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posted: 9/5/2017 1:00 AM

My son the salesman ... an American tragedy

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First let me start out by stating that sales is an honorable profession, one of which I have been a member and have enjoyed my entire working life. Unfortunately, not everyone sees it that way. Due to the cartoonish behavior of some salespeople, the field of sales is viewed as a "default job." I have never met anyone who graduated from high school and/or college whose goal was to be a sales professional for life. That said, most in the business perpetuate this "bad name" stereotype by relying on the slick, manipulative persona we see portrayed in bad comedies.

I have just returned from a week's fly fishing in Montana where I travel to replenish my mind and spirit. The solitude of the streams and wilderness as well as the absence of human interaction allows me to clear my head, reevaluate and reset my priorities.

Spending time in this part of the world gives me a chance to interact with the rugged individualists who live here. Montanans have the highest regard for nature and vigorously fight to protect it. Most make their living off the land in one way or another and celebrate that way of life as they interact with outsiders, myself included!

At the end of a day of fly fishing, I usually stop into one of the local taverns, have a cold beer and try to pick up a little local fishing knowledge that will help me in the stream the next day. I am basically introverted and this exercise usually becomes the most challenging part of my Montana adventure. This past week, I had a particularly fascinating conversation with two residents who were sincerely interested in some of my life's particulars. The conversation began with a man asking me how my day of fishing had gone and progressed to what I do for a living. I explained that I have been in sales all my life. He loudly exclaimed, "You're a salesman!" attracting the attention of everyone in the bar. With all eyes fixed on me, he then said, loud enough for everyone to hear, "I have never met a salesman before, explain what you do." I clumsily walked him through the process of selling to which he responded by saying, "Too bad you couldn't get a real job."

A woman, two stools down, wandered over to join the conversation proclaiming, "My son left the ranch ten years ago to become a salesman and I have never forgiven him! Every time I watch television and see a salesman, I think of my baby boy selling his soul for a dollar!" I tried to explain why sales is a desirable profession, but the more I talked, the more she was convinced she was right. By then, we had drawn a crowd of locals and I found myself imagining someone yelling, "Get a rope!" so I quickly finished my beer, bought them all a round of drinks and left.

In May of 2015, it was reported that there are 14.4 million salespeople in the United States. If I apply my 20/60/20 rule (20 percent are high, 60 percent, variable and 20 percent, low performers), then roughly 80 percent of them, representing 11.5 million salespeople, are giving the profession a bad rap! (By the way, this is Bartlett math for the sake of this article.) If you're ranked in the top 20 percent, you can stop reading this article now; if not, please continue.

Now is the time for you to make a solid commitment to the sales profession: stop using it as an excuse for mediocrity. Since on-the-job training can only take you so far, I recommend you find a professional to train and coach you in areas where learning the hard way is inefficient. If you aren't a top performer in your company, accept that sales success in today's world means making your own professional development an absolute priority! Go conquer your worlds!

• Bill Bartlett owns Corporate Strategies, A Sandler Training Center. Text "SalesTip" to 71813 to receive Bill's bi-weekly newsletter.