Dear Journal: I Used To Be A Salesgirl

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Not me…but isn’t she a cutie?

I used to be a sales”girl”.  Way back in the early days of my career.  Youthful and eager.  Yup…eager to please, eager to be liked, and even eager to impress without expectations of ROI.  Youth, I’ve held on to (hence my Hello Kitty creative glasses) but I’ve learned to taper eager.

Am I enthusiastic? Yes!  Do I still embody the idea of bubbly? Absolutely! But the understanding of being more than a sales girl kicked in and I put my personal and professional need to succeed ahead of my need to please others!   As a matter of fact, I can clearly identify the things that I used to do when I was younger girl and what has changed:

1. I struggled with conversations about my paycheck or desired pay raises because my priority, in that area, was being grateful for my job.  My gratitude interfered with my desire to have frank conversations.

2.  I was hindered by FEAR.  The reason that I didn’t ask the questions about MY money is that I was afraid of the reaction and response.  I allowed the same level of fear to keep me from questioning prospects too firmly…maybe I was afraid of a “no”, maybe I was afraid of offending.  Who know’s.  The bottom line was I was afraid!

3.  I allowed things to happen TO and AROUND me.  When things were being changed in regard to process or procedure I would smile and keep silent.  Could the changes negatively affect my results?  Sure, but in my mind I would figure it out so I worked up a smile and kept silent.

4.  I let others determine my value to the company or team.  This is a fault of many women that I come across in the workplace.  I’m sure that it happens to some men as well but let’s focus on the women for this one.  At some point in our career we become happy with the praise that we are receiving and the feeling of being needed.  The companies need for me to produce and the occasional “thanks” was enough for me to keep doing what was necessary to please them and put my professional ambitions on the back burner.  For the people who fall into this trap you will find that they can’t clearly communicate their value when asked on the spot.

5. I gave away my one true power:  control over my career moves.  Early in my life, I believed other’s perception of me instead of understanding my true ability.  After a few disappointments and misdirection, I paired with the RIGHT mentors and became more introspective and honest about my desires and abilities.  I decided that I didn’t just want to be a saleswoman, I wanted to be THE saleswoman, the number one producer..and so I worked toward that.  When I accomplished that mission I didn’t allow it to make me stagnant, I changed course to move into another area of Sales that would use other aspects of my personality and skill set.  When I decided that professional mentoring, writing and sales leadership were also passions, I began my quest with this blog and other ventures.  The key to all of this:  I DECIDED, I MOVED, AND I TOOK RESPONSIBILITY.

6.  I did a lot while expecting very little in return.  My thought was that when you do well, people see it and reward you accordingly.  I learned the hard way that even in sales you must “tactfully toot your own horn”.  It doesn’t mean that you have to stand up in your cube wearing a tiara (I prefer a fascinator) and a I am woman, hear me roar sign, however, there’s nothing wrong with cataloging your successes and knowing when to use them strategically, whether it be to ask for a raise, a promotion, or a change in sales territory.  I often saw that men were allowed to beat their chests and howl at the moon upon closing a contract while women had to be gracious in their successes.  My belief there’s always a dignified yet direct way to howl at the moon!

7.  I bought into the myth of being misunderstood.  I didn’t want the perception of being ungrateful, angry or immature let alone the stereotype of the “angry black woman”–(I still don’t know where that came from) –so I was a notorious tongue biter.  After countless lost opportunities, I decided that I was less worried about being misunderstood and more concerned with being understood.  You would no longer have the opportunity to speak for me or mischaracterize me because I was going to say exactly what I needed to.  I picked my timing, place, tone and battles and moved forward accordingly.   This helped me tremendously.  If at that point a colleague or manager chose to misrepresent my intentions or expectations, I wouldn’t focus on it because it was out of my control.   The upside?  Misunderstandings happened a lot less when I spoke up for myself!

8.  I cried publicly because I was holding in my frustrations.  There is nothing worse than crying at work.  I hate it….but I’ve done (and will again) do it.  I’m emotional and it’s not because I have lady bits.  I’m emotional because I’m competitive, a bit of a sore loser–although I keep it to myself and congratulate others well, passionate about my clients and their needs, and I have an expectation of parity.  When I was younger, and not nearly as wise, “that’s okay” was my favorite phrase.  This was a personal trait that seeped into my professional life.    Commission short by a couple hundred dollars:  that’s okay.  An account that I worked on and developed closes and a slimy sales guy creeps in to fight for the spoils: that’s okay.  Use that phrase often enough and you become a volcano of dissatisfaction sure to burst into tears at the most inopportune moments.  Times have changed, now I address what I need to WHEN I need to.  The occasional tears spring up in frustration but I’m usually balling my fists up prepared for the fight of my life by then and I WILL get what I want.

