I didn’t begin my business life with a burning desire to become a career salesman. As shocking as it is now, I actually thought that I might become a dentist until it registered that I would really have to put my hands in some other person’s mouth.
Did you ever question your choice of a career in sales? We are a nation of salespeople; however, far too many in the field “default” their way into the profession and develop a comfort zone that turns into a mediocre career. Employers encourage this mediocrity by paying a “livable” base salary and a commission structure that is supposed to motivate their team to sell more.
I recently met a young salesman at a networking event who was unemployed, or by his description, “between” sales jobs. After a lengthy conversation, I discovered that he had been out of work for 18 months and was reaching the end of his rope.
His former position paid him an $80,000 base and a commission of 15% on everything he sold. By his account, he made approximately $110,000.00 for a year’s worth of selling. This created a huge problem for him as it became an expectation for his next position. You see, potential employers balked at this high base he was committed to receiving as he was untested in his new position and their investment might be at risk.
We spent an hour over coffee and I gave him a few ideas, even offering him a free seat in my sales training course. I believe that it always helps to learn new skills as well as network with other business professionals. Although he opted not to attend the 120 minute weekly class, one piece of advice that I gave him was to look for ways to make himself more appealing to future potential employers.
An idea I had was to drop his request for a high base salary and to offer to work for 100% commission as a way to prove that he could do the job. After all, he has been unemployed for 18 months! The look of horror on his face was frightening as he blurted out, “No way, I’m entitled to it for the effort I give each day.”
He went on to say that he was comfortable with the high base and the security that it gave him. He would rather continue to wait, no matter how long it takes, until he found a company who would pay him the base that he is used to receiving for his work. My immediate thought was the concept of “hell freezing over,” but I don’t believe I will witness that in my lifetime.
Entitled, comfortable and security are words that a salesperson should never utter or experience! These are words that justify complacency and low performance. If it were up to me, no salesperson would ever receive a base salary. They would, however, get paid a commission that would allow the business owner and the salesperson to each make buckets of money. This commission structure would drive the salesperson to spend the maximum amount of time each day hunting for new sources of business and not living in the hope that they will find “road kill”.
It is time for each salesperson to do a quick review of their job performance. Ask yourself:
- Are you an asset to your company’s bottom line or are you a liability?
- How much of your business week is spent on “justifiable” busy work versus prospecting?
- What are the top ten behaviors you should be executing to increase your worth to your company?
- Have you lost your competitive edge and become complacent?
- Is there someone out there, currently unemployed, who could perform your sales function better than you?
One of my favorite quotes from a catalogue poster motivational company is, “Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle…when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”
Selling is an honorable profession that you should enter by design, rather than default. To all of the mediocre salespeople who are underperforming in your current position, I offer the following advice: When the sun comes up, you’d better be running as there is an unemployed high performer who is looking to take your place.