Enjoying the journey

Earlier today, when thinking about this post, it struck me that all the sales organisations I’ve worked in share one common feature: They don’t give their starting salespeople any guidance on how to enjoy themselves or how to enjoy the sales process. It seemed to be that just because you were there, as a new salesperson, you would enjoy it. If not you would leave soon enough. Results were what mattered.

Unsurprisingly a lot of potentially good salespeople don’t enjoy sales, and as a consequence leave or do something else. As mentioned previously, getting your commission cheque or closing a sale are enjoyable in themselves, but for a large proportion of salespeople, getting there can be very painful. And a lot of salespeople sort of just end up in sales without really knowing why, or how.

I remember starting my first sales job and being, well, terrified. I’d just been given a quota and absolutely no instruction whatsoever on how to achieve it or what to do. “Here’s your territory, here’s an introduction course on the products you’re to sell, now off you go”.

Luckily for me, despite not being the world’s most competitive alpha-male, I’m very motivated by opportunities to learn. The discomfort from being in a situation where I’m a beginner really motivates me to do my very best.

My first years of experience in sales were spent in a terrified state.

  • What if the client says no?
  • Will I lose my job if I fail? (yes, probably)
  • Better not fail then
  • How do I not fail?
  • Work harder
  • Understand the sales process
  • Understand clients
  • Get good at negotiation

Once I’d mastered the basics and the fear of failure subsided I discovered that I was actually quite good at sales. I’d arrived, or so I thought.

In a classic case of the Dunning-Kruger effect, I then suddenly experienced that awful sensation of how little I truly knew. Then I realised that not only was there a lot I didn’t know, but there was a lot I didn’t know I didn’t know!

So how does this relate to enjoying the journey?

Well, firstly it took me about fifteen years in sales to work out that it really is that, a journey. You never reach the end. You are never fully trained and you will never, ever achieve perfection. The only way you can move forward is by realising that the process itself is the goal.

Secondly, enjoying the process is a much more durable and valuable feeling than enjoying the commission cheque. The commission cheque will be gone soon enough, but without the lessons from the process and the enjoyment therein.

In the same way that buying an ice cream is a transient pleasure, the whole experience more enjoyable and memorable if you really stop to notice things on the way while you’re walking there.

Steps to enjoyment:

  • Accepting the limits of knowledge
  • Always wanting to learn more
  • Always wanting to meet interesting people, understand what they do and how they do it
  • Adapting and applying what has been learnt

Some thoughts then

Sales is an odd job. It can attract some of the very best people and some of the worst. Unfortunately there is a real tendency for a particular kind of “high self-esteem, low ability” personality to gravitate towards sales. These salespeople may succeed, for a time, but sooner or later they will leave, having learned nothing.

It’s my belief that companies would do very well during introductory sales trainings if they tried to find those more introspective salespeople and nurture them. These salespeople, properly developed, will mature into the kind of consultative and engaging salespeople that customers love to meet.

If you and your sales company can sit down and work out a way for you to unlock your enjoyment of the journey while still (of course) focusing on your targets, then both you and your company will do better and feel better.

To finish with one of my favourite quotes, from Gichin Funakoshi’s “Twenty guiding principles of Karate”:

“Lord Yagyu said he did not know the way to defeat others, but he knew the way to gain victory over himself – it was to become better today than yesterday, and better tomorrow than today, working in this manner day by day all one’s life.”

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