one thing in common with all wins – in sales, in sports, in career pursuits – is brevity. The victory party may last for days, but it always ends. The money gets spent. The trips get taken.
If winning was measured solely by what is kept for the long term, everyone’s true prize would be expectations. “Nice job! Let’s see it again – only this time faster, better, or more,” is what we eventually hear from others and ourselves.
The immediate aftermath of winning feels a bit like throwing your own birthday party. We seek reassurance from others that our accomplishment is worth celebrating. Many salespeople will attest, the lower the value delivered by a product, the harder one must work to sell it. As I write this, I just finished the third quarter at over 114% goal attainment. High value products, like the one I currently represent, are easy to sell. But, besides being able to pay more bills, what did I accomplish?
Winning helps us deceive ourselves
The most valuable reward I’ve ever received in sales was the permission to think of myself differently. My first good year gave me a clue that perhaps I wasn’t an impostor after all. Maybe I actually had learned how to do this job? Maybe I was even…an expert?
Unfortunately, just as thinking I was an impostor was ironically false, so was the value in being an “expert”. Dr. Carol Dweck, has gotten much well-deserved attention for her research into mindsets. A fixed mindset entails believing that one’s abilities are static. We’re all novices until, one day, we magically become experts. Therefore, the entire game of life is pass/fail. Conversely, a growth mindset comes with the belief that there’s always something new and interesting to learn. Happiness is about remaining a hopeful student and not becoming a disillusioned master.
Winning distorts reality
“There are no moral victories!”, is a common slogan recited by coaches and athletes alike. Eliminating failure as an outcome sounds good in TV interviews and on Investor conference calls. In truth, they might as well say, “I want success so badly that I will use magical powers to get it!” In reality, all the begging and manipulation of 1000 salespeople can’t force a customer to act. Therefore, in sales, failure IS always an option.
Yet, we persist in thinking we have control over others. As a result, we sweat and stress in the name of winning. This hyper-focus closes us off to our own empathy for the customer and problem-solving creativity. While we are busy go-getting, our customers are for-getting both who we are and what we sell.
It’s time to re-visit losing
Winning gets us noticed. It might even earn you a promotion. If you like, it’s the ultimate validation of whatever you did before. So why change? Just keep being an expert! This is the downfall of many salespeople. We can’t look beyond our wins. Instead of improving, we stagnate.
In response to the traditional, closed-minded lust for winning, we can develop a secret crush on losing. This means admitting that the number next to our name on the sales report is an outcome, not an identity. Remove self-judgement, and losing becomes an opportunity to truly learn and become better.
Here are my observations from 14 years in the business. Do you agree?
Six confessions of a long-time pharmaceutical sales rep:
Achievement is highly overrated. I’ve been both in the bottom 15% of rankings and at the top. I’ve earned bonuses as high as $47k and as low as zero. Every success felt like a lucky break. I was almost never present when a prescription was being written. Plenty of doctors told me they were excited to prescribe but never followed through. Others, who I thought hated my product (or even me) became my biggest supporters. The money is nice, but quickly spent.
Doctors don’t care nearly as much as we want them to. I’ve sold lifestyle medicines, chronic medicines, and life-saving rescue medicines and it’s been mostly the same. Doctors typically DO care about their patients. The drugs they use, however, are like tools in a carpenters hand. Unless they cause trouble or fail to work, they’re largely an afterthought.
Out of sight, Out of mind. For many physicians and their staff, their responsibility is to TELL the patient the right thing to do – not to ensure it gets done. They may prescribe the medicine you sell but give little care to whether or not the patient fills the script.
For the patient and the office, money trumps all. We reps know this. Our managers know it too but are sometimes too afraid to say it. Patients don’t see medication as being a matter of life and death until they are in pain or are dying. Medicines that make them prettier, better in bed, or (sadly) give them a buzz, are worth cold, hard cash.
The only thing that makes you an expert, to management, is your numbers. Therefore, never get too full of yourself. We’re all a couple bad quarters from some kind of probationary status.
If you judge yourself using sales acheivement, you will never fully like your job, or yourself. Whether or not you’ve finally become an expert is a question only you can answer!
Congratulations! You win the Ritalin award for reading the whole article!
Feel free to comment below or send me a note at Meaning2work@gmail.com with your thoughts. And, don’t forget to subscribe if you want to hear more!
Isn’t is ironic? On one hand, we blame poor time management when someone else arrives late. On the other, one could waste a lot of time reading up on how to manage time. What if wasting time could be valuable? What if our tardiness is trying to tell us something? The answer may lie in what diverted our attention and “made us” late in the first place.
Distractions – they’re NOT all created equal
It’s common to read and hear about the deleterious effects of distraction. Most of us agree, it kills productivity and can put us in serious danger (ie. distracted driving). But, can we blame social media, texting, and other forms of light entertainment for every missed commitment?
