The Four Keys to Sales Survival

When you consider how difficult sales is and that most people get into sales by accident, it’s a wonder anyone survives at all!

I don’t know about you, but I’m one of those people who got into sales by accident. As a young lad, I was employed as an electronics technician and was happy doing what I was doing. My boss, on the other hand, wasn’t very pleased with a particular action I took while he was on vacation. So, upon his return he suggested to the company president that I be given another career opportunity – preferably in some other company! The president, however, saw my potential and offered me a job in sales instead. Considering the alternative (unemployment), I accepted, and the adventure of a lifetime began.

And what an adventure the world of sales has been. I’ve met more nice people, done more interesting things, had more ups and downs, and got into more trouble than I’d ever dreamed of.

During my 50+ years in the world of professional selling, I’ve watched a lot of people come and go. And I’ve often wondered: Why do some people last while others fall by the wayside? As I look back over the years and think about others who have made a successful career in sales, I see some common elements in the survivors.

Key #1 – Courage

While most get into sales by accident, survivors aren’t afraid to run with their eyes closed. Sure, they bump into lots of things in the process but nothing that causes permanent damage.

Some newcomers to the profession might smile indulgently at the thought of courage being a key to survival, but they’re the ones who haven’t had to make dozens of cold calls before finding someone to sell to… or make sales presentations with minimal information as many manufacturers’ sales reps must do… or spent hours upon hours on the phone trying to get appointments like many people who sell financial services do.

It takes courage and a strong belief in yourself to be in a job that doesn’t pay unless you perform. There are plenty of people who would be delighted to be in sales if someone would just give them a salary. It doesn’t take courage to collect a salary.

Key #2 – Discipline

Survivors know the job has its downside. There are things they’d rather not do but must do if they are to make it over the long haul. Discipline, however, is a foreign word to most salespeople. They prefer to do their own thing and don’t like to be controlled, or even held accountable, if they can get away with it.

Trying to get call reports or expense reports out of a salesperson is like trying to pluck a live chicken—difficult, frustrating, and little else. And forget about getting a weekly agenda. Many salespeople don’t know where they’re going to be an hour from now let alone five days from now.

The successful ones—the survivors—know that success is more a result of planning than good luck. They learned long ago that if they plan their work and work their plan, they have a much better chance of long-term success. Survivors know they have to do what other salespeople won’t do if they are to last in the profession.

Key #3 – Optimism

It probably comes as no surprise that this is the third key. Optimism can be defined as the ability to keep going in the face of defeat. Metropolitan Life, in conjunction with the University of Pennsylvania, found that in the first two years on the job salespeople who scored high for optimism sold 37 percent more insurance than their more pessimistic counterparts.

In another interesting experiment, Met Life hired optimistic applicants who otherwise failed to meet their standard employment test criteria. This group outsold their pessimistic counterparts by 21 percent in the first year and 57 percent the next.

The successful, seasoned salespeople I’ve known over the years all have the quality of optimism. They have the ability to carry on while others say, “the heck with it” and quit or go home early. These people don’t let rejection get them down. They roll with the punches and come up ready to go the extra mile using their courage and discipline.

Key #4 – Persistence

Too many salespeople quit too soon. We need to be like a postage stamp and stick to the job until it’s done. Successful salespeople know this. They know that it takes many calls to make a sale. They know that 81% of sales are made after the fifth call and that most salespeople (84%) will have quit by the third call.

This one key alone, persistence, has been the number one factor in many people’s sales success. An associate of mine, Paul Crozier, has a simple philosophy, you either buy or you die, and he’ll stay with you to the end. Some of our clients have named him Mr. Velcro because of his professional persistence. Paul knows the difference between be persistent and being a pest and he has gotten sales that less persistent salespeople would have given up on.

Selling is NOT Easy

Selling isn’t for everyone. If selling was easy, everyone would be doing it. Everyone isn’t selling because many lack the personal qualities required to survive.

So, to survive in the wonderful world of sales, you must have a strong belief in yourself, the courage and discipline to do what unsuccessful salespeople won’t do, and the ability to maintain a positive, optimistic mental attitude.