As professional sales people we constantly have to overcome people’s perception that we all work like Don Draper, taking people out for champagne brunch at the “Club”, while armies of small but intelligent monkeys back at our palatial estates count our commissions and open offshore bank accounts.
As sales professionals in the trenches, we know that what we do is “hard.” If it wasn't there wouldn't be 431,218 book titles at Amazon.com written to help us do what we do “better.”
But tell me if this sounds familiar:
Some years back, when I was working for another company, I inherited a rather large customer who had been a client of my company’s for quite a while.
This customer had been- let’s use the word “displeased” – with my employer for a long time. In all honesty, the former sales rep was a no-show for this client, our implementation/delivery team paid no attention to detail or customer “must have/drop dead” dates and our maintenance team treated this decades old customer with the old “we’ll take care of it when we can” service level.
When I walked into the account, I was hit with both barrels. This customer was ready to cut us loose – millions of dollars of revenue ready to fly out the door. I needed to not only apologize and make the customer feel “whole” regarding past issues with our firm – but it was incumbent on me to paint a narrative that IN SPITE of the past, it was still in the customer’s best economic interest to stay with my company.
So began a six month arduous trek – as I had six months before the then-current contract was set to expire – in order to bring this client back from the brink.
I corralled, cajoled, threatened, stalked and made myself an incredible nuisance to my internal support teams to get us to meet our customers’ expectations and our contractual obligations.
I inspired, challenged and amazed the client in each meeting, bringing to bear a game-changing offerings that virtually revolutionized the client’s ideas as to “what” my company did for them and “how” we could work together to do “it” much better.
I bled, sweat and teared over this account. I made herculean efforts and forced my internal teams to do the same – sometimes working until the early morning hours the day before a client presentation to make sure I have everything covered.
At the end of that fifth month, I had pooled all of my resources to craft an amazing offering that didn't forget the past – but learned from it. I devised a new set of solutions that enriched my client’s offerings to its OWN customers (not just cutting costs but creating new revenue streams) and developed an actionable process to make sure we were meeting our Service Level Agreements in this new ecosystem.
And at the end, fully spent, I received at the beginning of that last month of the contract that said “Congratulations – we’re renewing with you!”
Now, this email had a few other CC’s on it – not the least of which were people in my internal Service and Implementation/Delivery. One of these colleagues of mine hit REPLY ALL and sent the following email:
This is great news! Now that we have won the deal the hard work begins!
Now, I’m not a petty person – but I was incredulous. This offhanded comment from this person derailed me completely. I was no longer basking in the glow of the after-sale. I was deep in the anger ravine.
“…the hard work begins…”
I had moved the proverbial mountain to bring this client back – and this TECHNICIAN, this keyboard jockey had the audacity to make this comment like MY WORK wasn't HARD!
“..now that we have won…”
WE? I quickly moved from righteous indignation to outrage – it was THIS PERSON’S TEAM that was primarily responsible for all the bad feelings I had to overcome. Like I wasn't the ONLY REASON this client said “yes!”
HOW DARE HE make such a comment! (Cue overbearing orchestra music)
In olden times, I would have reached for the slapping glove and oiled my dueling pistols!
But at the time, I had a pretty good sales manager and after airing my grievances in his office he took me to lunch and had some advice for me that calmed me down and gave me food for thought.
