Why do we sell? Why do we choose a job that requires us to sell?
Is it because of the money? Is it because it was the easiest job we could get graduating from college? As some might claims, is it because we couldn’t find anything better?
Recently, I had the opportunity to reflect on this for myself. In college, I was focused on theoretical physics. I had intended to pursue a career as a researcher or college professor. Something happened along the way, and all of a sudden I discovered sales. It was completely different than I had imagined. Completely different from what I had ever thought I should do. But, early on, it was something I was driven to do. I couldn’t imagine anything more rewarding.
That was about 40 years ago. And since then, I have been fairly deeply involved in selling, sales, sales people and customers. While I have been involved in doing a lot of things, founding companies, running companies. consulting on a wide range of issues/challenges, the thing that is the most fun and creative is selling (and working with sales people and managers).
Every day in sales is different. Every customer is different. Every situation is different. Nothing stays constant, things are always changing. To me, it was always a huge, dynamic puzzle. I had to look at everything going on and figure out how do succeed and win. There were things I had learned, things that had made me successful in the past that I could adapt and leverage to help me figure out what to do next in each situations. Many of the situations were very complex, but I could get customers and people in my company to collaborate and figure things out.
The challenges customers faced and working with them on those challenges are not easy. But there was such a feeling of accomplishment when we and the customer figured something out.
Sometimes, more often than not, I was successful. Sometimes, I failed. But in each situation, I took something away that I could always use in the future.
I loved being a sales person. I had so much autonomy and freedom. I had a goal, a quota. It was my job to figure out how to do it. I had teams and managers helping me, but fundamentally it was my job to figure it out. It is like being president of my own little company/territory. It was my job to figure out how to achieve my goals, it was my fault if I failed.
As a sales person, I was responsible for managing my time. I had to figure out how to spend it and who to spend it with, in order to achieve my goals. Sure my manager would offer “suggestions,” but it was mostly up to me.
In sales, it’s always easy to keep score, to understand whether you have achieved something or not. It is such a huge thrill to make something happen, to win a deal. It is amazing to see the customer achieve success through the recommendations and work we have done together.
There are few other jobs where one gets to meet so many different people, facing different challenges every day. There are few other jobs that enable one to meet so many and develop life long relationships with many.
And the rewards, whether financial, the sense of accomplishment, the thrill of winning are phenomenal. They provide that “rush” that inspires me to do more.
I worry though. Sales/selling is changing. All these things that created such excitement and were so rewarding are changing in so many organizations. We are no longer responsible for figuring things out. We simply have to follow the process and read the script. We are no longer responsible for figuring out how to get the greatest leverage from our time, instead, every hour, every interaction is carefully mapped out and controlled. We no longer are responsible for figuring out how to be successful, we just do what we are told. We are no longer “CEOs of our accounts/territories,” instead just being widgets in a process that has been defined by someone who doesn’t have the responsibility to sell. We no longer have the freedom, independence, or accountability that we had. Every hour is defined for us, every customer outreach is defined, each sentence is defined and analyzed. We are told what do and how to do it, despite these things not working well
And it’s funny. With all of this “change,” we, collectively, are far less successful. Fewer and fewer of us are achieving our quotas. More of us are unhappy and un-engaged–job turnover is skyrocketing. Our customers are more unhappy with us–choosing alternatives to sellers.
Seems as though something is wrong.
We still see, organizations that are empower their sales people to do the things that drew me to sales. They end up being top performers, they have the most engaged sales people and customers. They stand out from everyone else.
Maybe we’ve missed something?