Oct. 21, 1996
Dear Reader: Someone stopped by my office the other day, and his sales pitch really got my goat. Believe me, I'm an absolute sucker for anyone trying to sell me something. I find it very difficult to turn anyone down if I'm given a good pitch. I guess that's because I've had to deal with so much rejection in my life as a salesman. I know what it's like to put a smile on your face when you don't have a dime in your pocket and need to sell something fast in order to pay the bills. I know how lonely hotel rooms can get after you've been on the road for a few nights. Sales professionals put it on the line all the time. They're out there living by their wits day in and day out. It doesn't take long to pick up street smarts. It's the only way to survive, and it's really the only way to learn the business.
But a lot of people like to pretend. They like to think of themselves as salespeople, but they don't have a clue. They talk a good game, and some even write books about sales. But they don't know what the business is all about. What the visitor in my office was trying to sell me was the idea that he could improve sales performance by having salespeople set specific goals, manage their time more efficiently and in the process become much more effective. This guy apparently has a pretty good reputation as someone who can show individuals and organizations how to reach new heights. As we talked he obviously was very sincere, and I know he is well-respected in his niche. As the conversation progressed I asked him what I thought was a fair question: "How many sales jobs have you held?" He answered that he had never held a sales position.
That struck me as odd, especially when he's giving advice to salespeople on how they can work more efficiently. Maybe some gurus believe it isn't necessary to have spent some time in the trenches to become an expert, but you can't convince me of that. It's like all the "experts" in the home office who seem to know everything about selling. Most of the time they think salespeople make too much money for what they do. After all, they get to travel a lot, they entertain and get to stay in nice hotels. What a life, they'll say. But they never see the downside. Anyone who travels for business these days knows it's anything but easy. Salespeople deal with rejection every day, often from extremely rude people. It takes a special type of person to handle a sales position of any kind. It takes perseverance, commitment and discipline. It requires detailed knowledge of one's products and the market the company serves. And, by the way, most salespeople aren't treated that well by their own firms, even though they're the front-line warriors so critical to any operation's success. No matter how good a product line, no matter how nice the corporate headquarters looks, nothing happens unless salespeople are out doing their jobs.
If someone is going to tell me how to do a better job with my sales force, that person needs to gain more credibility by going out and getting some sales experience. Only then will I acknowledge his expertise and entertain his advice. Don't be taken in by people who don't know what they're talking about. It may sound good and might even make some sense. But I want someone who understands my discipline. That takes good, old-fashioned experience, something that seems to be in short supply these days in a lot of fields.
Experience is still the best teacher,
Charles S. Lauer