9.  I allowed someone else to sell me on their intentions where I was concerned.  For a native New Yorker, I was one of the least cynical people I knew.  I had an innate desire to believe that when someone said they wanted the best for me that they truly did.  Unfortunately, there were a few mishaps before I learned that not everyone wants to see you succeed and the sales world can be full of “Mr. Mean #1 Salesreps”.  The nature of an individual sales territory is that you are focused on your results, your money, and your growth.  If you’re not first, someone else will be is usually the name of the game so many salespeople find it hard to encourage each other.  After my experience, I was determined not to be insecure in my wins or losses.  This allowed me to become a salesperson that wanted to help others grow because I knew that their success didn’t have an impact on my own.  There was enough money for all of us!

10.  I didn’t focus on the three things:  Who I spoke to, What I said, and How often I said it.  Sales is a number game, no matter how you look at it.  Instead of dialing as often as I could, asking the proper qualifying questions to get to the decision makers and moving quickly past the “no’s”, I became consumed by contracts that didn’t come in or missed opportunities.  I was a mess.  One of the first sales mentors that I had, Paul, told me “you can’t lose what you don’t have” and it was a lightbulb or Oprah Aha! moment.  I was wasting time putting thought into why I didn’t get the contract when I could pick up the phone and say “NEXT”.  Gratefully, it didn’t take me long to learn to focus on what I could control, say next and rebound quickly from failures…this has been a great key to my success throughout my career.

That’s right, I was in sales”girl” city.  Because of my reluctance to rock the boat, things happened to and around me, not for me.  While others touted the “smarter not harder” mentality, I worked hard with the understanding that it was the only smart way to achieve the results, yet I didn’t get the results that would matter in the long term.  I readily committed to working after hours both for myself and to impress leadership with my commitment, which is exactly what an eager little sales girl would do.

As I gained time and experience, I realized that I wasn’t managing my career, I was allowing others to do it for me.  I met metrics that satisfied the immediate goals for the company and my own small, personal gain but I didn’t set up metrics that would allow me to move beyond the cubicle.  I knew that I wanted to lead but I didn’t let the “powers that be” in on the secret.  I just figured that my hard work, tenacity, obvious commitment, and pace setting would be enough to earn the ultimate reward.

Little did I know that being a sales “girl” didn’t allow me the ability to use production as a means to an end the way that the boys did.  I had to do more.  I had to do things that would be risky.  Instead of producing and silently returning to my cube for the next dial, I had to smoothly announce and celebrate my wins.  Yes, I had to bring them to the attention of the boys that ran the club.

I had to take advantage of my positioning by making it clear that not only was I money motivated, as many great sales people are, but that I had career ambition and aspirations that reached far beyond the gray cloth walls that I lived in.  In one position a CEO told me that he wasn’t sure if “I was ready to lead a team of salespeople”, but acknowledged that colleagues were already coming to me for education and mentorship.  When I referenced the promotion of a freshly minted college graduate with no experience but a collegial affiliation with him, he ignored that statement but noted that if I “just stick around, you know that (sales management role) is a revolving door”.  Just stick around?  That might have worked when I was a salesgirls.

Growing out of a sales girl role required that I determined what role I would fill within a company and what strengths I brought to the table.  I understood after years of being agreeable that I would have to take the risk of politely reminding bosses of the accomplishments and achievements that should have earned me a higher standard.  Sales in a good environment is a perk laden world. It’s the only industry where discussing money isn’t taboo but actually is public measurement of achievement.  Even the most humble individual is looking for a little “scratch” on various levels.  A mentor once told me that the best ways to reward salespeople was “time and money”.  I figure the best reward myself is to make the best use of my career (time) and identify ways to have more resources (money).

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Dissection of An Excuse!

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“On my way in I had a coughing episode and made myself sick, so I turned around and came back home.  My voice is gone and I feel like a mess.
I am working on the follow up from [specific project], so I have plenty to work on. I will be accessible by email throughout the day as well.”

This is the introduction to our new column, “Excuses Excuses”.  The above proves that you don’t have to work in a “creative environment” to find creative people.  Let’s break this one down just a bit:

1)  Coughing episode….unless this episode is a byproduct of a terminal lung disease or accompanied by some internal hazardous bio fluid it just doesn’t sound rational.  The kind of coughing that requires a day off is usually preceded by illness.  How do I know, you ask?  WebMD people!  I do my research! (http://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/tc/coughs-topic-overview).  So the question is: “how does coughing actually make one sick enough to stay home?”….let alone…

2) Turn around and go back home:  Yep!  This episode of coughing (which can happen from drinking your morning Starbucks too quickly or “swallowing down the wrong pipe”–no scientific proof that the latter can occur), has resulted in someone, who apparently felt well enough to come to work when they first woke up, reversing their course.   Let’s see the order of this….wake, yawn, stretch, shower, dress, do hair and makeup, step into the warm sunshine, begin morning commute, cough (episodically), and return home…seems like the right thing to do.

