‘Every rose has its thorn
Just like every night has its dawn
Just like every cowboy sings his sad, sad song…’

The environment and profession of selling is a huge part of my life as anyone who knows me knows. It is a huge part of my mission and my legacy to make a difference to those who chose the profession of selling to not only sell more of their wonderful products, services or ideas, not only to make a good financial living from it, but to create a ripple effect by contributing to their customers growth and ultimately their own.

The profession of selling is one of the most powerful journeys in personal leadership and it can present us with so many situations that force us to look at ourselves and our growth and create such a difference for those who want to aspire to be even more successful, yet these topics in many cases are totally taboo. Never broached. Never addressed.

The profession of selling is so well known for providing an environment of cultural fun. An environment where earnings far exceed those of politicians, doctors and lawyers. An environment of flexible working hours and autonomy. An environment of bell ringing success, high fives and chest pumping fun. An environment of envy in many cases.

But, in the words of Francis Bacon, ‘In order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must be present.’

And every seller has experienced those dark times. For some the moment is fleeting. It might be self inflicted stress. It might be fear about not earning a commission. It might be losing a deal or missing an appointment. It might be being called on their ‘stuff’ in a management review or even being placed on a performance management program.

We’ve all experienced one or two of the above and we understand the temporary drop in passion, momentum and confidence when that occurs because there is no roller-coaster environment quite like being in sales. Sales is emotionally charged.

But there is a darker side.

The darker side that ruins lives. Ruins relationships. Causes mental conditions that include anxiety and depression. Loses jobs. Loses hope. “Despite cautions from the medical profession about harmful effects of stress, relatively few studies in marketing have addressed the issue as it relates to professional selling [Salespeople and Stress: Roberts, Lapidus, Chonko, 1997].”

So what constitutes some of that darker side of selling?

Three Stories….

STORY ONE is close to home. My husband was a salesperson, until a couple of years ago, for a small company who were a part of one of Australia’s larger companies. He started slowly in his first year and then over the remaining four years consistently over performed. His customers respected him and as a National Sales Manager for a smaller company today, those customers still love buying from him and he is still over-performing.

The darker side in this case was twofold – a General Manager who abused his staff, belittled them publicly, threatened them with the sack if they didn’t perform (I use his words in some of my work, ‘today you may be a rooster, tomorrow you will be a feather duster so get out there and f’in sell’) and secondly, whilst my husband was on holidays, a colleague was appointed as sales manager and on his return, my husband began to be micro-managed.  Performance improvement and not adhering to the values of the company was the reason. Really? Reading the writing on the wall and knowing the culture would never change, he left.

Yes, it caused stress. Yes, it caused him to question his capabilities as the provider and protector of his family and yes, it caused him to question his future prospects as someone over 50 years!

Ego is driven by fear, so who knows what the real reason was to oust a high performing salesperson with strong values and relationships.  It doesn’t matter….

[Last week, two years after my husband left that company, the General Manager was walked off the premises, the sales manager has been moved to special projects for non performance. How many sales did this company lose due to fear and ego ruling the roost? The fish clearly rots from the head down.]

STORY TWO is also close to home and social media can be credited with bringing this to my attention. Facebook threw up a couple of dark images only last week, posted by a past customer  who I hadn’t spoken to in nearly a year and who was also responsible for leading a sales team. Intuition told me to message him and ask him how he was. What I received back was a desperate message, enough for me to message his wife whom I had never met and enough for us to speak that same night, even though he was not 100% coherent. His story was one of being bullied, belittled, set-up, lied about and publicly abused for two years by his Managing Director, and he had fought the hard fight of being managed out at such a huge personal cost, even though he has consistently grown the business year on year, managed a team of salespeople successfully and held brilliant relationships with clients. Was this behaviour necessary and what was the REAL reason? It doesn’t matter…. What matters is the potential damage this has done to his life, his health, his family and his kids perception of their dad, not even to mention future job prospects.

People are people. Selling is human. Sales is about making the numbers but it is also more than just making the numbers. Sales is about responsibility to others and a consciousness around consequences.

[This week, after having coffee and weaving some of my trademark direct, call it as it is, no BS advice with a massive dose of care and compassion 🙂 – he has made a decision to not let this define him. He will find a place that shares his values – because he is a good man and a great leader and he deserves it.]

STORY THREE is equally close to home and one close to my heart and a lesser talked about dark side to selling – the experience some women in B2B sales environments find themselves part of when working in an alpha male environment driven by control, bullying and ego driven managers that can completely destroy so much more than sales results. You can read my story here.

Most environments are not like this. I choose to think that three close to home are the exception and not the rule, however, it tells us this behaviour and these consequences are still alive and well in 2015/2016.

What can make our world of selling that much brighter?

What can offset this darker side of our sales profession?

Here are a couple of my ideas:

1. You can’t change someone – sometimes you can’t even influence them. If you are in that situation and you know it is not for you – make a different decision and leave.
2. Don’t buy into scarcity – don’t think ‘I’d rather stay with the devil I know’. If you do, you might just stagnate and miss opportunities in front of you that you just can’t see yet.
3. Keep the faith – back yourself and ask for help. Get clear on what is important in your life because where you choose to spend your time and energy is where you place your value. Choose wisely.
4. Own your dark side – we all have one. Those that own it, claim it and say it, will control it and shine, and like moths to a flame, they will make more sales.
5. Selling is all about serving others – and that includes your team members, managers and yourself as well as your customers, . It’s about intention and contribution. It’s about giving that which you want. You owe people that.

So on that note remember, every dictatorship may have it’s dark ruler but every high performing sales team needs a good, strong, fair leader.

Be Bold and Brilliant

Image courtesy of Ryan McGilchrist

Bernadette McClelland - Keynote Speaker


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