Are you playing the game?
Do you ignore the inept policies, bad managerial decisions, and unrealistic expectations that come with your sales job in hopes for a brighter future? Do you instead do EXACTLY what you’re told in the manner you’re told to do it? Do you tell management what they want to hear, not how you really feel?
Why We Do It:
You look good to your manager.
You get favored treatment.
You have job security.
You see no other alternative, except the shame of undperformance.
Why We Shouldn’t Do It:
1. You look good only if your numbers are good.
Most of us are only two bad quarters away from a performance improvement plan. Following company protocols rarely, if ever, saves anyone with weak sales results.
2. You take incomplete or bad advice.
If making the sale was as simple as following the 5 step strategy you learned in training, you wouldn’t have a job. A high school kid would be doing it. There is always more to do and learn than management tells you.
3. You often don’t improve your skills.
Doing only what your told is a convenient excuse for not trying anything new. It’s been years since your boss has really sold anything. Have the courage to expand your abilities by talking to customers, reading books etc.
4. You are vulnerable to the next market change.
Selling by the book may pay handsomely now, but when your market changes, you’ll be behind the reps who were thinking ahead.
5. You annoy your customers.
Your customers pay for the value that you and your product bring them. Even the ones that like you have limited patience. Don’t waste their time with anything that doesn’t meet their needs even if it makes the boss happy.
6. You perpetuate the very conditions you complain about.
Can you lose weight without diet or excercise? If you don’t at least TRY to change your company for the better, nothing will happen! The pharmaceutical industry is a great example. For years, many doctors have often not allowed sales reps to talk to them. To make their sales call metrics, pharma reps have, for years, simply put fake calls into their CRM systems. The result? Unrealistic call metrics never go away!
Modern research supports not playing the game as well. For a more in-depth analysis, read on:
Sales is a world of accountability gone wild. When they say “Sell!”, we say “How Much!” Yet we are only as good as our latest sales report. Again, regardless past achievements , most of us are only two bad quarters away from a performance plan. You tell yourself you seek challenge, achievement, and money but more so, you fear failure.
In her book, “Leading Professionals: Power, Politics and Prima Donnas”, Professor Laura Empson says that many companies look for employees they describe as “insecure overachievers”. These employees hide their insecurity behind a tremendous work ethic. Many salespeople suffer from what I call the Oxygen Mask Problem. “Please put your own mask on before attending to children” We’ve all heard the safety message when flying. The Insecure Overachiever does the opposite. He or she thinks that taking care of everyone else will ultimately result in taking care of herself. Except the world doesn’t work that way, especially in sales.
Playing The Game
Playing the game in a sales job means blindly following a set of rules with the hope that your career will be taken care of. As an official game player, you may see others who don’t follow suit as irresponsible or reckless. Ironically, it’s you that is not facing up to reality.
Sales people complain about everything from unfair pay, to manufacturing delays, to the color choices for their next company car. Some complaints are frivolous. Some are not. Either way, when at the next company meeting, a manager asks for feedback, you, the good rule-follower, remain hidden in the crowd refusing to speak up. Then, at the hotel bar later that evening, you unleash your complaints on whomever will commiserate. Congratulations! Send me your jersey size because you are officially playing the game!
You tell yourself there are valid reasons for doing this. It’s what everybody else does. It avoids getting you noticed for being a complainer. It puts you on your boss’s good side. Playing the game paves the way to your next promotion. It’s the best thing to do for you and your family. When the opportunity comes to act independently or speak up you turn it down. Ironically, in an effort to avoid betraying the system, you betray yourself.
Take A Time Out
Change is scary isn’t it? The system you hate is still one you know. Why take a chance when things can get worse? “I’ll just put my head down, do my job, and wait until things get better,” you may think. Unfortunately, things don’t usually get better on their own. Some have thought, “I’ll change the system by first rising through the ranks and then working to make a difference.”
Eric Barker, author of the popular motivational book “Barking Up the Wrong Tree” calls this sequencing. It’s the belief that you can plan your life in large chunks. Life often intervenes with family issues, health isssues, and anything else to send your dreams up in smoke. After downing the huge dose of conformity it takes to be promoted, you will you have the willpower to think of the less fortunate souls you left behind? There’s a reason newly minted sales managers are know for playing by the book. They are pre-selected based on their willingness to do so.
So, am I saying you should flip off the boss at the next meeting or conduct a Ghandi-style hunger strike until conditions improve? Absolutely not! Let’s revisit some reasons not to play the game and explore some ideas of what to do instead.
Reason One: Your Boss Is Human.
Sales people, like craftsmen, see their skills grow with experience. Unlike craftsmen, the material they work with, their customers, change constantly and have a mind of their own. Chances are, the customers and situations your boss dealt with, as a salesperson, are not the same as yours are now. High performing salespeople don’t even make the best managers, according to a large study published by the National Bureau of Economic research entitled, “Promotions and the Peter Principle“. The sales advice your boss gives you has it’s limits. The more experience you have in sales, the less valuable this advice is. Lower your ROI expectations on what your boss tells you.
Reason Two: You are being judged on your results, NOT on how well you follow rules.
What you do means more than a number on a spreadsheet. Like it or not, this is still the way most salespeople are evaluated. Whether or not you agree with the system is irrelevant. Most managers are playing their own version of the game and you have to live with it. In reality, how much you sell trumps everything else. A stellar record with turning in reports and kissing up to the boss rarely saves anyone with low sales numbers.
Reason Three: Remaining silent helps no one.
The Bystander Effect, coined by researchers John M. Farley and Bibb Latané in the 1960’s, is a phenomenon in which witnesses to emergencies are less likely to help a victim when in a crowd. Sound crazy? It’s not when you consider that each individual expects someone else to help out. Ignoring serious problems doesn’t solve them. It’s like telling your 13-year-old to skip all the difficult problems on his Math final. Not bringing up a legitimate concern to management can do a disservice to your real boss – the customer. Don’t forget, he or she makes the buying decision, not your manager. For a more thorough discussion of this point, check out my post “Think BACk: Free Will Is A Bitch!” Speaking of customers, how often do they change their buying habits without you or another salesperson supplying them with a reason? Serious problems don’t solve themselves. YOU need to speak up. It’s that simple.
What you can do about it.
Take responsibility of your own happiness. To address problems you can’t solve on your own, you have three options: bring the issues to the attention of someone who can solve them, decide not to let them bother you any longer, or seek out a better job.
Be thoughtful in the way you present your concerns. Do not make your complaint personal or deliberately insulting. Explain the ramifications of the problem as you see it. How does the problem hinder the sales process or your customer’s business? Finally, be prepared for any response. If you’re miserable and your company shows no signs of improving, look for a better opportunity. The same holds true if your company ignores problems and sacrifices the business you worked hard to win.
Be brave enough to demonstrate how much you care about your company. It’s unlikely you’re alone in noticing what needs improving. You might gain more respect from your peers for doing it.