My last day in sales (hopefully forever!) has come and gone. It was bittersweet. I’m going to miss my friends, but I’m not going to miss sales. I started thinking about this series when I came upon Holly’s post about her husband leaving sales. I wrote about getting to know The Joneses, and about the stupid surprising money things people say. Today I’m writing about the biggest challenge of all in sales: It’s Hard To Not Lose Yourself
I’ve spent just over 4.5 years in sales. I’ve told you before about how I never thought I’d end up in sales. In college, recruiters would come to visit us in the marketing department all the time, but if they were recruiting for a sales position, I’d disregard them completely. My internships were in global market research, project management, and advertising. I thought this is what I would get a job doing. Not until my last semester in college did someone mention that 70% of marketing graduates end up in sales.
When I started at the cell phone store, I started in customer service. I learned to fix technical issues, teach people how to use their phones, and decipher bills. I learned all the plans and got really good at putting people on better plans. Maybe they were paying 25¢ per text message. I’d “sell” them on a $5 texting package that would save them money. It’s simple enough to sell someone on a way to lower their bills, sure.
Then I learned to show them the advantage of turn-by-turn GPS. This was before most people had smartphones (remember those days?) and people were fascinated to know their flip phones could tell them which way to go for only $10/month. I wasn’t commissioned then, but I wanted to do a good job. I was told to sell the GPS service, and it was easy for me. People loved it!
I did so well at it that my manager moved me into sales. I ultimately realized it was easy to sell a product I believed in. People needed new cell phones. That was easy! But… I often had trouble selling things I didn´t see value in myself.
For example, I was really good at selling laptops, really bad at selling tablets. Why? “Don´t sell out of your own pockets!” my managers have told me for years, meaning, just because I wouldn’t buy something doesn’t mean others wouldn’t like it.
I was so good at selling the laptops. They were free! Who doesn´t want a free laptop? All you had to do was sign up to pay $50/mo for two years to have integrated internet service. I genuinely thought free laptops were great. I showed them to every single customer. Sure, the quality of the laptop was shitty, but I showed them the display model and they could see that for themselves. (You can start to see where this slippery slope leads.) I was queen of the laptops. I was known for “slinging” them, and I earned the nickname “4G” because my commission checks month after month exceeded $4000 (after being taxed 42% whoop). I did so well that I earned a promotion to the position of Senior Salesman, but at a different location.
I had gotten really good with the demographic at my first store. At the new store, it was a jarring contrast. Customers weren´t stupid. They weren´t impulsive. They thought things through and considered their money carefully. Around the same time, we stopped selling laptops, and started pushing tablets. I am still, to this day, really bad at selling tablets. iPads run in the neighborhood of $650. Sure, the service is only $10/mo to have the integrated internet, but what the heck do you want it for? It´s identical to your phone, only bigger and with fewer features. It´s not easier to type, you can´t install programs (only apps, like on your phone), no disk drive, no USB ports, no mouse, no calls. It´s terrible.
And I had this reputation for being great at sales, and then suddenly, I wasn´t.
We had shitty tablets, too, but that was only worse. You could even get a shitty tablet for free, but why would you? It had all the same problems as the iPad, except it was smaller, way slower, had very small memory partitioned in a weird way, and really glitchy software. I consider tablets, to this day, a colossal waste of money.
“Don´t sell out of your own pockets!”
Then the new young hotshots came in, started slinging the shitty tablets, and I became old news. But I had a problem with what the youngsters were doing. Okay, the customer was seeing that the tablets were shitty by the display unit. Fine. But they were “forgetting” to mention the $35 activation fee, $10 recurring monthly charge for the service, and $70 restocking fee if the customer decided to return it. They’d just circle it at the bottom of the receipt and claim innocence. If there’s one thing I never did, even at the height of my own “slinging,” was not disclose fees. I told them left and right. Well you know what happens with those shitty tablets? They get returned. Obviously. Customers are furious about the fees. Managers have to explain and apologize. Day in and day out. Then hotshot has 17 returns to deal with next month.
That was never me. I preferred to be considered an “average” salesperson than to intentionally deceive people. I know where that slippery slope leads. It slides right on in to every aspect of your selling.
For example, when we first started accepting phones as trade ins, we were told to tell the customer the gift card they were receiving in exchange for their phones could be used to buy accessories. While we weren’t lying, we were strongly implying the gift cards couldn’t be used for anything else (like a bill payment). They could.
That’s just one example. Now, I’m not here to explicitly disclose any unethical things we may or may not have talked customers into. And sure, to a certain extent, customers should do their due diligence before buying anything. But I wasn’t going to sell the way they wanted me to sell.
I am here to say it was really hard to walk the extra fine line of not deceiving customers and pleasing management. Our district management here is condescending and degrading, to say the least. We are, day in and day out, pushed to sell, sell, sell and told we’re not good enough. When I explicitly said, “I’m not making people believe their trade in values can only be used to buy accessories,” I was written up and labeled as combative, contrary, and insubordinate.
Talk about disheartening. But then I figured out a trick to keep them quiet! People come in on their own to buy cell phones and other things every day. If I just stay at the front door and maximize the number of customers I helped, I’d naturally exceed goals. But for the people who are just standing around, or talking in the back, well, sales never came to them, so they had to resort to deceitful methods to reach their goals.
The worst combination of sales rep, though, was the young hotshot who’d stand at the door AND deceive customers. Of course they’re the ones most highly praised by the company. I managed to win awards every year, but never the highest awards. It seems I’d have to compromise my integrity to get to those levels, and at some point I decided it wasn’t worth it. Not happening. Sure, you expect customers to do their due diligence, but I want customers to not have to. I want them to trust me. I never showed the shitty tablets.
I told you I spent about a year looking for a new job. I was fed up. I hated everything until I couldn’t hate anymore. I was miserable. I was lost. I had to find something to give my day some joy.
I decided what I liked about my job was helping people. Legit lowering their bills, or helping them pick out a new phone. People generally leave the store happy. I realize that getting a new phone is a monumental occasion for most people. They only do it every two years, and they spend a week or more learning how to use it. I got spoiled because we’re given a new phone to use every 3 months. We have to upgrade every 3 months whether we want to or not. Most employees carry a second, personal phone that they pay for, along with their work phones, but I don’t. The work phone is free.
I’ve been desensitized to the excitement of getting a new phone or the annoyance of having to set up a new phone. I intentionally set as a goal for myself to be in tune with what’s happening emotionally with my customers. It’s all too easy to dismiss complaints. Sure, we hear day in and day out about malfunctions or billing mistakes. People only come in when something’s wrong. No one comes in to say everything is fine. And so we only hear the worst of it, and to us, it’s no big deal. Your phone won’t turn on. I’ll overnight you another one. Yes, you’ll have to survive without a phone for a day. You’ll be okay. But I started trying to be empathetic. For some people, it’s a big deal to go without a phone. I get it.
Where I found real joy was in my customers leaving happy. Picking out new phones for Christmas gifts or birthday surprises. A kid’s first phone. An adult’s first smart phone. Showing them Siri, wonderful cameras, touchless controls, waterproofing. The light in their eyes. That’s where I found myself again.
And right when I decided to quit hating my job, right when I decided to be happy, just a few months passed and that’s when this new opportunity came round. It was a difficult journey. But it’s funny how life works out.