A Letter to salespersons
Do you sometimes wish you had a different job from your current sales job? Are you oftentimes under intense pressure to quit? Do people keep you waiting for hours only to dismiss your sales presentation in seconds? Does it feel sometimes like yours is actually the worst profession in the world?
Cheer up, you are not alone. You are not the only one whose heart beats rather fast as you contemplate your first meeting with an AAA prospect; you are not the only one who's been warned by your boss that you'd better do something about your poor target practice or else…; you are not the only one who has contemplated changing jobs in order to save yourself the anxiety involved in meeting merciless targets.
No, you are not alone. Walter Haley (the author of BEING THE BEST, remember?), who is today an icon in salesmanship, walked this same path. According to his story, he faced closed doors, low sales, nervous stomach, frustration, anxiety, and virtually every other symptom associated with an individual who is uncertain of his future and how he's going to survive in the sales world. Does that sound like someone you know?
Each time I tell this Haley story, someone reminds me that whatever the said Walter Haley passed through, it couldn't be half as bad as we endure here because he operated in the American economy which is as different from the Nigerian economy, as New York is from Dutse, Not wanting to engage in an argument over the similarities in the challenges that salespeople face, I simply step back psychologically and pull out another example, this time pretty close to home - my own story.
Before I was hired by a petroleum products marketing company a decade and a half ago, to sell its lines of lubricants to industrial users, I thought selling was something that anyone with a bit of charisma could do. I had been called a salesman many times before then because I could talk fast and long, think on my feet, and generally present my viewpoints with gusto. But when I hit the selling road, I found out that selling was a different ball game altogether. I would enthusiastically rush to a company only for the gatemen to keep me from seeing the people who made the purchasing decisions. On occasions when I managed to see them, they would tell me flat out that they were buying from my competitors. Some asked me for lower prices that I'd look stupid proposing to my sales manager. The most painful experience was in companies owned by some Asians where a gateman would peep at me through a tiny hole in the gate and dismiss me 'instanta'. Even to get a place to make a presentation became a problem.
Often times, I'd lie awake at night, regretting ever leaving my secure job as a business editor in a struggling monthly business magazine to take up the thankless sales job. Nothing prepared me for the 'humiliating' experience. I learnt what it was like to wake up everyday with the fear that this may be my last day at work because my sales figures were lagging so far behind target that I was ashamed to state my achievement in percentage-of-target format. Some of my colleagues were fired so high they almost broke their waists but, somehow, I kept escaping the purge. Reminds me of a cartoon I saw once where the CEO of a company declared that firing would continue until employee morale improved. The firing did not improve my own morale. On the contrary, my morale sagged so low you could literally feel me dragging it behind me in the office. With my morale, sagged my productivity. And the more I underproduced, the less confident I became; the less confident I became, the more confused and disoriented I became. My sights became lowered. My dressing became sloppy. I started to withdraw from my friends because a poor sense of self was beginning to ensure that I did things that did not lead to success. Things were deteriorating in my sales territory: I'd go through weeks of not even being able to make a single presentation to a prospect. At a point, I really wouldn't have minded as such being turned down for the sale - if I could only be extended the privilege of being heard. Getting heard was accomplishment enough, yet I was not even getting heard! I started to formulate stories of accomplishments to shore up my value before even casual acquaintances that hardly knew me and certainly didn't know that I was having a problem meeting my targets. Paranoia set in - if I found two people laughing after I passed, they had to be discussing my poor sales records. It was that bad.
One day, as I was walking to Oshodi from Ilupeju where I'd had an unsavory experience with a prospect, I was consumed in self-pity and did not know that I'd walked into the path of an approaching train. The warning shouts of traders didn't register and someone had to physically push me off the rail track. Saved by the bell as it were, I decided I'd had enough of this 'nonsense' called sales. I especially wanted to quit selling for that company. It was, I firmly decided, time up!
I wanted so badly to take a break, quit and reorganize my life! And that was when I came across the Walter Haley story. Let's now continue the story from where we left it. We'd said that - just like me - he faced closed doors, low sales, frustration, anxiety, and virtually every other symptom associated with an individual who is uncertain of his future and how he's going to survive in the sales world. His discouragement was reported as being so bad that he went to his manager and told him he was quitting, getting out of the business of selling insurance. The manager said, " Walter, you can't get out of the insurance business, you have never really gotten into the insurance business. YOU CANNOT GET OUT OF SOMETHING YOU HAVE NEVER BEEN IN.