3) My voice is gone:  The absence of a voice is huge when you’re a salesperson although many of us have muddled through.  I don’t post things that I haven’t vetted so I have it on good confidence that this is a technical person–hence a voice being important but not a job changer.  But let’s relate point #3 to point #1.  “My voice is gone.”  This says: I had a voice BUT my coughing episode erased it within the space of a car ride.

So, the party didn’t wake up with a particularly sore throat (the excuse itself makes me think this person would have divulged that to further bolster their rationale for going home, i.e….’I woke up with a sore throat and then had a coughing episode on the way in”) but coughing created one.  This isn’t out of the realm of possibility particularly if you are TRYING to and follow the 5 ways to lose your voice: http://www.mademan.com/mm/5-ways-lose-your-voice.html.  So, we can justify the loss of voice as a created condition.

4) I FEEL like a mess:  AHA!  Here’s the gist of the situation…YOU NEEDED A MENTAL HEALTH DAY!  Well, hell, why didn’t you just say this?  Even scions of leadership understand the need to step away from corporate madness for a moment.  As a matter of fact the better you feel the better you perform and the good “bosses” know this!  On another note, sometimes you feel like what you are….this isn’t a mean statement just an observation.  Could it be that your issue is psychosomatic and not physical?  Sooner or later the powers that be get the sense that these “feelings” aren’t real and will question everything!

5) blah blah “accessible by email throughout the day”.  Everyone and I do mean everyone knows that this portion of the excuse is gratuitous.  This person isn’t really expecting anyone to reach out and for the most part people won’t!  I’m not saying all of the time but there’s a pretty significant chance that this part of the statement is a way to assuage some guilt.

That’s my feeling about excuses.  Do I ever make them?  Of course!  Human beings make excuses. Excuses are a perceived necessity!  Let’s just hope that when excuses are made they’re better than this one.  To pay homage to this lamest of excuses, the MSW team is looking for the worst or most creative excuses you’ve heard or used!

Don’t Be a Victim Charlie Brown

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*Three things that you should know before you proceed:  First, this isn’t for those of you with Charlie Brown collectibles.  Believe me, you just won’t get it and you may feel a little judged.  Secondly, I consider Charlie Brown to be a poor role model but a great confirmation of valuable life lessons! Third, I still get the same goofy grin on my face when ABC announces the holiday line up and I will continue to watch (so should you).   If you’re still interested, come with me:

CHARLIE BROWN IS A PROBLEM!

It feels good to get that off my chest.  After burying this blog piece deep in the draft bin for months I now feel removed enough from sappy holiday emotions to say what’s on my mind.

So here we go, four lessons that are validated through the life of Charlie Brown:

1) Mediocrity is a choice and a direct connection to self esteem.  This is demonstrated multiple times during It’s The Great Pumpkin…no less than when Charlie Brown chooses to attend Violet’s Halloween party after being told he was accidentally invited (Lucy informs him that he was on the “don’t invite” list).  Hs lack of self esteem ironically doesn’t allow him to protect himself from the poor treatment issued by others but instead leads him to walk right into their path, seeking acceptance from people who may not even deserve his friendship.  He’s willing to accept the bare minimum from other people.  Even worse, he shows his willingness to just get by in his costume selection; selecting the easiest costume, screwing it up and refusing to start from scratch. Now you’re the “ghost” with 18 eyeholes.  Oh, if only Mr. Schulz had written in an invisibility option, it would have been a better choice.

2) When people show you who they are, believe them!  In the comic strip and during various specials Lucy clearly demonstrates that her entire mission in life is to be Ol’ Chuck’s foil.  His weakness is the exact opposite of the rule; he believes that when Lucy treats him poorly that this is the exception to whom she really is.  He can’t reconcile that she loves to see him down!  Whether it’s after his fake out during the placekick or when she’s charging him 5 cents to degrade him at her booth (he pays a person who clearly doesn’t like him to give him advice), his failure is her success! In the off chance that Lucy decides to throw Charlie a bone and show him a little kindness she makes sure that she reminds him of all of his faults only seconds later.  Even when people lie their consistent actions tell the truth about who they are—believe them!

