Thursday 17 July 2008

Death of a Salesman

It's a strange career.

I think few people choose it, it chooses you.

It appeals to a certain type.
Ninety percent of those who try it give up very soon. So often you hear 'I did sales for a bit. Hated it.'

But those why stay, stay. Forever.
Because you can't do anything else.

Hate it? It happens. It's a hard task master. You really are only as good as your last month's figures. And herein lies the conundrum.

It attracts highs and lows people. People who live off adrenalin, people who love playing to the gallery, perpetual children stuck in suits to play strategic battles of will.

It's a Love-Hate relationship.

Because when it's good, it truly is the greatest way there is to earn a living. How many other careers can you 'live off a smile and a shoe shine?'

You can get away with murder, as long as you bring in the business. A certain degree of paperwork incompetence can be tolerated, as long as you are generating enough paperwork to start with. If you are, then your employers really don't mind the fact that half of someone else's salary is effectively devoted to tidying up your mess.

Sometimes I wonder, though, about what it does to us.

I sometimes think I work with complete lunatics. It's like a kindergarten. And often, I'm no better than the rest. Today for example, while The Diplodocus was in the toilet, I went and moved everything on his desk so that everything was in a completely different place. No real reason for this, other than to see if it freaked him out a bit.

Work outings are semi-obligatory, at least, if you avoid them, you'll slip out of the loop. Essentially, they're where the office politics are thrashed out, and the more alcohol is consumed, the more one starts to get down to brass tacks.

I wonder sometimes about the life strategy we are compelled to pursue.

Because we are, by nature, work hard, play hard types. And so much of our lives is devoted to riding that high.
Because we have too.

We can't afford to fall off that high.
If you don't work hard, you don't play hard, and if you don't play hard, you don't work hard. The two are linked.

We have to party, keep continually in a jubilant frame of mind to be that little bit extra, to be permanently enthused, because a bad day costs you money. And no money, means no partying. No partying, means more bad days.

And are we really happy, any of us?

We live by systematically programming ourselves. We have to. I often say to people 'People don't buy products, they buy people'.
And that's right.

But look at that.

We sell ourselves.

We are prostitutes. We sell our emotions to the highest bidder, we learn to enthuse ourselves, to commit doublethink, we MAKE OURSELVES BELIEVE, because our bonuses depend on it. Because we have to believe what we say. You can't do it otherwise, not properly.

The Baker and others often comment that I can be very difficult to pin down. Ask me pretty much anything, I'll skillfully evade the question. I give you the answers I want to give you, and the question is largely irrelevant. And you have to be on the ball to notice that I haven't answered your question.
It's gut instinct- question, parry.

A good salesman never lies- he doesn't have to. He can control the facts. He can carry out the supreme trick of always being totally honest, yet still carry out an optical illusion. I've done it. I've arranged facts in such a way as to imply something different to what is actually the case if you look at it.

'We can save you 10% on 85% of your calls, from the analysis I've done', hides a crucial fact. The other 15% will actually mean, we cost more overall.

And I did actually use that, many years ago.

By nature, we're emotive people. Very. We live off them. But directed. We learn to channell our passions, to browbeat them in to- stuff that really, doesn't matter to us in the slightest. Except it pays our bills.

Sometimes, sat in the pub, I stop and think 'Jesus, why am I getting so excited about this?'

Sometimes it worries me that we get enmeshed in this way of living. We use our highly strung natures and learn to direct those passions. And we build our lives round ensuring we have that buzz to give to our work.

Recently I was talking to the Gecko and he said '******ger', whatever shit's going on in your life, and it's obvious there is, because you've not been focused since Christmas, not the way you once were, I hope it's getting sorted, because right now you're coasting. And you get by, because you do your job, you get the results, but you're paperwork is a joke'.

Well, of late, I've kind of been pretty focused. I've been pretty chirpy of late and in spite of July usually being a slow month due to factory shutdowns, this is looking on course to be my best month ever.
Because in so many ways, a burden has been lifted from me and I can feel the pressure lifting off my shoulders. I can feel good things in my life and the hunger to achieve has returned.
But sometimes this worries me. Do I just use good things in my life as fuel to power a sales drive?
Do I seek happiness, not in itself, but merely to serve a need to break targets, to stick an extra few hundred on my monthly paycheque?

