The Stoic Salesperson: All Stress Is Internal (And Why That’s A Good Thing)

Stress and the Stoic Salesperson
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Just to reiterate my previous post, no, we don’t control other’s and the decisions they make.  And, that can be tough to swallow, especially when we must watch our friends, family, and customers make bad decisions. It’s at these moments when Stoic Philosophy implores us to take control, not of others, but ourselves.  A primary example is job-related stress.

In Sales, a bad year or even a bad quarter can put us out of a job. Despite giving everything we have, we still lose deals, and when we do, it can hurt.  Rest assured, it’s normal to feel this way at first. True Stoic Philosophy is not about eliminating our emotions, but getting them under control.

Although it’s unrealistic to never experience sadness or anxiety, some salespeople waste too much of their day anticipating and reliving their losses.  Whether it’s the firing that never comes, or the sale that got away, we can trap ourselves in a cycle of reliving an event, over and over.

In this fashion, we waste valuable energy stressing over events we did not, or will never, control.  Even worse, we confuse work and worry. If you believe the late Andy Grove, the one-time CEO of Intel who wrote a book entitled Only the Paranoid Survive, we all get paid to worry about the future.   Perhaps paranoia is a prerequisite for top executives.  For the rest of us, it’s a recipe for mediocre effort and even burnout. 

Therefore, it’s essential for salespeople realize the choices they make every day.  How do we want to feel, stressed or empowered?  Paralyzed with fear or ready to take action? The Stoics would point out that our day-to-day mood, and the resulting choices we make, are some of the few things in life we DO control.  It’s important to understand, one can choose not to feel stress and still be effective or even excel at work.

So, who would choose a career frought with stress and unhappiness?  Only those who don’t realize or believe they have a choice.    Ultimately, when we acknowledge that stress comes from within, we take back control and fuel ourselves to sell with more vigor and enthusiasm than stress could ever allow.


The Stoic Salesperson: You Lost! Why it’s Not Your Fault

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You didn’t win President’s Club!

In your place onstage stands someone else shaking the hands of senior leadership claiming to be better than you.  In this moment you want nothing more than for it to not be true. No, you can’t change the numbers from the past and you don’t have to fall back on excuses or bitterness. Instead the key to your come back may lie in Stoic Philosophy.

First, ask yourself, was it your name etched onto the sales trophy at the beginning of the year?  Was winning this year’s sales contest a simple matter of obtaining what’s rightfully yours? Obviously not. So how then can you lose something you never owned?  

Every sale requires a choice, one made only by one person, the customer.  If you don’t believe me call your biggest account and ask if you can make buying decisions for them.  As you can see we in sales exert influence, not control, over our customers.  

A core tenant in Stoic philosophy is knowing what we do and don’t control. In the end your sales results are the output of many decisions for and against your product.  How many of these choices do we control? Zero. Come to think of it, how many customer decisions did our higher-performing co-worker control this year? Zero.

Unfortunately, most of us aren’t evaluated directly on our influence, but on our sales results.  One of these data points is easy to measure; the other is not. And again, if customer influence and sales results were one in the same, we’d sign the sales contracts ourselves. Is it unfair to be judged based on decisions of out our control? Maybe, but Stoicism teaches that feeling upset by this fact is also, our choice. 

Therefore, instead of personal wins and losses, you now have permission to focus on customer wants and needs. After all, isn’t that what we’re here for?


For a free and inspiring lessons on Stoicism, check out Ryan Holiday’s podcast, The Daily Stoic.  

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.


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.


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!


Can I Sell You a Lifeboat? The True Cost of Dream Careers

Perhaps the line between empowering guru and charlatan isn’t as clear as we think? We needn’t look any further than the hucksters of dream jobs that typically involve being your own boss and working from home. They float on the fringes of our ship-wrecked careers selling what else? Life boats.

Their sales pitch is success. After-all, look at what they accomplished! Here’s the problem. Sellers of quit-you-day-job, become famous, be your own boss type courses are smart enough not to make promises that legally make them liable. They make NO gaurantees that following in their footsteps take you to the same destination. They rely on our frustration with current circumstances and need for relief to drive our decision to purchase.

Then, after we’ve bought, we instantly become to them a liability. For most unethical gurus, teaching us is merely an item on a to-do list that needs to get done. Unless we can be sold something more, every minute spent on us is seen as a necessary expense.

Good Intentions – Poor Vision

One can’t broadly implicate all marketers of ineffective advice as wolves-in-yuppies-clothing. In many cases, they may truly believe in the knowledge they impart. After all, look what they accomplished!

