Wednesday, June 22, 2011

But I Don't Drink Coffee...

It's a scenario we've all seen it a million times, like for instance, in the case of ballet dancer Maureen Cummings. Born with the talent, but not the will. For her, ballet was "a life of wishing I found something I loved instead of something I just happened to be good at" but for me it's sales. I'd make a lousy ballet dancer anyway, I'm not very turned out, so that needs work...

I don't know if there is a more overdone yet spot-on archetype in pop culture than the salesman. From Ben Affleck in Boiler Room and Michael Douglas in Wall Street to the granddaddy of them all: Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross this roll has been done again and again to great effect. It makes for interesting characters but the one problem with larger than life characters is kids (notably little boys) want to grow up to be like them.

There are scores of men my age who wanted nothing more than to grow up to be Maverick from Top Gun. There are also tons of Italian-American men who saw one too many mob flicks and thought they were wiseguys. But both of those groups are positively dwarfed by the number of douchebag sales guys who grew up wanting to be Jim Young, Gordon Gekko or Blake barking about how "coffee's for closers only". I think of that line as the sentence that launched a thousand shitheads.

I am who I am, not what I do. I sell things for a living, and I'm pretty damn good at it. It doesn't light my fire or get my competitive juices flowing. It doesn't make me feel superior or alive. It just pays the bills, and even that is an accident. I was a senior in college working at a TV station as a sports photographer when the sales manager said I should put all the BSing I was doing to work and offered me a sales job for after I graduated. Fast forward 13 years and I found myself deep in my career interregnum and having to go back to the sales floor.

I downright loathe the very mindset of sales. If I had a dollar for every time a sales manager has quoted the "nothing happens till someone sells something" line to me I would never have to sell anything ever again. But, in the end, I'm pretty good at it. It basically comes down to the fact that I've never met a person I couldn't talk to from strangers on a plan all the way up to the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or my childhood hero: Cal Ripken Jr.

I like to talk, and more importantly, I like to listen. I have a pretty good knack for picking up on people's subtext and body language and perhaps most importantly I have empathy and the ability to put my self in someone else's shoes. So if I'm selling how I like to, the person buys what they need and no more. They will buy from me again and again and they will never feel like they've been taken.

To me that's how business should be done, but that's not how sales managers see the world.

They want you to get every last penny out of the mark's pocket. Sadly, I can do that too. I can scare an old lady into buying something that I know she not only doesn't need, but that she can't afford. And unlike many of my brethren, I can make her feel like I did her a favor.

I am not a salesman. I am a man who, thanks to a few twists and turns on my career ladder, sells things. I really don't know what else I could do anymore. My resume screams sales, and to borrow a line from another Affleck movie, when it came to sales "I could always just play." I won the Dale Carnegie Sales award at 22 besting a hotel ballroom full of guys who had been selling since before my mom met my dad.

But then again, that meeting was nothing more than sales. The old man walked up to my mom at a party and upon seeing her in a two piece bathing suit asked her "does that tan go all the way up?"

But then again, he drank coffee.

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