In the 1990s, I found myself as a rep in an outside sales job, where just about every training program instructed me to beat prospects over the head so they would buy from me.
It’s 2016 now, but on many sales teams, things haven’t changed. If you can relate to how I felt back in the ’90s, chances are you’re at an old-school sales organization.
Imagine that you’re a rep fresh out of college.
You are taught to prospect relentlessly by kicking down doors, getting past gatekeepers, and closing the decision maker by any means necessary.
You are taught that sales is a war and it’s you versus the prospect.
You have a rah-rah sales manager who encourages (threatens) you to earn (force) more business. You go on ride-alongs with them and get to see firsthand how it’s done, how a real closer gets the sale. You also get to see firsthand that your training doesn’t work because your manager gets kicked out of buildings too, gets denied by jaded gatekeepers who’ve seen every trick in the book, and winds up with the same frustrations as the newbie sales reps.
You start thinking to yourself, “I thought my corporate training was supposed to be the magic bullet that would keep me from getting thrown out of buildings. I thought I’d be able to bend prospects to my iron will on my way to commissioned riches.”
You also start thinking that maybe, just maybe, the sales acronyms and the aggressive and manipulative tactics are all a bunch of BS.
You get banned from buildings and even cities.
You start to break down, and the fire that burned inside when you first started begins to wane, because you start to doubt that beating prospects up to earn a living is what you were meant to do.
What happens then? As a 22-year old-kid in their first job out of college, you start to copy the other reps who have become disillusioned.
- You start to do “fishbowl prospecting,” which means you go into a local deli that has one of those “put your business card in the bowl for a chance to win a free sub” promotions and grab as many of the cards when nobody is looking, so you can go back to your sales manager with a stack of cards to prove you were out prospecting.
- You start skipping any prospecting on nice days and go golfing, making sure not to wear a glove so your manager doesn’t see the distinctive tan line.
- You go back home to sleep and set your alarm so you can get back to the office in time. When you wake up, you make sure you don’t have bed head but that your hair is mussed enough that you look like you went though the requisite daily trench warfare that is your outside sales job.
- You scour the newspaper (there was no such thing as Monster.com, CareerBuilder.com, or LinkedIn job listings back then) for more outside sales jobs, because you are a glutton for punishment and think maybe the next place will be better.
- You meet up with the other sales reps who are also skipping out and you hang all day at a restaurant, wondering if long-haul trucking would be a viable career option. Or circus clowning.
- You look at MBA programs and think to yourself that if you got those three expensive letters after your name, maybe you could get a “real” sales job.
- You call the office while you’re out in the field and tell them you’re sick and won’t be coming back to the office. Then you start happy hour three hours early.
These things will not get you to the top of the leaderboard, they won’t win you a set of steak knives, and they certainly won’t make you like your job.
So how do you keep the motivation to press on when you’ve been taught overly aggressive sales tactics and you realize there’s got to be a better way?
The first thing is to get out of the salesman versus prospect mindset. This is not war, it’s a business partnership. The prospect is a client you haven’t partnered with yet, and they just aren’t aware of the value you possess.
When you come from a win-win mindset that asks, “How can I help this person?” rather than, “How can I help myself by jamming this product or service down their throat?” you position yourself to gain an opportunity to present value.
Be kind and be courteous. Add value. If you can’t add value, say thanks and go find someone else (because you’re a professional, and you’ve put together a targeted prospect list) you can help.
When you are helping people and partner with them, it makes you feel good, it makes them want to work with you, and money follows as a natural consequence of the good you are doing. And when all that starts happening, you no longer need resort to those ridiculous activities above that not only harm your sales, but your sense of self-worth and overall well-being.
If you are caught in that rut, what can you do today to turn it around?
Go help someone. Even if it provides no direct benefit to you, it will come back to you.
Sales is funny that way.