Your Worst Sales Manager – A Survival Guide

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Think about the worst sales manager you’ve ever had.  What about them irked you the most? Did he compare you unfairly with others?  Was no accomplishment ever good enough?  Did she monitor your every move, never allowing you to ever feel in control?

Relax. Put that person out of your mind. You’ve had worse.  

Our worst manager is probably still with us.

Indeed, that jerk that we slaved under years ago may be gone.  But someone more ruthless may have stepped in to take her place.  It’s the one person with the ability to always slip past our defenses – ourselves. 

Our problem is not in handling poor managers, but in being one.

Think about it.  Managers grow frustrated with employees who can’t take criticism. And, we employees despise being crticized unfairly. Yet, as evil as this atrocity is, we freely commit it on ourselves. We search far and wide for managers who don’t micromanage but ironically expect our days to go perfectly to plan.  We hate when the boss plays favorites while, at the same time, we put others on a pedestal as somehow better than we could ever achieve.

Doesn’t criticism make us better?  

No, improvement does. That doesn’t mean all criticism is bad.  When it originates from and is delivered with respect and care, criticism can be life-saving. The problem is in the packaging. When used correctly, criticism is a fire that can forge us like steel. Shame, on the other hand, is a gas can to be thrown on that fire, only more dangerous.  If we allow it, shame triggers our internal tyrant to take over and magnify any criticism to harmful and unproductive levels.

Self-criticism: we don’t wear it well.

Your worst managers (the external ones) may have also been critical of themselves.  Does that make their actions any easier to take?  Humility and self-acceptance, can free our minds to focus on others. Conversley, what good are we doing anyone else when we down ourselves? We may even risk becoming someone else’s worst boss.  

Don’t criticize, Accept.

Upon admitting we have a problem with negative self-talk, we can start the challenging process of accepting ourselves and others. Psychologiy pioneers like Albert Ellis and David Burns have done some life-changing work in this area.  Anyone who lacks the patience to read their books should subscribe to this blog where I often summarize their findings.

Accepting yourself, regardless of faults and mistakes, will make you both a happier and better person.  And yes, this will help you be a better salesperson as well. We may indeed still be our own worst sales manager.  Now, at last, we can do something about it.


Sales Incentives: Love The Game, Not The Trophy

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Many parents, including yours truly, have made the same mistake.  Let’s call it the Ice Cream Effect.  “Score a goal junior, and we buy you an ice cream cone!”, we might say.  Score two and you get a hot-fudges sundae!  Sooner or later, we find our child needs an ever-increasing supply of ice cream (or trophies, or other incentives) just to play the sport.

Why does this happen? Isn’t generous pay for a hard day’s work, an effective tradition? In the short term, yes. When our sales numbers are good and we’re getting praised, we love sales. Can we blame our leaders for dangling trips, bonuses, and other rewards in front of us?

But, hurry and enjoy your sales incentives quick, before they melt away!  Soon, a new fiscal year arrives and we’re back to square one. Impossible objections, indecisive customers, and service issues, they’re all part of life in sales.  All of a sudden, we not in love anymore. Instead, we’re the kid who hates baseball until he hits a home run.  Here’s the problem: to our employers, our job is to sell.  To our customers (you know, the people who pay for everything), it’s to solve problems.  They don’t care how many rewards we rack up.

And, it’s solving problems that gets us the sales we want.  We need to take the leap of faith required to focus on the job itself, not sales incentives, or even job security. Soldiers, who risk much more than a pink slip, want to see live battle.  ER doctors, who can easily handle patients with sinus infections, want to treat traumatic injuries.  These people want to do the hardest parts of their job.

Perhaps we in sales can learn from them.  


Non-Selling Activities: Let the Salespeople Sell!

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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. 


Big Rewards: Why They Make Us Less Happy

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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.


Outsiders Change Companies, the Rest of Us do What We’re Told

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 “When I’m in charge, things will be different.”

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?  

You get the idea.


Want to Enjoy Sales? Think Creativity Before Closing

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Seth Godin (referring to human nature):

“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:

Ambitious Insecurity*

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.

Learned Greed

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.


*This an adaptation of the term “Insecure Overachievers” used by author, Laura Empson in her Harvard Business Review article entitled “If You’re So Successful, Why Are You Working 70 Hours a Week?”.

Winners Beware! Why Losing is Better Medicine

“Son, if you ain’t first, yer last!

– Reese Bobby (Father of Ricky Bobby) in Talledega Nights

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.


Pharma Rep Confessions – What the Job’s Really Like

Dear Pharma Sales Reps,

Here are my observations from 14 years in the business.  Do you agree?

Six confessions of a long-time pharmaceutical sales rep:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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 with your thoughts.  And, don’t forget to subscribe if you want to hear more!


Always Late? Flow is Your Best Excuse

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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)  


Your Future: Friend or Foe?

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“A coward dies a thousand times before his death…”

– William Shakespeare

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.