We are a nation of salespeople; however, far too many in the field "default" their way into the profession and develop a comfort zone that turns into a mediocre career. Employers encourage this mediocrity by paying a "livable" base salary and a commission structure that is supposed to motivate their team to sell more.
I recently met a young salesman at a networking event who was unemployed, or by his description, "between" sales jobs. After a lengthy conversation, I discovered that he had been out of work for 18 months and was reaching the end of his rope.
His former position paid him an $80,000 base and a commission of 15 percent on everything he sold. By his account, he made approximately $110,000 for a year's worth of selling. This created a huge problem for him as it became an expectation for his next position. You see, potential employers balked at this high base he was committed to receiving as he was untested in his new company and their investment might be at risk.
I thought for a moment and suggested a way to make himself more appealing to future potential employers. "Drop your request for a high base salary and offer to work for 100 percent commission to prove that you can do the job. After all, you have been unemployed for 18 months!"
The look of horror on his face was frightening as he blurted out, "No way! I'm a sales professional and I'm entitled to it for the effort I give each day." He went on to say that he was comfortable with the high base and the security that it gave him. He would rather continue to wait, no matter how long it takes, until he found a company who would pay him the base that he is used to receiving for his work. My immediate thought was the concept of "hell freezing over," but I don't believe I will witness that in my lifetime.
Entitled, comfortable and security are words that a salesperson should never utter or experience! These are words that justify complacency and low performance and certainly aren't associated with high performance.
Here's a thought that might not sit well with most of you. If it were up to me, no salesperson would ever receive a base salary. They would, however, get paid a high commission that would allow the business owner and the salesperson to each make buckets of money. This commission structure would drive the salesperson to spend the maximum amount of time each day hunting for new sources of business and not living in the hope that they will find "roadkill".
It may be time for all salespeople to do a quick review of their job performance. Ask yourself:
1. Does your daily behavior significantly impact your company's bottom line or are you a liability?
2. How much of your business week is spent on "justifiable" busy work versus high performing sales behavior?
3. Do you spend at least 60 percent of your week prospecting for new business?
4. Have you eliminated mediocrity in all your selling efforts?
5. If you were your boss, would you hire someone who performs like you?
"Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up and knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up and it knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn't matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle ... when the sun comes up, you'd better be running."
Selling is an honorable profession that you should enter by design, rather than default. To all the mediocre salespeople who are underperforming in your current position, I offer the following advice: When the sun comes up, you'd better be running as there may be an unemployed higher performer who is looking to take your place.
Go conquer your worlds.
• Bill Bartlett owns Corporate Strategies, A Sandler Training Center. firstname.lastname@example.org. Text "SalesTip" to 71813 to receive Bill's biweekly newsletter.