September 8, 2023

Sales Professional: Are you a victim or a warrior?

Sales Professionals in South Africa: Warrior or Victim

The sales profession is one of the toughest on the planet. Not because it’s inherently difficult, but because it triggers every foible in the human psyche.

If you’ve ever felt any of these, you’re in the sales profession:

  1. Rejection. The prospect didn’t buy. He doesn’t like me. Just like my father didn’t like me. Nobody likes me. I’m worthless. Daddy, why don’t you love me? I don’t matter.
  2. Imposter syndrome. I closed a big deal. I was just lucky. If he knew the real me he wouldn’t have bought. I’m not good enough. If anyone knew me, they would know I’m a fraud.
  3. Frustration. Another deal lost despite my best efforts. Why are they taking so long to make a decision? Just sign the fucking order.
  4. Despondency. I didn’t hit my target again. I hate seeing my name last on the leaderboard, again. What a loser. Am I going to get fired?
  5. Depression. I can’t deal with another setback. I wonder how many sick days I have left? Am I going to get fired?
  6. Disillusionment. Nobody keeps their word. Humans suck. I suck. My life sucks.
  7. Disgust. I had to exaggerate the features. I didn’t highlight that particular T&C. I don’t really think our product can do that, but it will probably never be put to the test, so we can get away with it. Good grief, I’m a liar. What else do I lie about? I’m a terrible person.
  8. Shame. I couldn’t take the kids camping like I promised because I didn’t get commission this month. We had to go to Wimpy again for our date night. I’m a deadbeat parent and partner.

Perhaps you’re lucky enough to never have felt any of the above. I can’t say I’ve had that luxury.

If misery loves company, then take heart that almost every human being goes through these experiences at some stage or another.

Here’s What Weakens You and Me

These experiences typically come from our expectations of others. And, in the sales profession, it’s highlighted 1000-fold because we always want something from the other. If we’re a sales leader, we want our team to perform. If we’re a sales person, we want our prospects to buy. And, as a human being, we demand validation from others.

This is problematic because it always leaves us feeling weak, disillusioned and disappointed because it seldom turns out how we want it to.

Whenever we want something from another, we put ourselves in a position of weakness. The other can withhold what we want (an order, a promotion, a raise). That puts the other in a position of power. The who can withhold is the one with the power. In sales, prospects and customers always have the power. In work, your boss always has the power (to withhold or give that promotion or raise).

Petty Tyrants

This brings me to the concept of the petty tyrant which first appeared in Carlos Castaneda’s book, The Fire From Within.

He says, “A petty tyrant is a tormentor. Someone who either holds the power of life and death over warriors or simply annoys them to distraction.”

“We know that nothing can temper the spirit of a warrior as much as the challenge of dealing with impossible people in positions of power. Only under those conditions can warriors acquire the sobriety and serenity to stand the pressure of the unknowable.”

I think that petty tyrants are marvellous creatures because without them, we’d never grow as human beings, would we?

And, the sales profession is the best gymnasium in the world to test our mettle in this regard. Petty tyrants (customers, prospects and colleagues) are our gym instructors and drill sergeants. They challenge our comfort zone and test our adaptability and resilience.

Petty tyrants can be seen as a source of frustration and torment, or as a catalyst for personal growth. If you see the former, you’re a victim, not a warrior. In the sales profession, you always want to be a warrior. Of course, you always have choice: do you react as a victim or respond as a warrior?

Castaneda wrote, “The warrior who stumbles on a petty tyrant is a lucky one. If you don’t come upon one in your path, you have to go out and look for one.”

In my experience, the quicker you can find your tormentor, the sooner you toughen up so that you can deal with what life throws at you. As a sales professional, you know that it throws a lot of shit at you, don’t you?

In sales, it’s easy to find petty tyrants. They are referred to as prospects and customers.

If you’re a sales manager, they’re called your team.

Petty tyrants serve as valuable opportunities for growth.

  1. Adaptability. A petty tyrant in sales might be a difficult customer who questions your product’s value or a market trend that threatens your usual sales approach. Instead of resisting change, successful sales professionals adapt their strategies to meet these challenges head-on, ultimately becoming more versatile and resourceful.
  2. Resilience. In the world of sales, facing rejection is a common occurrence. Every rejection can make us feel defeated, but Castaneda’s idea reminds us that these moments are actually opportunities for us to strengthen our emotional resilience. The ability to bounce back and maintain a positive attitude in the face of adversity is a hallmark of successful salespeople.
  3. Continuous Improvement. Sales professionals can use setbacks as opportunities for improvement. Each challenge provides insights into what can be done better, whether it’s refining sales techniques or enhancing product knowledge.
  4. Empathy. Petty tyrants in the form of demanding prospects and customers can teach salespeople to develop greater empathy. Understanding a customer’s pain points and addressing their concerns effectively can turn a challenging situation into a win-win scenario.

The Endeavour of Selling is a Hero’s Journey

A career in sales is a metaphor for life. You can live an average life. Or you can heed the call of adventure and heroically try to make your mark on this world. You’re going to need guidance on this journey, so find mentors that can help take you over the finish line.

You’re going to have a shit ton of challenges, disappointment, and disillusionment. You’re going to get stuffed up, and stuff it up more times than you care to remember. But you get up every time and keep swinging for the bleachers. It’s not in your nature to give up, but to prevail.

But, there’ll come a time when you’ll want to give it up. A time when you see no hope. This is called the dark night of the soul.

Any sales professional worth his or her salt has to go through this. If you’ve never been through it, you’re just not playing this sales game hard enough.

And, you do know that you get out of the hole, don’t you? If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be reading this piece of text now, would you? You’re still in the game, fighting every inch of the way, aren’t you?

Finally, after all your effort you get the reward you deserve. Of course, it does not always come packaged the way you wanted, hence disillusionment and disappointment.

However, if you believe that there’s a greater ingenuity than your own running the show, as I do, then the reward might come in a form that’s way better than you expected for yourself.

Then, as a benevolent and mature human, you take the reward and the lessons learned from the experience, and you share it with your tribe so that they too can benefit. So that they too can deal with their petty tyrants.

Make Art and Have Fun

Finally, have some fun. As Castaneda said, “The idea of using a petty tyrant is not only for perfecting the warrior’s spirit, but also for enjoyment and happiness.”

Like you, I’m an artist, and the joy is in the creating of the art. Crafting a sales pitch, presenting it and using every ounce of skill to convince someone to buy what I have to sell, is joy for me. This makes me happy. Whether my work lands with the prospect or not, it matters not.

That’s not entirely true, of course; I do need to make a living, after all. As a business owner and sales professional, all I know is that if I fail a lot, I’ll succeed a little. And, that little gives me a life I can be proud of.

Don’t take yourself too seriously; remember sales can be fun as long as you don’t react like a victim but respond as a warrior.

If you’re at a crossroads in your sales career (or life for that matter), reframe it as a positive experience. Because it really is … the right and wrong, the good and bad. It’s called being a human.

So, if you’re a sales professional, give it a real go and embrace those petty tyrants. They’re not doing things to you, but rather for you. They’re the steel that sharpens steel.

Let’s do this thing together, you and I. Let’s give it a go. Well probably fuck it up. But let’s have fun while doing it.

Because, as you probably understand by now, in sales at least, the more we fail at this endeavour, the more we succeed at it.

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