The Messy Truth About Your Sales Career (and the greatest piece of advice I never took)

 

“The trouble, in my opinion, with corporate America today, is that everything is thought of in quarters.” —Henry Kravis, Billionaire, private equity investor

I’ll start with the messy truth, so as not to keep you in suspense. You are 100% expendable and they really don’t give a s__t about you.

There it is. I said it.

I’ve felt like saying this for a few years, but I tend to be too polite, or maybe I lack the stones, or just maybe I’d really like to believe differently. I was certainly raised to believe differently. I was taught to be fiercely loyal. My father worked at the same place forever and he drove the same car forever. My mother always frequented the same stores. We never changed anything.

But this isn’t my mother and father’s America anymore.  

We are in a world where change is constant and there are a thousand choices for anything and everything we want, even a professional career. The choices are especially abundant if you can sell things, and even more so if you can hire and train people to sell things.

Before I go any further, I already know what you’re thinking. The company or organization you work with “is different.” They love you and appreciate you. You have friends and mentors there that will protect your career. Some of those feelings may even be correct, however, those people you believe are going to stand up for you, can only do so if they are still around, and will only do so if it isn’t going to cost them their job.

Ultimately, you are on an island if you’re in sales in corporate America, and it would be prudent for you to come to that conclusion and plan accordingly.

Think about the quote above by Henry Kravis.

“The trouble, in my opinion, with corporate America today, is that everything is thought of in quarters.”

What Mr. Kravis is saying here is that, in corporate America, we have gone from a business environment of long-term thinking and planning to a very short-term, reactionary mentality. Many companies are willing to trash their long-term strategies and replace them with quick fixes, ones based solely on the sales results of the previous quarter. In fact, organizations are willing to disrupt perfectly fine synergies and cultures in the field force (and discard talented people), just because sales targets weren’t hit last quarter. But what does Henry Kravis really know about business…he’s only worth 5 billion or so.

It is my belief that this extremely faulty executive level way of thinking (and behaving), is usually driven by two primary factors:

#1 – The Company becomes disconnected from the ground up

Let me explain this in simple terms.

Sales production and market share doesn’t fall because talented sales people and sales managers suddenly forget how to do their job. Are there people past their prime that need to step aside? Of course, but those scenarios are always obvious. Gifted people don’t suddenly forget how to sell or lead. What’s usually taking place is that an industry or market is changing and the company isn’t staying ahead of that curve (or even keeping pace with it). This results in the salesperson not having the proper tools (products and services) to do their job.

In a famous interview in 1990, Steve Jobs talked about how companies with behemoth market share “lose their way”—forget to put time, money, energy and intelligence into the products and technology platforms that will cause sales and market share to rise. Instead they put money into shiny objects like advertising, marketing and brand awareness. However, any idiot could see that those aren’t the critical things that salespeople need to do their damn jobs. Some companies and organizations simply become disconnected from the ground up—from listening to what their salespeople are telling them they need.

“These companies simply become disconnected from the ground up—from listening to what their salespeople are telling them they need.”

Listening to a talented salesperson express what they are hearing and seeing in the marketplace (from the mouths of their core customers) would be too simple a solution for corporate America. It’s easier for them to simply blame the salesperson or sales leader, threaten them, and then just run them off. They have a saying in the entertainment industry: “The audience will always tell you what’s good or bad.” This is great advice, but only if you’re actually listening.

But many companies are not listening.

The second driver of the short-term mentality trap may be pretty obvious, and it often goes hand in hand with #1:

#2 – Pressures from Wall Street or equity investors

When an organization is publicly traded or beholden to equity investors there is usually a great deal of pressure to win, quarter in and quarter out. When everything is going well…it’s one big party. When an organization takes their eye off the ball—and their competition doesn’t—and sales and revenues slide, they have to come up with answers to feed to their equity partners or Wall Street analysts. Someone or something must be to blame for the drop in sales and revenues, but what are they going to tell their stakeholders…

”Us executive level people are dumb, we got fat and lazy and forgot to stay on the cutting edge with regard to what our core customers actually want and need.”

Are they gonna’ be that honest?

Nope.

