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).