Society trains us to regret every digression from what we’re “supposed” to be doing. Are we procrastinating? This would explain why we avoid doing the things we hate. What about when we miss the commitments we tolerate or even look forward to? Surely some stronger force must be at work to tear our attention away? Think of the favorite hobby or activity that immerses us so fully an hour can pass without notice. Do we feel guilty afterward because of the commitment we missed or the enjoyment we felt in doing so?
Flow – A Good Kind of Distraction
There is a mental state we enter we enter when doing something that grabs our attention, causes us to forget time, and brings us sheer joy. Social scientist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, calls it “Flow”. Think of how we feel enjoying intense hobbies or performing jobs we love. There’s an unmistakeable focus that can be seen on the face of Olympic athletes, surgeons, musicians, and others enjoying their craft. It’s as if a bomb could go off behind them and they’d scarcely notice. They are experiencing flow.
Think of flow like going to one’s happy place. One can access incredible reserves of energy when in this state. “Even if I’m tired I always find the energy to …”, might be a good way to describe a flow activity. Needless to say, they are usually pursuits we are good at. Positive Psychology pioneer, Martin Seligman, goes further to explain that, when people use their strengths everyday, their overall level of hapiness improves. And, happier people are healthier and more productive at work.
The People’s Joy Experience
Make no mistake, we have good reason to regret lost productivity. Most of us need to work to survive and that entails being on time and on task. And, we can’t just quit our jobs to knit sock monkeys or do whatever else we truly love. That’s the stuff of millionaire entrepreneurs and celebrities, right?
Not necessarily. Flow activities don’t have to require career changes or large-scale interruptions. Assuming one works 40 hours a week, and sleeps 7 hours a night, we have over 175 days left over for family and flow. We all have free time whether it be in the morning, evening, or lunch hour. Ironically, (again) encorporating flow into ones life may just be a matter of time management.
The clock is ticking!
We know we have plenty of time to experience flow, and that’s why we put off doing it. Still, forty minutes of screen time per day can use up almost 11 days per year (Thank-you Apple!). Our daily commutes may also steal as much or more time. Our hobbies are never going to demand our attendance. It’s only when we remember time’s scarcity that we free it up for things that make us happy. Until corporations allow us mandatory flow time (I’ll pause for laughter), we’ll have to carve out our own. And, we can also choose to cut ourselves slack when we miss commitments for good reasons like flow.
Our charge is not to be selfish and blow off obligations. Instead, we can re-commit to being more happier and motivated versions of ourselves, all by allowing ourselves to flow.
Now, stop feeling guilty, get out, and waste some time! (In the right way, of course)
We humans area future-oriented species. Upcoming events come to mind, not just in sound and light, but in sentiments. We assume what we feel now about the future to be a mere sample of what we’ll feel when it arrives. Often we fail to notice ourselves using phrases like, “I’ll be so happy when…”, or “I would die if..” to describe how we will feel about something. Even though we can’t plan our emotions like calendar entries, we still try. It’s a phenomenon known as Impact Bias.
It’s Not Our Fault
Thanks to evolution, humans can, at will, think of the future and feel it’s anticipated emotions. Perhaps, when our ancestors began imagining the pain of a fall from a great height, they stopped jumping off cliffs. Sadly, this evolutionary safeguard isn’t the gift it once was. In today’s domesticated world, impact bias hurts rather than helps us. Although most of us no longer fear being attacked by a lion on the Serengeti, we still find the future too agonizing (or exhilarating) to pass up.
For example, our fear of poor job performance may be driven by the imagined sting of a manager’s reprimand. Interestingly, to our bodies, the emotions experienced in the imagined event are as real as any felt here and now. It’s as if we’ve fool ourselves into thinking the event has just taken place, every time we think of it. And, impact bias is not restricted to negative events. In a similar fashion, the mere purchase of a lottery ticket can elicit for us the joy of winning instantaneous wealth.
Herein lies the problem: our brains are not very good at predicting our true feelings in the future. The scorn of a boss. The joy of a win. When these events actually occur, our emotions tend to be less intense or long-lasting than we imagined. How can this be? Our emotions about the future are the culmination of oft-replayed scenarios in our mind. Most of us will never experience winning the lottery once – let alone, over and over, until we hear the results.
Even When it’s Good it’s Still Bad
Quickly, we let the highs and lows of current events wear off, replaced by new imaginings of the future. This pattern, albeit natural, is not helpful. Stress, fear, and other negative emotions carry well-documented negative side effects on our bodies. Why should we choose to feel them over and over?
