What Drives Your Best Salespeople

Few of us ever planned to work in sales. It was a way to get in the door, a quick stop before moving into something sexier. Back then, we saw it as a necessary evil, ambiguous and messy, requiring pandering, compromise, and (gasp) humility. Years later, many of us still find ourselves in sales. Maybe we were passed over, or amassed a mortgage and dependents.

More often than not, though, we grew to love it.

You see, we live for the chase, craving that euphoric validation from the close. Sure, we endure complaints and condescension every day. Sometimes, we invest months building relationships at bistros and ball games, only to finish second. Yet, we dust ourselves off to hit the pavement again. Like all rebels, we sneer at the status quo, always knowing the odds are stacked against us.

And every day, we bear a terrible burden: If we don't close, our peers don't work.

Our role is easy to dismiss. It's considered "babysitting" at best and "cutthroat" at worst. We're ground zero for every clumsy restructuring and corner-cutting. Still, we slice through the red tape and forge collaboration in every crisis. Ultimately, we're the ones who compensate for our company's deficiencies in talent, experience, service, and cost.

Double Standards

As a result, the higher-ups often push more and more onto us and then wonder why we push back. Maybe it's because we tire of double standards:

They demand we follow orders, yet train us to never accept "no."

They tell us it can't be done, but expect us to "find a way to make it happen."

They claim they'll "get around to it eventually," but demand we act with urgency.

They skimp on details and reasoning, yet forget our job is to sniff out smoke screens.

No, real salespeople don't fall in line easily. We ignore chains of command, buck rules, and don't always play nice. For that, we're called "mercenaries" who can't be trusted to toe the company line. And we couldn't care less because we understand one certainty: Rebelliousness is what it takes to succeed.

Every day, we sell who we are, as much as what we represent. And we're rejected for that. Some take it personally, but those of us in it for the long haul toughen up and persevere. We build networks wide and deep, keeping our doors always open. We imagine what could be instead of settling for what is. And we nurture our accounts like our children, knowing another business is patiently waiting for us to lapse…just as we did.

We know how the game is played. Our jobs are on the line every quarter. When something goes awry, we have to make it right. In the end, we know that we answer to our clients as much as our employers. That's why we're the ones who break the bad news. We don't recite our corporate mantras; we live them every day.

Integrate the Rebels

So we don't take anything for granted. Those who do inevitably churn clients, miss quotas, and wash out quick. That means you, as a business owner, can accept mediocrity or turn your rebellious reps into your advocates. How? You do what every society has done with its critics: You bring them inside. And that may require you to change in three fundamental ways:

Be transparent. The days of "Because I said so" are long gone. Salespeople simply can't risk their personal reputations and livelihoods—and performers will inevitably gravitate to employers who value their opinions, anyway. Instead, share your reasoning. Understand how your decisions will impact customers—and don't be afraid to adjust in light of unpleasant truths. Your sales team is closest to your clients; they must always know you're acting honorably.

Hold yourself accountable. We have the same high expectations for our employers as they have for us. So we demand what every rebel has sought: a voice. Every day, we face hypocrisy and unfairness in the field. Like psychologists, we coolly listen as our clients spill their companies' dirty laundry. We see how cognitive dissonance corrodes organizations. We want to work for a leader who keeps everyone aligned.

Respect our role (and customers). We see ourselves stereotyped at every turn. From Willy Loman to Pete Campbell, we're depicted as beaten-down, dim-witted, insincere, and pushy. Despite this, few know our real role: identifying needs, creating solutions, refereeing internal spats, and making sure our clients are neither forgotten nor taken for granted. Behind the scenes, we're the ones who build our companies. Our legacy includes the accounts we devote years to courting and growing. Calculate those efforts—and the great trust our clients bestow on us—in every decision you make.

In a world focused on making a quick buck, we rebel by being diligent, responsive, and loyal. We are the corporate conscience, the ones who hold our superiors to the ideals they espouse. And we wouldn't accept anything less.

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