Because I was thinking about someone special today and how happy they make me, and while I'm thinking that, I'm looking at the stats this month to date, and I'm thanking that person for those stats.
And I had to stop myself and think 'I shouldn't be looking at it like that. I've got this the wrong way round, surely?'

But it takes over the way you think. That's the job. It appeals to addictive personalities, and play the game long enough, you just think in pure sales terms.

I look at some of the people I've worked with. One thing you can say about me, is I'm reliable. I'm rarely off sick, and when I do I'm honest.

There was a day a few months back when I rang the Gecko.

Gecko: ******ger, where are you? I've been trying to ring you. It's like, midday now.

Crushed: Yes. Which version do you want?

Gecko: What do you mean?

Crushed: Well, there's the crap excuse for why I didn't come in, or there's the truth.

Gecko: The truth.

Crushed: My phone went dead last night- which is also my alarm. Then me and my mate went out on the piss. And there was a lockin on. So I come home hammered, didn't plug my phone on, and basically.... I've just woke up.

Gecko: That is so not a good excuse.

Crushed: I'm not saying it is. In fact its dire. But there's no point me coming in now.

Gecko: So you're not coming in because you have a hangover. This isn't really a professional way forward. We're approaching month end (X contract) is in a pisspoor state and you really needed to be here to sort that one out.

Crushed: No, I'll give you that, it's a lame excuse. But, I could have come up with a load of shite about babies cutting themselves on tiles or mothers diagnosed with cancer like everyone else does.


Gecko: I'll see you tomorrow.

It's rare days off sick get paid.
I got paid for that day.

Because I was honest. The company know they can trust me. Cock ups, yeah I make many, but integrity, they can rely on me to put my hands up.

The same can't always be said of my colleagues. Attendance in such companies is dire. Especially from a certain type.

Nearly every sales company has at least one. All good salespeople are to some degree driven by demons, I think. We're all hyperactive extroverts who hide the fact that we just can't sit still take life as it comes.

But I look at those sales literally kills.

A certain type. Good, very good. The sales stars.

The biggest lie in sales is the one they spin you, the salesman. Of what you CAN earn. The OTE. On Target Earnings.

If you really earned that, you'd be living the dream.

But dream it is. And every so often you get these stars come in. Troubled people, really troubled. Scratch under the surface and you find an abuse victim, or someone who grew up under the witness protection programme, or has a drug problem.

And they live the dream in their figures.

And then they start to work the the three week month. They're always off sick for the week after payday, and then they come back to smash all targets in the remaining three weeks.

Loose cannons, volatile, slightly deranged.

We had one recently, nice guy, messed up life history. One pint wonder, two pint terror.
He had potential, that is how it is said. The potential to live that dream.
But no one who has that potential seems to do it.

He burned out.
And now he's literally disappeared.

Sometimes I reflect what a dark business it is in some ways, it squeezes us dry.

And I wonder if it's even good for me. Because do we ever switch off?
Once you have learned to control your emotions with a tap, how do you resist the temptation to use the tap?
When your job is dependent on 'conversation control', how can you avoid doing it all the time?

Are not all salesmen basically unhappy frightened children who have never really grown up, hiding behind an outwardly vibrant, overly outgoing, seemingly confident persona, where all life is nothing more than a game of strategy, where the name of the game is to sell someone their own vision and close down their options?

The problem, methinks, is that a good salesman is a button presser. He knows what works.
And if it works to earn him a living, it's hard to stop selling just because the clock has struck five. Selling works. We never stop to think what we really think or feel, just keep that buzz going, living on the instinct of the adrenalin rush, all life, merely going through the motions.

Sometimes I think salesmen die within. We are far more similar to prostitutes than we care to admit, and maybe something similar happens to us over time.

We choose a career path that allows us to be driven by our demons and never confront them. And so as life kicks us and gives us more demons, we are driven further in, to become more entrenched as salesmen- we have more demons to drive us.

It's a dangerous game.

I don't want to die the Death of a Salesman.

I don't ever want to even for a second think what I did today about the monthly stats.

Because the person who inspired that thought, is more important than my bonus.


Anonymous said...

What a cool post. You know, I could never be a salesman like you described and I think you are correct in saying it's not a job for everybody.
I think you've obviously found a talent in doesn't make you bad or sleazy or a liar, it's your job and you probably have the 'gift of the gab' and are a very quick thinker. Good for you, it's a talent!