With positive impact bias, we set ourselves up for disappointment. Even wedding days, when they arrive, are fraught with feelings of nervousness and relief, in addition to the joy we expect. It’s simply not possible for our most anticipated events to live up to our internal hype. We waste hours immersed in the ecstasy of winning better jobs, owning dream houses, or finding ideal mates.
Make Friends with Now
So, our challenge is to plan for the future without emoting for it. None of us are immune to impact bias. Our best course is to recognize it and rationally dial back our emotions. We don’t control what we’ll feel in the future. Let’s choose not to bury the feelings we could have about the present under worries or daydreams.
Otherwise, we risk missing the most important emotions – the real ones.
Ever have your spleen with cut out with kindergarten scissors?
Anyone who’s lost a bid for a dream job may consider the above statement a minimization of how they feel. Exaggerating aside, we’ve all been there and never want to experience it again. And, an endless stream of recruiter listicles (ie. The Seven Must-Do’s Before Your Next Interview) do little to prevent the pain. To retain our sanity, let’s disregard them for now. Instead of gaming the decisions of fickle hiring managers let’s focus on what we can control – our own thoughts, feelings, and actions.
The following are common mistakes we make during and between interviews, and after the process ends. Avoiding them will not guarantee us the job. Then again, that may not be what we want anyways. Read on to learn why.
Mistakes DURING the Interview Process:
Missing Negative Signs
For a hiring manager, the purpose of an interview is to measure our worthiness for the job. It’s a problem when we, the candidate, rely on the interview for the same thing. When we only seek validation, we often fail to catch negative signals because too afraid to see them. Did the interviewer give us positive verbal and nonverbal cues? Did he proceed with a head-down, list-following approach or did he show real interest? Managers hire people they trust. Often this equates to someone they know. They tend to bypass formality for candidates they really like and follow procedure for interviewees who are placeholders (additional candidates used to make the interview process appear legitimate when a target candidate has already been selected). Sadly, any of us can fulfill the placeholder role at any time in the interview process.
Mistaking Friendliness for Approval
Surprise! We may not be the only person in the room looking to be liked. That’s right, hiring managers want validation as well. And, there’s no easier way to win someone’s favor than praise. Some interviewers are looking simply to get through the process unscathed. Making everyone feel like a viable candidate may be their way to accomplish this. Isn’t the ego are marvelous thing? Outwardly, it may be difficult to distinguish between an interviewer’s false approval and real interest in our candidacy. Enthusiastic praise in an interview should trigger our focus to sharpen. At this point, we should ask the interviewer for specifics on how our the skills they just complimented apply to the job itself. Any vagueness or hedging in the interviewer’s answer should hint that their praise is hollow.
Mistakes Made In-Between Interviews:
The Neverending De-brief
Did they like my answers? Did make sense to tell that joke? Was it a positive sign when the interviewer said _________? MAKE IT STOP! In-between interviews, we often analyze our situation into oblivion. In truth, we know we had one or more interviews in the past and little more. What they really thought of us and our answers is likely to remain a mystery – even if we get the job. Instead, we need focus on what we learned about the job and our prospective manager and how both stand to change our life moving forward.
Choosing Fairy Tales over Nightmares
Wouldn’t it be great to be the chosen candidate and live happily ever after? Too often, we lose ourselves in this fairy tale and, in doing so, fail to consider the prospective job’s potential to suck. It’s the job search equivalent of love at first sight. Don’t know the benefits? No worry, they’re probably good! And, surely the manager will always be as friendly as she was in the interview! How easily we chose to create the architecture of our careers in crayon. In an alternate reality, aka the REAL one, we can chose to look at the downside of a potential job MORE than the upside. Until we have a formal offer, the default answer to our candidacy is always NO. Accepting this reality frees us to make an objective comparison between the shiny and new possible job and our horrible, boring, current one. Making friends with the nightmare of not getting the offer is always the better path.
Mistakes Made Post “Dream Job” Loss:
Never Deciding Whether or Not We Truly Wanted the Job
This is the post-mortem result of fairy tale fantasizing. If we never decide whether or not we want a job, we risk forever mourning it’s possibilities. In reality, the position may have made us miserable. Denying this is futile. We know, without question, winning the lottery brings life-changing riches, yet we don’t beat ourselves up over losing. Why should we persecute ourselves over jobs we never have wanted? There’s no universal law that dictates that we must win every job offer, good and bad. Having the courage to formulate an opinion ahead of getting an offer releases us from the grip of hubris.
Neglecting to Find Closure
Recruiter wisdom often lacks the sensitivity we require after not winning the perfect job. Typically they recommend thanking every one under the sun and casually annoying them over time to “stay on their radar”. If we’ve already decided we don’t want the job, why bother? Isn’t our time better spent on the lost jobs we really do want? In the rare cases when the job fit and opportunity are superb, staying in contact with the employer and fighting to work for them is the right course. Suffice to say, if we don’t want the job now that we’ve lost it, and had some time to reflect, it probably wasn’t right for us in the first place.
