In my last post I talked about finding your enjoyment. In the context of sales, this means looking for, and finding the one area that defines you as a salesperson and understanding why you sell.

In this instalment I’ll be touching on one very significant factor that determines whether you find enjoyment or not. The clue is in the post title – expectations.

What are they and how can you work with them to increase your enjoyment of the job at hand? How can misaligned expectations be your biggest barrier to enjoyment?

Recent conversations with colleagues have revealed that there are, broadly speaking, two types of expectations salespeople labour under.

  1. External (Management, Clients)
  2. Internal (Own expectations)

External expectations:

External expectations are the ones where you feel that someone else is expecting something of you. These expectations can, without due care, turn into gripes and moans:

  • Quota too high
  • Difficult company culture
  • Low promotion possibilities
  • Pay too low
  • Challenges in and around internal processes
  • Too much/too little job variation
  • Unreasonable customers
  • Unreasonable managers
  • Poor market conditions

These gripes and moans can in turn morph into those most dangerous things: Excuses for underperformance or not putting in the effort.

Quick note – if you are a salesperson and you leave a company citing one of the above (or any other) external reason, take a minute to imagine working somewhere else. Will it be better? If so, why?

Internal expectations: Alignment

The fun really starts when we start looking at our own internal expectations for the job we do. Often, when taking up a sales position, someone has given us an expectation of what the job entails. They are, in effect, selling us the job. And being sold something means buying something. And buying something can lead to buyers remorse.

In one of my very first interviews for a sales position I was told by the hiring manager that “this isn’t really a sales position, it’s more like order-taking. We’re the market leader, and there’s a reason for that. We very rarely see salespeople fail and most make a great living. In fact, quite often the clients phone up and ask to buy from us!”

Uh huh – ok, but why is the position free then? is what I should have asked.

But I didn’t. Being inexperienced at the time, I bought into this line, and soon enough was confronted with the reality of working in sales. It was hard, really hard. Some of it was quite unpleasant too.

The boss wasn’t very nice, one of the colleagues was extremely lazy, cynical and deceitful, and that bit about being a market leader? Well, it was true, and maybe we won more orders, but the quota was adjusted to keep the good life just ever so slightly out of reach.

Where was the easy life of the consummate sales pros I wanted to be like? Where was the taking clients out to dinner? What about the huge commissions cheques, expense account and the rock-stardom?

Well, they were there*, but nobody had told me I had to work for it! No one mentioned cold calling, adding names to the CRM system, having to get contracts countersigned and arguments with legal!

*not the rock-stardom

I was suffering from a clear-cut case of misaligned expectations.

Bringing your expectations into line

So, how do you use your expectations to your advantage? It’s the oldest trick in the book, really. Nothing new here. Be prepared for the worst. That way, if you encounter something that isn’t perfect, it will just be what you expected.

There will be a CRM system. There will be office politics. There will be colleagues you’d rather not speak to. Clients will say no. You will have to cold-call.


In his book “Golf is not a game of perfect”, Dr Bob Rotella argues that in a competitive situation you should always expect your opponent to do the outrageous or improbable. That way, when it (occasionally) happens, it will be something you’ve planned for and thus it won’t upset your equilibrium.

The same applies, day to day, in sales:

  • Ridiculous quota? – you planned for it and can deal with it.
  • Unreasonable demand from your manager at 3pm on a Friday that “has to be done by 9am Monday”? – you knew it could happen and it won’t knock you off balance.
  • New CRM system? – It’s been chosen and you deal with it.
  • Insecure job situation? – Do what you do best and let the chips fall where they may.

Most of the time when I hear salespeople talk about why they left, they focus on the external reasons for leaving. It’s a rare salesperson that can look in the mirror and admit that their expectations were misaligned with reality.

If you’re prepared for, and expect, bumps in the road and the inevitable imperfections, you will be able to unlock the enjoyment of sales much more easily. By expecting things not to be perfect you label and minimise problems. This enables the fun to take centre stage.

Of course – there are times when your manager really is abusive, or the work culture is toxic. In which case, leave, and leave quickly.

Next time I’ll be writing about the power of small improvements. If you have any ideas you’d like me to explore, please let me know in the comments section.

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