Unfortunately, they may have one or more blind spots that cloud their decision-making. One blind spot may be the fact that lucky circumstances played a role in their success. Another could be that the marketplace that made them successful has changed to being less favorable to people following in their footsteps. A more concerning blind spot would be a success guru’s lack of awareness that their own achievements are tenous and based on short-game thinking. This refers to a hyper focus on short-term success over long-term goodwill, Seth Godin (an example of an ethical purveyor of advice), summed it up well in his blog.

A guru can have one or more blind spots and still have the best of intentions. Although they truly want to help us, they are, at times, misguided in their execution of that help.

Our Responsiblity as Advice Seekers

This is where we, as advice seekers, can benefit from caveat emptor or buyer beware approach. Wouldn’t most people be gainfully working for themselves if a single book or online course was all it took? This problem isn’t limited to infomercials or the online marketers either. Universities accross the country, from the local strip mall to the Ivy League offer courses in fields where success is statistically unlikely.

Perhaps, in some cases, the way training courses are marketed is all that needs to change. A more honest approach may be to promote some careers as side gigs or even hobbies. Do we want a world where the value of knowledge is measured only by return on investment? Shrinivas Rao recently conducted an interesting interview with William Deresiewicz on the Unmistakable Creative podcast on this very topic. A class on septic tank clean-up may impart skills that are quite marketable. Why can’t it exist side-by-side in a college course catalog with Selfie Photography 101?

Let’s not fail to ask ourselves, why we’re looking for advice in the first place.
Beyond the solving the problems of our current situation, what are we really looking for? An escape from stress? A feeling of legitimacy? To feel happy again? If so, click here to take my miracle course! (Just kidding! I had to do it.)

Seriously, what we really are seeking may be found in another source. That could be advice from a therapist or coach. By all means, we can quit the day job if we want. It may help first just to see if that’s the real source of our problems.

For me, no quick decision to quit my sales job was needed. What I found a couple years ago was that my perspective needed adjusting. As a result, I was able to grow from needing a quick career escape to patiently planning a career migration. No, things haven’t all gone perfectly for me since then. However, I can confidently say I feel much happier about myself and my work than had I not made the change.

As for anyone selling advice, yes there will the charlatans selling us inflated and false hopes. Reading uplifting stories sometimes focuses us too much on results. See my last post on measurement for more thoughts on this. We buy their courses because want the same happy ending they had. I’d like to see the tellers of miracle, David-and-Goliath-like, success stories give more consideration to how realistic and repeatable their success actually is.

Therefore, we can all benefit from tempering our expectations of the people we pay to teach us and question any story sounds too Cinderella-like to be true. We can choose instead, to keep our day jobs, for now, and measure success in joy not dollars.


Feel Like You Never Measure Up? Blame Claude Monet

“The next four weeks will feel like taking a sip from a fire hose!” I remember the trainer telling us on the first day of sales training. It was 21 years ago. I had just landed my first real job, in sales for a large software company. He was warning us about the onslaught of information he was about to deliver. All I remember is wondering how I would take it all in and make sense of it.

Today, we have more data at our disposal than ever and less time to interpret it. Reason being, we have more tools than ever to observe, measure, and record information. Facebook was started as a quest for one crucial piece of data: which young women on the Harvard campus were single.

Using the same tool, we as users, measure the popularity of every picture and hilarious or profound message we post. Companies also analyze and record what we post, like, and view. Again, the net result is that they have more data on us as ever. And, need we speculate on how much of our personal information the government has?

At work and at home, we tell ourselves that more information gives us more insight. We make better decisions, and have better connections with others because of it. We reason that simply having more data on the actions of employees and consumers must , in itself, prove it’s value.
It’s this need to make sense of all the data that can cause us to betray ourselves and others.

Measurement to Metrics – from the essential to the absurd

Measuring as a way of collecting data has been the key to humanity’s survival. How else would early man know how many buffalo to bring back for the tribe?

Today, you car’s speedometer keeps you from sailing over a cliff. Your alarm clock lowers your likelihood of needing unemployment benefits. We put our lives in the hands of measurements every time we step on plane. I rest assured knowing somebody knows what all those gauges mean!

Sports, it can argued, are essentially a form of measurement. Which team is better than which? Take a peak at a replay of an old football or baseball game and what will be missing from the screen? Many of the stats we see today (eg Yards per catch, on base percentage, etc). Heck, you may even be hard-pressed to find the score! Given our propensity to bet on sports, a whole industry providing “valuable stats” is sprung into being. You now can know how your favorite football team is likely to perform coming off Thursday night loss, on the road, in the snow.

Measurement and the collection of data has even seeped into our art. We no longer have talent shows. We have talent competitions in which the TV viewers rate performances. Why? Because we can! When watching a TV performance, I’ve never wondered what the rest of America is thinking. Call me a Luddite! Perhaps the fact that we have access to new information implies it must be important?