One last thing, believe it or not, it can be extremely helpful to find out who actually won the job. Often the answer is only a quick LinkedIn search or grape-vine conversation away. Doing so can open a window into the hiring manager’s decision process. Sometimes the “other candidate” is truly more qualified. Other times, you can breathe a sigh of relief. You just avoided working for a manager not competent enough to recognize how wonderful you are!
Isn’t it easy to regret our expanding waistlines, expensive bar tabs, and ever-growing credit card statements? Easier still is to blame these problems on work-related stress. After all, overeating, excessive drinking, and uncontrolled spending do help us cope in the short term.
Fortunately, more and more of us are growing up and learning to deal with anxiety in ever-productive ways. Nowadays, to release the pressure, we may stop at the gym or yoga studio after work. Some of us may boldly sacrifice carbs in the name of clarity. Others relish a long talk with a friend. And, if we’re lucky, our employers may even support these positive changes with wellness programs.
The result? We’re happier and healthier. For now.
If the act of coping solved problems this story would be over. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. We can improve ourselves in many ways and treat what immediately ails us. But, at what price? Are we truly fixing our problems or just delaying them? Let’s review both the benefits and drawbacks of some our most popular stress-busters.
Exercise and Diet
Look no further for reasons why so many of seek better physical health. The improvements in mood, mental health, intellect, energy level, and life expectancy gained are well-documented. Additionally, both activities allows us to meet and connect with friends in new ways.
Meditation, Yoga, and Mindfulness
These practices provide a serene, comforting environment in which to reflect or escape. Either way, one can emerge from a session with a greater clarity and perspective on life’s struggles. Some participants even claim to experience major life changes, others are just happy for the break from the maelstrom of life.
Support from family, friends, and co-workers
Most of us have at least one family member or friend who truly wants us to be happy. Sometimes, they can relate to the angst that grinds us. Other times, they can listen and smile. For the some, this connection can literally make the difference between life and death. It’s hard to argue against the benefits of both having and being a close friend. Ideally, these people accept us unconditionally – not something we can ever expect from an employer.
Meditation, Yoga, and Mindfulness
While potentially effective, fans of these practices must make sacrifices. Classes take time and effort to attend and they are not cheap. One can spend $100, $500, or more per month. Those of us with the resources may consider this money well spent. For others, partaking in these activities means diverting resources from other parts of life – including family.
Exercise and Diet
It’s difficult to debate positive feedback loop of feeling better. A wise man once said, “One thing that you can say about life is that it beats the alternative!” Consider, however, are we treating the causes of stress or only the symptoms? Running, one of the least expensive workouts, still requires requires the right clothing and time investment. Hate running? The cost of gym memberships can be as high as we’d like to spend. Diets? Programs like Weight Watchers also come at a price. Even dieter’s going solo still face cost barriers. Compare the price of a trip to Whole Foods to the Arby’s carry out. Unless one lives on a farm, cheap translates to unhealthy when it comes to food.
Support from family, friends, and co-workers
Despite the closeness of our bonds, the best of intentions don’t always create the best advice. Our friends may tell us what we want to hear in order to preserve the relationship. No matter whether they employ a traditional or tough-loving approach, family members may do us more harm than good when they can’t understand or empathize with our suffering. And, even further disabling, the overuse of this support channel can render us unable to solve our own problems.
The Two Part Stress Solution: Employers
In short, companies need to prioritize employees over investors. Management’s insatiable desire to impress forges dangerous expectations. Costs must always go down and top-line sales must always go up. Like pennies dropped from a skyscraper, small, easy decisions made at the top, rain onto ground level workers like boulders. In this way, the need for coping mechanisms, positive and negative, are created. Companies might not need wellness programs if their employees were “well” in the first place.
The overly aggressive marking up of sales forecasts causes sandbagging (overly conservative downgrading of forecasts by salespeople) and vice versa. Leaders can end this cycle by telling investors the truth and not what they want to hear. Why risk the health and livelihood of one’s own employees in order to maximize someone else’s return on investment?
The Two Part Stress Solution: Employees
If one needs to become a marathon runner or yoga expert simply to re-charge for one’s career, a change may be in order. As employees, we need to be aware of the choices we make. Our job. Our lifestyle. Our career. We may not like them, but we still choose them.
And stress? However violently we force it from our minds, we still tend to leave a door open. No can force us to expect perfection. Instead, we are to blame. We chase it like an addict chases their first high, alluring but never attainable. Our best option is to make peace with our mediocre selves and enjoy the process of getting better.