3) You are the company you keep.   I don’t have a particular gripe against Linus.  Let’s face it, he’s dealing with issues that are deep, considering that he has absentee parents and is left to be ignored by his abusive sister with his only comfort being his blanket and his spineless best friend.  Put all of that aside and focus on the greater problem, yep, you guessed it, Charlie Brown!  He is clearly older than Linus with their only commonality being that they have no show of force.  Why does he choose to spend all of his valuable free time with Linus?  We could say it’s his chance to assert himself and be the leader or we could refer back to Lesson #1.  Charlie has access to a creative and assertive ally in his dog Snoopy, however, man’s best friend must have heard rule #3 because he seeks his companionship with those more closely aligned with his perceived station or higher (he often is the most intelligent of the humans he emulates).

When individuals that are crafty and creative attempt to get closer to him–ahem Peppermint Patty–he is clearly disturbed by it.  C’mon a chick that could get people to call her “sir” in the 1950’s is most obviously a boss!  He could use a little of her chutzpah.  Schroeder is a creative genius but he doesn’t want the taint of association with Charlie. Would anyone have taken Mozart seriously if he schlepped around with a thumb sucking, blanket toting friend and a prematurely bald whiner?

4) You teach people how to treat you.  This is along the lines of rule #2. In the somewhat obscure You’re a Good Sport, Charlie Brown,  Lucy snatches the football out of Charlie’s path twice!  She asked him twice because she knew she could and that he would.  During the process of this humiliation, Peppermint Patty hits Chuck up for cash, inviting him to participate in a bike race with the winning prize being Pro Bowl tickets that “she has won”.  He ultimately wins the race and the prize which turns out to be 5 free haircuts (little known fact-his dad is a barber, obvious fact–he has no hair).  Bottom line, he is the easiest target because he is a willing target.

I could have written an article about Chuck’s eternal optimism, belief in the human race, and acceptance of others but those lessons have been opined before I’m sure.  As entertainment value and purposeful avoidance of Lesson #1 this was a much better approach for me.

To leave on a positive note,  when Charlie wins the bike race and is disappointed with his reward, Linus removes his thumb from his mouth for some interesting words of wisdom reminding him that, ‘winning against overwhelming odds is much more important than the reward at the end’.

Although as a saleswoman I might take issue with that statement too.

Only In My World

IT Guy:  Where do I know you from?
Me: We worked together at (blah blah blah)
IT Guy: Oh that’s right (insert random small talk)
Me: (awkwardly) so….about my computer
IT Guy: yeah I’ll check it out (looking around surreptitiously) you know we have something else in common…..
Me: (even more awkwardly) what’s that?
IT Guy: (much too loud for someone who just looked around surreptitiously) WE’RE BOTH ON DATING SITES!!!
Me: (way past the awkward stage) umm, I don’t think so.
IT Guy: (pulling out his cell phone) Is this you?
Me: (afraid of what I may see) Umm, that’s…not…me…
IT Guy: (nonchalant) Oh, okay, I thought that was you
Me: so, yeah, about my computer

AWKWARD.....

AWKWARD…..

Barista, Therapist, Friend

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It’s cliché, I know, a blogger who hangs out in coffee shops, but I confess that not only do I hang out at my local purveyor of chai and lattes, I actually have an emotional girl crush on my barista.

Her name is Maureen, and she is the proverbial “fiery redhead”.  Sure, Maureen has the ability to provide me with chai that has  just the right balance of spicy, creamy flavor but this has now been proven to be the least of her virtues.  The depth of her value is actually the equivalent of a great hairstylist, you know, the one that keeps you talking for your entire two-hour appointment.  In his past life Dr. Phil was Maureen and that’s the only reason he is so good today.  Snarky but helpfully direct, deep but irreverent and painfully honest while being informative, this woman has talked me off the ledge more than once.

A few mornings ago, following a particularly enraging day with a new boss, I knew that a trip to Starbucks would be a necessity before I went back to the office. Maureen asked how things were going and although I’d like to blame it on a caffeine induced meltdown, I honestly was just happy that someone asked and told her the truth.  For lack of better terms I vomited my pain all over her serviceably understandable crocs (please ignore the only time that you will see me validate the existence of Crocs).

No need to get too detailed about what was said, all you need to know is that her best advice boiled down to  ‘It’s important to teach people perspective.  Walk into his office and take him on a little journey back to the moment that you both experienced but make sure that he understands that you are switching roles.  He needs to understand what your feeling was in that moment.’

I know, it sounds emotional and schmary but the way that she delivered it was straight forward, no smile.  It was pure confrontation and a directive to BE BRAVE and KNOW YOUR VALUE.  Bottom line, it worked and as I move forward to my new position with another company, the only thing I regret is leaving my Barista.   Where the hell am I gonna find a therapist that charges $4.85 a session?