A life in Sales – Part 2

In 1982 I was broke.  The family business had shut down due to a military coup in Nigeria and I was working as a rather poorly paid economist living in the East End of London (long before it became fashionable). We had had committed to moving to a bigger flat, my first child had been born and my wife and had given up work to care for him. Our flat had no central heating and I could not afford to get my car out of repair in the garage. I decided I could no longer live like that.

My potential career as a consultant economist promised some decent returns in the future but that was way too far off and at the same time it would be reliant on my ability to play politics within a very large organisation. Promotion was  at least partially based on the partners liking you. I am pretty likeable (I think) but I do have a big mouth so I doubted that I would manage to climb the greasy pole of promotion anyway.

I decided I needed a job where my financial success would be based directly on my measurable performance. I had never seen myself as a sales person but nevertheless I saw an advert for a trainee stockbroker with a large US stockbroking house selling U.S. based investments to individuals in the U.K. (Cold-calling does not get much tougher than that!) I applied and was lucky enough to get the job, at a lower salary than I was barely living on. However, after the 6 month training period, if I passed all the exams, I would be able to earn commission. This carrot was enough to lure me to accept, to get through the 6 most stressful months of my life, pass the exams and start my new career. Those of you who have seen the film The Pursuit of Happyness (based on a true story) will have some idea what it was like.

I remember very clearly focusing on the fact that I needed to earn £1,000 a month, a decent amount in those days but not an obscene amount. I was earning about £600 a month during training and getting further into debt. I had almost no clients when I started,  just a handful of ‘pain in the arse’ ones that everyone else had given up on in the office. I set myself daily targets. This was not just about dividing that £1,000 by the number of working days, I could never reach anything close to that without more clients, so I had to set myself ‘pipeline targets’.

I decided I would not have lunch until I had made 20 successful contact calls that morning. No point measuring calls made, calls themselves are not productive unless you speak to the prospect so only ‘contact calls’ counted. I then had an end of the day target of ‘posting out research’ to 10 prospects, the next stage of the pipeline. However long it took I would stay in the office making calls, taking rejection.

The next pipeline stage would be follow-up calls made, leading to account opening forms completed etc. All the time I focused on making that £1,000 per month figure and what it would mean to my life. I was relentless. Plenty of rejection but then I decided that sitting under my desk feeling sorry for myself was not an option, after all I had a mortgage to pay and a kid to feed, so onto the next call.

Within three months I was hitting the £1,000 figure, by the end of the year I was earning over 4 times my previous salary. Every time I hit the target I would raise it and rely on the same process. Two years later I was earning 10 times my previous salary becoming a million dollar producer in the process.

Relentless discipline and smart processes are essential. (No point relentlessly doing something that is not working.)  You need to be sure you are doing the right thing so you need intermediate process measures. Remember, anyone can have a good day in sales, it is what you do with the bad days that count. (more of that in a latter blog) Make sure that even if the sales aren’t going through, you are still doing something to ensure tomorrow will start from an improved foundation.

I employed exactly the same overall process when I started my software distribution company and started from scratch again, just me, a phone, a clear process with intermediate measures and the knowledge that ‘Sales is a not a sprint it is a marathon.’

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  • James Coakes

    Setting targets that need to be achieved before you get something you want, like lunch is a great technique. I remember the only job I ever had was selling advertising for a local newspaper. They had a weekly financial target and a daily 40 call target. The financial was set too low and could be achieved in half the calls. There was an annual bonus but it was set too low to be relevant and, again, was easy to hit. Every person in the team did what they needed to do in 20 calls and made up the rest. We had an absent manager. The whole thing was set up wrong, we could have been twice as effective but nothing made us want to be.