Unsold on selling

My motivation to sell my company’s products and services has suffered since the terrorist attacks. Selling seems to be a rather selfish pursuit in light of all that has happened. Could you share your thoughts?

The tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the continuing episodes of terrorist-driven germ warfare have had an impact on us all.

They have caused many salespeople to reflect on and question their career choices. I’ve heard salespeople say things like, “What’s the point of trying to make a lot of money when we could be dead tomorrow?” or “I am not going to make the sacrifices I used to make for my career. I want to enjoy life more.”

Frankly, I think this reflection is one of the true blessings to come out of this horrific tragedy. I also think that if the only value derived from what you sell is your paycheck, it’s time to find another career or another product to sell.

The fact is that nothing has really changed as a result of the terrorist attacks on America other than our perceptions. In reality, we have never been secure.

In America, many deny that bad things could ever befall us. But terrible things happen to people all the time. We have always been at risk — we risk being in a terrible accident, developing a life-threatening illness or losing a loved one.

Our lives can be radically changed or ended in a heartbeat.

So what does this have to do with selling? A lot. Our beliefs and attitudes have a huge impact on our ability to sell. To be good, you have to believe in three things: yourself, the company you work for and its products and services, and the marketplace you sell into.

If you don’t feel good about yourself, you can’t handle the rejection or take the risks that you must to be effective. If you don’t feel good about yourself, you will never put yourself in a position where you could lose, and therefore, you will not have the chance to win as often.

If you don’t believe in the company you represent or the products and services you sell, you can’t sell them without feeling like a fraud. And if you truly believe that people are not very interested in buying your products and services given the current state of the economy or the war on terrorism, you will not make the effort necessary to bring in new business. Why waste your time?

While it shouldn’t take a tragedy for us as salespeople to reflect on these things, now is as good a time as any to reassess what we do for a living. The fact is that money is not the most important thing in the world; relationships are. This was true before, and it is still true today. Achieving worldly success is a hollow victory if we haven’t enjoyed ourselves and enriched the lives of others along the way.

If your life isn’t in balance because you are chasing career success and higher earnings, it’s time to change the way you do things. Your goals should be more than purely financial. You need to set family goals, spiritual goals, educational goals, professional goals, social goals and health goals as well. These bring a richness to life that money alone can’t.

We need to periodically assess what we sell to ensure it serves a purpose and enriches the lives of the people we sell to. This doesn’t mean we should all become pharmaceutical salespeople selling antibiotics that will cure anthrax, but it is important that we think about what we sell to make sure it fulfills a purpose we feel good about.

Even though most of us don’t sell the cure for cancer, we do help cure a variety of problems that plague the people we sell to.

Step back and look at what you sell from a broader perspective. For instance, while selling advertising may seem unimportant to some, the salesperson isn’t just selling space in a magazine or time on the radio. He or she is helping a small business grow and prosper, and that small business is responsible for the livelihood of those who work there.

The salesperson who sells water treatment chemicals to industry doesn’t just sell chemicals. He or she helps to ensure our environment is not harmed by the byproducts of the things that bring pleasure to our lives.

Think about what you sell, and if you don’t feel good about it, get out of the business or get a job selling something else. Only con artists can sell something they don’t believe in.

But before you abandon your company or the products and services you sell, call some of your good customers and ask whether the products or services you have lost faith in still matter to them. You will be pleasantly surprised.

Don’t give up. Take the time to get your life in balance and think about whether what you do enriches the lives of others. Once you have those issues resolved, recommit yourself to being the best salesperson in the area you serve.

Salespeople are the gasoline that fuels our economy and our way of life. Without us, the American engine will not run. Do your part.

Larry Lewis is president of Total Development Inc., a consulting firm specializing in sales development and training. Send comments and questions to him via fax at (724) 933-9224 or visit www.totaldevelopment.com. He can be reached by phone at (877) 933-9110.