Thanks to technology, we have the ability to measure more than ever at work as well. Some of us may not be aware that spreadsheets were actually created on paper at one time. Today, there’s no edge of the page to prevent us from creating more columns for more things. And, since we have computers to do all the calculating, we can make new measurements combining two or more current ones. This beckons us to increase the complexity of our measurements.

Over time, we’ve replaced “measurements” with the more sophisticated sounding “metrics”. In the course of performing our jobs, we’ve begun to measure many more things. Salespeople arent’t just measured by their sales. They’re measured with things like sales call to close ratios and calls per day. Physicians aren’t measured by how many patients they cure or see. Their performance is measured in RVU’s or relative value units (a way of determining how valuable the work they do is to the hospital).

So, we live in a cycle of ever-increasing metrics, which create more data, which in-turn creates the opportunity for more metrics. Clearly, we’re beyond the point of measuring for survival, but who cares? More data legitimates the need for more managers to analyze it. It gives viewers a reason to tune in. It tells how much we are “liked”.

Monet-tizing Data

American businesses have learned how to take the data gleaned from metrics and turn it into revenue, an act referred to as “monetizing”. YouTube is no longer just a sharing service for videos of amateur stunts or people’s cats. It’s a sophisticated tool for advertising to select groups of people. Your video watching habits tell advertisers exactly what ads to send you. Sometimes this works and you see a video for something you’d actually consider buying. Many times it doesn’t.

Statistical science gives us ways to compare information and make legitimate sense of it. The problem is that most of us are not scientists. In the absence of verifiable statistical methods, we still try to make sense of all the data we have. Smiling at our own genius, we often draw conclusions from information like someone who is walking backward in order to take in an Impressionist painting. I call this act “Monet-tizing”.

The nice thing about metrics and the knowledge they provide that they make you feel smarter. You now see correlations between things you never noticed before. Things make more sense, or so we tell ourselves. Stories abound about companies finding one crucial metric that helped them create a turn-around. They found the Monet painting in the data, aka. the meaning of it all.

Paradoxically, the more we want our data to tell us, the less it actually delivers. Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, is so insightful, that I don’t mind being the hundredth or so writer to reference it. In the book, Dr. Kahneman cites several ways that we commonly misinterpret data. He refers to them as cognitive biases. They illuminate why, after we collect our data, we often draw faulty conclusions. We may see patterns in the data that paint, for us, the picture we’re looking for.

In reality, our brains have evolved to find what we we’re looking for and disregard the rest, giving us a skewed view of reality. Sometimes, we draw conclusions when we don’t have enough data. In short, there are many ways we can misunderstand the information we have and it’s implication to our work.

Why We Need to Find Pretty Pictures

Despite technology, our basic needs of food, shelter and companionship haven’t changed. These needs aren’t the result of rational choices. They’re our needs as human animals, not human beings.

How well am I doing at my job? How much money will I make this year? How much closer am I to winning that promotion? These are the typical metrics we put above all else at work. I call these our core metrics. They feed our basic needs.

To achieve some desired level in our core metrics, we happily place more metrics on the outside world than on ourselves. This includes managers critiquing a growing list of metrics on their employees. The popular business mantra ,“I can’t control what I can’t measure” gets inverted to mean that everything measurable is controllable.

We rely on a multitude of external metrics to insure we deliver on our core metrics. Beneath all the data, however, we’re all still anxious sports fans, holding our hands in prayer, hoping we win the metrics game. We’re hoping that the next article we write explodes in popularity or our next business venture is an overnight success.

Measurement Madness

On a personal and deeper level. We often fail to realize that we look for, in measurements, self-validation. We want our efforts in our work to tell us that we have value. We want our work to prove we are worthy of praise, respect, love, etc. We crave what Cognitive Psychology expert Albert Ellis called, Conditional Self-Acceptance or CSA.

If CSA, were a mental illness, most of the World’s population would need to check into a health facility. We all have it, to some degree. Just as measurement can keep our lives on track, their overuse can derail us. Nicholas Nassim Taleb, author of Fooled By Randomness, believes that we always have only one true reason for doing everything we do. Everything else is fluff, or useless information we use to justify our decisions.

Simply saying to yourself, “I am a good at my job” without any supporting reasons probably seems irrational. Shouldn’t you have proof of your skill? Some backing evidence, perhaps?

Ironically, it’s the meaning that we assign to the “proof” we seek that is irrational. Saying to myself something like, “I must be popular to truly be a good writer!”, would actually be irrational. There are plenty of popular authors that I don’t care for. Instead, I can decide that I accept my writing as “good” without needing the approval of others. Even better, I could chose not to make my proficiency as a writer as a condition for liking myself.

