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.
Isn't that true of many of us? Have we really been in sales or are we just practicing opportunism on a long-term basis? I'd certainly not been IN sales. Yes, I'd been presenting my company's products, but I'd never really been in sales. I began to recognize that selling is a profession and whoever desires to prosper in it must learn to sell by design, and not by chance. Principles guide a profession. It doesn't matter how many years you have been in sales; it doesn't even matter what awards you have won. If you are not systematic in your sales practice, then you can neither replicate that success in a different environment, nor can you instruct somebody else on how to reproduce the results you had. You are still on the outside looking in.
In my own case, I came to realize that I was mistaken when I considered myself a salesperson who was having terrible results. The truth is that I wasn't even a salesperson in the first place. I was an interloper, a bird of passage.
If you think I'm being too harsh on myself, then listen to this story about f Monsieur Francois who was a regular face in my daddy's bar when I was a kid growing up in the republic of Chad. A surgical emergency had arisen at the medical centre in the southern town of Lai while the only doctor attached to the centre was on leave in France. Monsieur Francois who had worked with the expatriate doctor as a ward hand for over ten years rose up to the challenge and rehearsed on the patient what he had seen his boss do countless times. Alas, the patient did not survive the surgery. Neither did his second patient survive. But the third - plus some others after him - survived and before long, his name began to carry the prefix, Dr and the whole town loved to call him that. On his return, the expatriate surgeon arranged for Francois to get a medical education in France, but Francois and his kinsmen felt there was nothing left to learn since he could open a human abdomen, do some work therein, close it up and the person would live to tell the story. One day, there were hush-hush discussions all over the town. Some said Francois had mistaken a man's kidney for his appendix; others said he actually severed the man's heart, washed it and sewed it back; The truth, in any case, was that Francois had opened one abdomen too many and a bemused town watched in subdued grief as a heavy sentence was passed on him. Francois died in prison.
There are many 'Francois' in the Nigerian sales landscape. People like me who "join" sales organisations but never get in the profession of selling. Such people have one year's experience many years over because they are not being built up. And they are not being built up because they don't have a foundation on which a block can stand atop another to create a structure. Such people stumble through the profession and eventually quit or get promoted away from selling functions.
Zig Ziglar had experiences similar to the one Walter Haley and I had. Poor self-esteem, fear of rejection, lack of confidence, and mediocre work habits led to unbearable experiences of having doors closed in his face so often that he decided to quit. Thank God he got some critical encouragement at that crucial time and he remained in this wonderful profession of ours.
Walter Haley made good. Zig Ziglar made good. And so did I. Two years after my encounter with the train at Oshodi, tears of joy freely ran from my eyes, past my nose, into my open mouth as I stretched out my hands to collect a seven-thousand dollar prize from Doyin Adewunmi, my CEO in faraway Guinea Bissau to which I'd been transferred. It sure felt good to be the international numerro uno salesperson in the same company where years earlier I nearly died of failure-induced anxiety. Even right now as I write this, I still relive the joy of that moment.
There is no on-the-job fulfillment, joy, challenge or frustration, which you are experiencing right now that some salesperson hasn't been through earlier. You can choose to grapple with the situation and learn by trial and error, or you can choose to go to school on other people's experiences and spare yourself the headache of re-inventing the wheel. What made the difference for me was that I went to school on other people's experiences. I learnt from their frustrations, mistakes and successes.
From my own initial experience of failure and those of other salesmen with whom I've counseled, I've come to realize that the major reason why some salespeople never get started in the business of selling is because of what happens at the entry level. By the time most e