It also is a bit like a real estate agent, man do those guys stretch the truth! But everybody knows it so they take it with a pinch of salt.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't do it.
But, oddly enough, despite what little they have in common, this post made me think about being a researcher. It is that same odd, life taking over relationship at times-- running stats until the wee hours of the morning, panicking because of some weird design flaw, whatever. But I'll be damned (and, admittedly, a bit of a geek, too) if I don't get excited when those results start rolling in.

Anonymous said...

There is a difference between a job and a career. I think we begin to have doubts about our career choice when it becomes a JOB, a source of pay--I need the insurance benefits--that sort of thing. What burns us is that job crap. But we may still love what we studied to be.

I switched careers then came back to my original. I realized the switched career was a job, a very good one, but nothing more. But now I'm in an insecure position, so it is handy that I did that career switch because I may need a new job!

And yes, I agree, most people aren't happy--in general.

Anonymous said...

I could only sell what I truly believed in, the thought of selling a shoddy concept, product, or service is morally repugnant to me. My grandfather was a salesman, and a damn fine one, too. He sold vitamins with the fervor of a circuit preacher selling tickets to heaven under a white tent on a hot July night.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. And carrying forward you analysis where would you place we professional buyers in the emotional scheme of things?

Inner reptiles perchance? :-)

Anonymous said...

I remember seeing one of those body language experts say that you never trust a salesman who wears sunglasses when he talks to you. Since then, I listen but keep thinking, what are they hiding behind them glasses.

Anonymous said...

Kate- It isn't. A lot of people don't quite get what the job entails. It isn't about proving black is white. It's about directing attention to the fact that white is white and not allowing you to consider the seven shades of grey.

Being chatty is good, but its also about knowing what questions to ask, you really have to be able to direct conversations and identify 'buying signals'. These are when you get thrown titbits which are basically the customer saying 'Well, if you can do something about this, I might be interested.'

There really is a limit to how far deliberate misrepresentation can get you- in the long term you have to think repeat business, so you have to at least have covered yourself against unforseen dissatisfaction.

Princess P- In some ways, it can be a bit like research, I suppose. You do find yourself storing away things customers tell you, because they're relevant. Each customer in his own way, is giving you inide info which will probably be useful for the next customer you come across in the same sector.

As regards results, yes, when things pan out well and you're on a roll, there's nothing like it.

Enemy- I think sometimes, its the doing it for money thing I don't like.
I guess its one of thoe things where there is, as you see a difference between the job and what you are.
I think in a sense, I find it hard not to see 'salesman' as actually being more than just my job, it is actually part of what I am. The job is WHAT I sell.

When I meet people for the first time and after a while it gets to that bit 'What do you do for a living', I alays get the 'Of course that makes sense smile' when I tell them.

I'd like to find a way to put it to a better use than I do, which I guess is where the dis-satisfaction comes in.

Helen- Well, I'm lucky now in that I do kind of believe in what I'm doing. I can't go into it too much, but it essentially involves maximising industrial efficiency, so I see it as part of improving everyone's qylity of life- this isn;t always true, but the idea keeps me going.

I have had to seell things I didn't agree with, and it didn't work. In the days I sold loans, I used to alays get a tidy commission, but I used to fail miserably at selling the Paymnt Protection Insurance.
Because I thought it was a con, basically.

Grendel- It depends on the sector. In many production sectors, the purchasing managers don't really understand the technology in question, so really the target is to get the relevant decision maker on the floor onside and let them deal with the purchasing department. Some companies now have supply chain managers or directors who deal specifically with the more technical aspects of supply. For the most part, they seem to have aims that march with ours :)

Nunyaa- I'd never weear my shades actually talking to a client or customer.
As you see, it doesn't suggest candour. Especially indoors.

Anonymous said...

I think that to enjoy partying is a prerequisite of being a salesman. If you're not a party person, it may be likely that one is not a people person either (like me- I don't care for parties) - in which case, it'd be pretty hard to sell anything ;-)

The rearranging the table was funny...LOL. I haven't met anyone who'd do that to me (and I might not notice, actually, unless the table had been made neat all of a sudden ;-))

Anonymous said...

I really do believe that (with the exception of abuse victims or those born with extreme health issues) that we live the lives were supposed to live. You yourself seem resigned to the fact sales is conducive to certain character/temperament traits of yours. And in regards to your prostitution analogy--hell, we're all prostitutes! But even the prostitute gets to keep her soul. It may be damaged, but its hers and hers alone.