After several of years of facing challenging sales targets, I realized my job had started to feel like a roller coaster, constantly sending me through extreme emotional highs and lows depending on my performance. Most professionals who choose sales or account management as a career path care about hitting goals, but the fact is that most goals are manipulated to stretch the sales rep just enough to encourage him or her to put forth extra effort in order to achieve their targets. Let’s face it, one of the key principles in setting sales quotas is to expect that only about 55 percent of the sales force reaches or exceeds quota, with the performance spread following a normal bell-shaped curve. That strategy creates a “culture of winners,” while keeping costs of sales in line.
Many people who start in a sales or account management path ultimately decide that it’s not for them. I was not one of those people. I enjoyed having quantitative objectives to hit, persuading clients to purchase (or continue with) my service, and being stack-ranked against my peers. I have always been most motivated when the task or goal at hand seemed impossible. Still, each time I started a new quota cycle, I knew that I faced an uphill battle to finish the ride – without getting sick.
In any job it’s important to feel like there are more highs than lows. During my years as an individual contributor, I was fortunate to have a great manager and colleagues who made it easy to have fun and keep perspective. However, during one quarter of lower performance, I was given some advice I still think about to this day. My manager pulled me aside and told me that she had noticed my demeanor was down – and that my team members had, too. She gave me examples of great leaders who were consistently positive and even-keeled no matter what obstacles they faced or how they tracked against their goals. She encouraged me to find a constant positive attitude, regardless of how I was doing against my target. If I took heed, I’d have a better shot at being viewed as a leader and moving up within the organization. I quickly realized that attitudes are contagious and that there are certain people who have the ability to set the tone for those around them.
I am lucky that I was given great coaching so early on in my career. It helped me learn how to keep my eyes on the horizon and better manage what I consider motion sickness as an individual contributor in a sales role. In the next two parts of this series, I will talk more about my experience as a manager and leading a team in a turbulent sales environment.