When things like this happen now – and they do all the time – I try and remember these three things to keep me on an even keel and not say something (or send an email) I can’t take back:
I am an enigma to people here: Now, not to sound grandiose, but it’s a fact that what we do as salespeople is a mystery to most people. Talking to brand new people, leading meetings, speaking at trade-shows, demoing products/solutions, negotiating, asking for business – these things SCARE the heck out of non-salespeople. For non-sales people, much of their time is spent STAYING OUT OF CONFERENCE ROOMS – trying to get their WORK DONE without having to MEET all the time. As sales professionals, we LIVE in conference rooms. As far as we are concerned, any time spent away from clients is wasted time - if we’re at our desks more than 20 minutes we start getting antsy. For most of our co-workers, all they want to do is be LEFT ALONE to do their jobs. We, on the other hand, are creatures that require interaction and contact with people – all the time. It’s important to remember that human brains are wired to FEAR or LOATH what we don’t understand. So if I am a person that revels in doing things most people abhor, I have to remember that 1 million years of evolution is making me “suspect” in the eyes of the people around me. “Who does that guy think he is?” So, I try to be gracious and be understanding. I try to take what they say with a grain – or more – of salt, because after all…
I know how where I stand and I am in control of my compensation: Thoreau said most people “lead lives of quiet desperation.” In the modern business world, most people move through their days, weeks, months and years, not knowing if they are doing a “good job” – not knowing what their supervisor thinks. I’m talking most people here – not the rock stars or the rock bottom – but the big middle. Our co-workers rely on a complicated constructed practice of yearly evaluations, on the painful process of gathering up all of their accomplishments over the last year, packaging them in some attempt at a proposal and then taking them, hat in hand, to management to make their case for a raise or a bonus or more vacation - or simply not to get fired.
Now while we may work for a company that has yearly reviews for salespeople, we all know what’s the only evaluating factor. It’s OUR NUMBER. Are we at it? Are we near it? What are we doing to get to it or get over it? One look at our monthly, quarterly or yearly number and we KNOW a) what is expected of us and b) how people are seeing us and c) what we are being compensated. We operate in a world alien to our colleagues – and because of that knowledge of self, we never (or should never) have to wonder if we’re “safe” at our job.
So if someone rubs us the wrong way or makes a comment that minimizes our value? Remember that they are trying to make the case for themselves, using the only tools they have. They are collecting all this data to make their argument to their boss for a yearly raise- all YOU have to do to affect your compensation is to do MORE. (see I am a sales manager..HA!). So lighten up and remember….
I didn't build this myself: POTUS got into some hot water during the last election because he said “you didn't build that.” The basic gist is this – no matter how successful we are, we rely on other people to fulfill portions or part of what we construct. Henry Ford may have revolutionized the auto industry – but he didn't work on the assembly line building the cars. You may be the top real estate agent in LA – but someone built the houses, the roads, the beach access – all the things YOU package into a property and sell to your clients.
We have to realize that all the checks we write with our salesmanship, our colleagues have to cash. The software has to work, the copier has to copy, the house has to not fall down – the widget has to WIDGET. I have yet, to this day, ever read a sales BOOK that talks about this.
And when I hear about it from sales people it’s “the delivery people are killing me” or “the contractors are killing me” or “the software developers are killing me.” We have to remember – it’s HARD work building something. Especially if you’re behind the scenes. I've never worked for a company that posted STACK RANKINGS for error-free order processing - have you?
So if your company doesn't have a bonus or spiff plan for non-commissionable employees, bring it up and ask them to look into it. And if you don’t get anywhere there, no one is telling you NOT to bring in lunch to the people in order processing – or take the warehouse guys out after work – or buy donuts for the customer services team on Friday.
At the end of the day, people just want to be appreciated. We are lucky – every time we sign a deal, our back hurts from being slapped so much. Imagine living in a world where every order you send to your sales manager, you get NO REACTION. Nothing. Or worse – you get “if you’re waiting for appreciation for doing what you’re paid to do, you’ll be waiting a long time.”
I wouldn't want to work for that sales manager. Again (HA HA!)
So back to my example – yes maybe this person minimized my work, unintentionally, in an email.
I have to remember that he a) probably doesn't understand how I do what I do b) feels powerless because he doesn't have the same control over his comp that I do and c) he thinks that "I think I" sell these widgets all by myself and he offers nothing to the process.
You know how I fix that?
Take him to lunch as a “thank you.”
And that's not hard work at all...