All my life, I’ve pretty much known what my paycheck will be. After all, you accept a job, you know the hourly rate, you know how many hours you work. It’s fairly easy to calculate the deductions and the remaining balance is your takehome. And once you hit a salaried rate, it’s going to be the same amount no matter how many hours you work. It’s a financial safety net, the only worry is a reduction in force or getting fired.
My father was a salesman. He started his career at O.C. Tanner putting together sales data. The more he did the more he realized that salesmen made bank. He determined he was going to be the best salesman. He started selling life insurance and group health. In 1976, he saw the possibility of ERISA and with a partner and an assistant he started a third party administrator. It was rough going at first, I remember owning one dress – an orange, polka dot number my mother made. I hated wearing something so ugly – if only because I look horrible in orange.
By the time I was in high school, Dad had 180 employees and I was a claims processor. There were times that business was good and we took trips and had nice things. There were times business was bad and Dad would sell off assets collected in the good times. No matter the situation though, it was never good enough.
See the phrase “Good enough” was a curse in our household. Dad had memorized a poem about how good enough was the cry of the lazy and mediocre. I don’t recall him ever telling me I did a good job on anything. Mom was the same. One incident that stands out was the day I was so excited because my report card was all A’s and A-‘s. I had worked so hard and was so happy. I thought my parents would be too. Nope, the first words out of my mother’s mouth were “Don’t you know any letter but A? and why are there so many with tails? Can’t you get rid of the tails?” She called the minus signs tails. I don’t remember dad even saying a word about it.
Being in sales, Dad never knew for sure what his paycheck would be and that drove Mom crazy. Even when he guaranteed her that he would make sure she would always have a set amount for her monthly budget, she felt the stress of the months where there wasn’t enough. It was never good enough. That financial uncertainty plus my father’s insistance that “girls can’t sell” kept me out of sales. Although I loved marketing and the data behind a good marketing campaign when I did my MBA studies, in my mind marketing was not sales and therefore safe to do.
Fast forward to this year. My safe, secure job was transferred to Atlanta and moving to keep the job was out of the question for family reasons. I had several offers for sales positions during my job search but the thought of 60% + commission terrified me. I couldn’t see myself taking the pay cut. Even worse were the 100% commission positions. How would I pay the mortgage or cover health insurance from a full sales position?
Queue the pre-sales team in my current company. They made me an offer where 70% + commission would be equivalent or more to what I was making on salary even if commissions were nothing. It also allows for travel several months of the year where I will have time in a hotel room to work on my book, sharpen my coaching skills or just sit and stitch or read. Sounds perfect, right? Sounds like everything I need – money, time and freedom. So why am I terrified?
Why do I keep hearing that niggling little voice that says, “women can’t sell.” Statistically I know that isn’t true. I’ve had a real estate license long enough to attend many continuing ed courses where they show the stats of the top sales people being women. Multiple articles on Linkedin have the stats showing that women have incredible sales skills and do incredibly well when negotiating, especially when representing others.
“You’re a farmer not a hunter.” In pre-sales I don’t have to be a hunter. I don’t have to go find that cold call or initial contact. I’m growing and caring for someone else’s deal. I’m reassuring and educating. I’m coaching the client to make sure we understand all their needs. I’m training them on using the product I’ve been building for the last 5 years. Sounds like a perfect fit. Everyone around me seems to think so.
You would think, having grown up with a salesman and entrepreneur, I would have the mindset to follow in those footsteps. However, the thought of having to go find my own clients, having to locate leads, and then closing the deal scares me. I love calling and selling to other people’s leads. I’ve done that before and find it exhilarating. I got recognized as being in the top 5% of the sales floor. But I didn’t really see it as sales, it was call center work and I’m good at call centers. I remember too someone calling my Dad to talk to him about a stock deal, he politely listened, then he winked at me and told the person on the phone, “I’m sorry, but I’m only willing to gamble on myself.”
Somehow that phrasing stuck with me and I’ve seen sales as gambling on myself. In my 20’s I would have seen that as a safe bet but somewhere along the line, it became too big a risk. I’ve lost the ability to see the security in betting on myself. I’ve become safe in my mediocrity. Yet, something inside keeps telling me that mediocrity is the risk. Having the same amount every two weeks is the risk of never having the ability to fund your dreams.
Stretching and reaching is where the security is, not in following the wellworn path. Being like everyone else, is the true risk.