Defining Your Own Metrics

Dr. Ellis called the willingness to accept oneself regardless of any faults or misgivings USA, or unconditional self-acceptance. It involves much more than being one’s own personal cheerleader. Instead, one discovers the beliefs that cause irational thoughts and disputes them. Perhaps the Monet you’ve created of yourself is based on erroneous or irrelevant information. USA allows you to throw it in the trash like a garage sale replica.

I’m not sure where the rush of data is taking corporations or consumers. We may be continue to be measured in ever-increasing ways at work. Our future social lives may be evaluated in more ways, not less, and there may be databases we simply can never remove ourselves from. What I do know is that we as individuals don’t have to let it define us. We can chose not to measure ourselves.



Ps. I’d also like to credit Srinivas Rao and his book: An Audience of One: Reclaiming Cretivity for Its Own Sake for providing the inspiration for this writing.

4 Reasons to Love Selling (And Why They’re Making You Less Effective)

Do you like your sales job for the wrong reasons?

“Pride cometh before a fall” – Biblical Proverb

Many of the stereotypes of salespeople are unfair. Not all of us are the money-hungry, hyper-competitive, egotists portrayed in movies like Boiler Room. Still, some grains of truth can be found in the way we act when times are good. Consider the following reasons why, as a salesperson, you might love your job:

You love the money and all it brings
The fit of a new suit. The sparkle of a new stone. The smell of a new car. Who doesn’t savor these things?

You enjoy the respect you receive from mangement and co-workers.
You just finshed a great sales year. Your name mentioned multiple times at the sales meeting. Co-workers are asking for your secrets. Life is good!

Your customers love you!
Obviously they do. They buy from you, don’t they? Being liked is much better than the alternative. No doubt, a salesperson can make the difference when choosing between two similar products.

You play to win. And, more often than not, you do.
You’ve never shied away from a fight. You take pride in how focused you are on achieving your goals. Other salespeople aren’t as effective because they’re less confident or they get distracted with customer concerns.

“Yes? So what’s the problem?”, might be the response of a typical salesman at this point. Read on, if you dare, and see how your love for sales may betray you.

Big Money, Bigger Problems
The joy of spending money is in all things new. Alas, like the sales contest you won last month, all things new become old. After a long day of enticing customers with new things, we often, ourselves fall victim to them. Sometimes we make them the very purpose of our work.

Do we expect physicians to work soley for the money? Of course not. They take an oath to put a patient’s welfare before themselves. Teachers consistently say they teach for the joy of teaching. Yes, there are others, perhaps a vast majority of people, for whom work is strictly a means to a paycheck. Sales is different. Salespeople are enticed with wealth.

“Glittering prizes and endless compromises, Shatter the illusion of integrity.”Neil Peart

In the place of taking serious oaths, salespeople jump and cheer at sales meetings for the new goodies that define next year’s success. Houses have house payments. Expensive jewelry needs to be insured. Luxury cars have luxury repair bills. As years tick by, a salesperson’s “success” accumulates until she wakes up to working for a company she hates, just to pay the bills.

The price of fame
One month after finishing on top of the salesforce you receive the new year’s sales goal. You now have to sell 30% more than you did last year! Within a span of weeks, the intense effort you put in last year becomes “not enough”. Following traditional (and de-motivating) sales management logic, you can never be allowed to feel too confident. Why? Because confident salespeople are lazy! Salespeople respond by working harder to regain that original feeling of confidence. There is another group of people who live in constant pursuit of an original good feeling. They’re called drug addicts.

When you work for the respect of your co-workers you give up something much more important. Respect for yourself.

Your customer is cheating on you
The result of basking in too much customer praise is, however, blindness. We get so wrapped up in being charming that we fail to realize our customers have jobs to do and lives of their own. Salespeople who believe they are loved are often not listening to their customers. Take away the product they sell and away goes the romance. Relationships are important. Still more important is the problem you solve for your customer. That’s why you’re getting their time and attention. If you’ve done your job correctly, your customer is in love with your product, not you.

Playing to an empty stadium
However effective in short-term scenarios, theres a problem with focusing on competition in sales. Customers don’t care. When buying a car, do you want to work with the Salesman of the Year to wait on you or someone who needs your business? Customers like what you and your company do to help them solve problems. The more difficult their problems, the more creativity is required. When we’re in competition mode, our brains can only focus on a few things. To customers, this makes you appear single-minded. This isn’t helpful when an innovative solution is required.

Should salespeople fear success instead?
No. Don’t fear success. Fear the all-consuming need for success. It’s easy to love something when it gives you immediate rewards. A new car never looks (or smells) better than the day you drive it off the lot. Romantic relationships feel great when we haven’t been with the other person long enough to have a disagreement. Being a salesperson feels great when you’re on top. What matters is this, do you have a reason to go to work when times aren’t good? Don’t let what feels good now set you up for disappointment in the future.