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The Sin of Selling

April 17, 2009


When it comes to selling, slothfulness is by far the deadliest of the Seven Deadly Sins. You can lust after your co-worker, supersize your lunch hour till your pants explode but woe beholds the slothful sales rep: few things will put a buzz kill on your career faster than a bad case of procrastination.

Whichever bright spark first thought of hiring a man to do nothing but sell for 8 hours a day was a particularly sadistic fellow. Selling is a rather existentialist profession and who want post-modernism in their job description?

Let’s say we go to the office and absently surf the internet for a day – nothing happens, we just get a vague sense of guilt that we can’t quite put our finger on. Next we wrap up early one afternoon and make a matinee movie – again nothing really happens, is that repressed professional panic setting in or merely lunchtime indigestion? And finally, after a strangely pleasant month of not much happening we are summoned to meet our maker in the corner office.
“Turn it around, Jones or you’re out of a job by the end of the month.” At this stage we’re a match stick away from combustion on the office bonfire. Once we’re behind the numbers, sales is a paricularly unpleasant way to make a living.

And there in lies the problem. Skip a day in most professions and the proverbial doo-doo will hit the fan by 5 o’clock. Widgets don’t get delivered, beans don’t get counted, math tests don’t get graded. But in sales we reap the rewards of hard work that was anonymously sown three months ago. The trouble is at the time, we don’t know which sales calls will be the winners and which need never have been made. It’s enough to drive a man insane.

Now throw in the minimal supervision associated with home office and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Who in their right mind would want to Cold Call / Warm Call/ Power Spin Call of their own free will when they could be happily surfing eBay for discounted soft furnishings? No one would have though to put cable TV in the office ten years ago; today we’re never more than two clicks away from a million channels of entertainment, all conveniently available on our work PC.

Sales is a lot like college, work hard 9am -5pm, five days a week and you’ll graduate with decent gradse. Instead most of us choose to pull all nighters, cadge last minute favors from buddies and generally make an unnecessary ruckus of out our professional lives (German sales professionals exempted).

And it’s the little things that we consequently skip over. Not the big deal proposal but the handful of phone calls to new propsects that need to be made everyday and the 10 minutes needed to check our clients latest news. These minor acts of selling are the difference between average and stellar over a lifetime; they also make our daily work more interesting and rewarding.

This column has purposely stayed away from the self-help blurb that passes as contemporary sales literature, but for once let’s throws ourselves on Oprah’s couch. So grab that lunchtime yoga mat and get ready for a better life with “The Closer’s Guide to Kicking Procrastination.”

  • Prioritize: keep the first hour of every day free for prospecting. It’s not a lot but it’s 250 hours a year more than your average account manager and that’s enough to build an empire.
  • Fear is Our Friend: if it make’s us uncomfortable then it probably needs doing. Forget the moral compass; our professional bearings are oiled with the cold sweat of fear.  This also serves as a great reminder to call the in-laws from time to time.
  • You’ve Got Mail: keep a pad of paper by your desk and next time you have an urge to check your Gmail just make a note on your personal to do list, then come back to it at the end of the day. “My gosh! Without all those constant distractions a monkey could do this job!  Corporate life’s funny like that sometimes.
  • Self Manage:– if you had an unpaid intern which of your daily tasks would you assign to your academic debutante (includes searching eBay memorabilia) and which would you keep for yourself. Now which do you think you should be focusing on?
  • Routine: as British boarding schools have proven for centuries: we’re creatures of habit. Stick to your daily routines whether you’re preparing for a big pitch, on the road or a day away from starting your vacation
  • Relax: Generally it’s a bad idea to spend work time planning the weekend and weekends worrying about work. 40 hours a week is more than enough  time to be successful in sales.

Slothfulness, procrastination, OCGD (Obsessive Compulsive Googling Disorder) – call it what you like: working on stuff other than work during work hours causes work problems. “The longest journey begins with the first step”, “Never put off until tomorrow what can be done today”… whatever moto gets your mojo on… “Just Do It”

To conlude, let us cast our minds back to business folklore and the tale of the tycoon, JP Morgan who once paid $25,000 for the secret to success. After coughing up the princely sum, a small piece of paper was left in his hand that read “At the beginning of each day make a list of the things that need to be done and for the rest of the day do them”. Words wise enough to make him the richest man in America and who doesn’t want that?

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 17, 2009 10:13 pm

    My suite-mate, who is a sales trainer, tells of one of her favorite clients, who consistently outperforms the other salespeople in her office. The “secret” to her success is skepticism about her talent — ! — she secretly fears that she is a terrible salesperson, and therefore works twice as hard as everyone else, with double the success.

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