February 14, 2012 by Joyce Richman
Last week I described the saga of Sam Smiley. An affable fellow who, as a young man, chose a career in sales because family and friends said he should. “You’re a natural”, they said. “You’re a warm, outgoing guy. People like you; they’ll trust you; they’ll buy from you.”
What a relief for Sam! “I’m a warm, outgoing guy, and trustworthy, too. People like me so they’ll buy from me. What a concept!”
Sam did as directed and enjoyed modest success in sales for many years, until this one. He’s just been fired and he’s at a loss to understand why.
His boss said that he wasn’t aggressive enough, that he didn’t close sales
and when he did, the deal would unravel before the ink was dry. Instead of being accountable and accepting responsibility for his mistakes, he’d blame others.
“You’re a pleasant enough fellow to have around, Sam, but you do too little and cost too much to stay on the payroll.”
Sam knows that sales aren’t for him and never have been. He’s never liked cold calling and can’t bear rejection. He’s been kidding himself, stalling for time, ducking for cover, hiding the truth from himself and from others. He needs to get on with his life but how do you do that when you’ve never known how and you’re turning fifty.
Sam Smiley told his wife that he wants out of sales but doesn’t know what else to do. She said that she’d like to be supportive of him but they have big expenses and need a big income to make ends meet. He wanted to tell her that she needed to get a job, that she needed to spend less and help more. But Sam just smiled and said, “that’s fine, you’re right. I’ll figure something out.”
Sam went to his doctor, who was an old friend and confidante. The doctor, noting Sam’s elevated blood pressure, wanted to know what was going on. Sam described his dilemma: “If I get another job in sales I’ll be miserable. If I get a job doing something different I’ll have to start over. At my age, I don’t know if I’ll have the energy, or the opportunity.”
His doctor-friend suggested that he watch his diet, exercise more, and take charge of his life. Sam didn’t know what that last part meant but agreed that it sounded like a good idea.
“Take charge of your life, Sam.” You’re at a fork in the road. Take the fork on the right and stay in sales. You can make that work if you decide to become more assertive, focused, and deliberate in your goals. It won’t be easy Sam, but it’s doable.
Take the fork to the left and dare to do something more in keeping with your natural style and preferences. It’s risky, Sam, but if you have the courage to change directions you may find more satisfaction in the work that you do.
Whatever fork you choose and direction you take, Sam, you’ll always face difficult people and challenging situations. If you want to change the outcome, replace your old responses with new attitudes. Change your attitude and you can change your behavior. Learn what it means to take actions that are consistent with integrity. Learn what it means to be congruent and forthright in what you say and how you say it. Learn that you can “be nice” and negotiate fairly; that you can be trustworthy, and close a deal. Learn that it’s better to under-promise and over-deliver.
Find mentors from whom you can learn to do best what you do least well. Practice in all the places in your life: with your spouse, your children (of whatever age), and your friends.
A hearty handshake and pleasing demeanor won’t replace competence and hard work. Get up to speed on what you need. Improve your computer skills. Learn how to read a balance sheet. Read business journals. Find out what the competition is doing. Create a niche for yourself that everyone agrees adds value to the organization. Confidence comes from mastering what eludes you, whether it’s your ability to initiate or complete, negotiate or compete. Take charge of your life, Sam, and do it now.
Originally published in the Greensboro News and Record