They’re going to blame sales and heads are going to roll—the ranks of sales and sales leadership become the fall persons, because, in the warped opinion of the C-suite, they are expendable and all easily replaceable. And I know as a fact, that this way of thinking and behaving by corporate America is just getting worse. Corporate America’s agenda is not driven by what’s best for you and your family, and it hasn’t been for a long time.

So…

This leads me to…

…the greatest piece of advice I never took!

I received this advice while sitting on the beach in Maui. The dude that gave me the advice was previously a corporate lobbyist for the Southern California Gas Company. At the time he gave me the advice he had retired from that position and had built a large sales organization independently. I loosely based a character on this guy who appears in my novel, Drawing Circles. His real name is Jim Floor. Jim’s advice was in response to a question of mine during a conversation about surviving and thriving in sales—climbing the ladder in corporate America. Jim expressed his opinion this way:

“Joe, the truth is, everyone is expendable in corporate America. There’s always a corporate agenda, and the guys and gals selling things, although we know how important that function is, aren’t always highly valued. Often salespeople and sales management people are used as scapegoats when there’s blame to assign for poor results. Joe, at worst, you are easily replaceable in their eyes. At best, if you’re simply doing your job well, you are somewhat invisible and on an island. They aren’t going to throw money at you passively, or necessarily promote you just because you’re loyal and doing a good job. It doesn’t work that way.”

It was then that Jim let loose with that doozy piece of advice…

“Joe, if you want my advice, there’s only one way to climb the ladder in corporate America and ensure you’re being paid what you’re worth. You have to be willing to quietly market yourself to the competition every three to five years.”

Now, at the time of this advice, I was still quite naïve and felt a great deal of loyalty to the company I was involved with. Jim’s advice didn’t resonate with me immediately. It sounded too cold, calculated and treacherous for my tastes. But I nodded my head and thanked him for the advice. But, if you think about what Jim was saying and not saying (and I actually never stopped thinking about it), it makes total sense, especially in today’s jungle.

Allow me to interpret his truth and advice:

What he wasn’t saying:

  • Jump from company to company every three years
  • Threaten your boss that you’re going to leave
  • Jump at the next offer that comes your way

What he was saying:

  • Unless you own the company, you’re simply a number and dispensable
  • Take your head out of your current bubble and look around
  • Seek out and make valuable connections within your industry
  • Always keep your resume updated
  • Be willing to test the market—determine your true value every few years

Jim was simply suggesting that if you discreetly tested the market every so often the market would accurately tell you what your services are worth. If the market tells you that you are earning more in your current position than the average, then, good. If the market tells you that you are underpaid or existing at a lower level than you should be positioned at, then you can choose to take that information to your current hierarchy and use it as a negotiation tool.

Typically, when you approach your current employer with a substantially better offer from a competitor, they will jump to match it or beat it. This strategy works partially because of human nature. We always want something just a little bit more if we know someone else wants it. In addition, this method also works well because companies usually don’t want their proprietary information walking into the hands of a direct industry competitor.

So, you’re probably wondering how this sage advice worked for me.

It didn’t.

Because I never took it—never put it into play.

Throughout my professional career, I was too loyal for the sake of being too loyal. It was the way I was scripted by my parents. Because of my deep-rooted belief system I ignored the messy truth that exists in corporate America. At one stretch I remained with an organization for the better part of twenty years and never even thought of testing my real value in the marketplace. I may, or may not have left, but that isn’t the point. The point is, I never knew for certain what my real worth was in the marketplace. Hence, I had no leverage with my hierarchy. With some knowledge and leverage I may have been able to position myself better—done even better for my family and my CPA.

It is my hope that you take this advice—the best advice I never took—to heart.

I was dumb.

Don’t be dumb.

You may be on an island but now you have a life raft to go exploring with.

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Joe Buzzello is a nationally recognized expert on direct selling and sales leadership. He has built legacy sales teams and experienced unprecedented success in individual and business-to-business markets as well as the network marketing industry. Joe has held executive level positions for Fortune 500 companies, but he has never strayed far from the art and science of selling, which he loves. In early 2014, Joe began writing, speaking, and coaching through his platform, www.joebuzzello.com and The CAP Equation©.

 

 

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