How Sales Exaggerates

Color me jaded (I prefer “experienced”), but personally, I have a hard time with people in sales trafficking in a world of exaggeration, if not outright lying. This was brought to my attention again today when I read a brief bio of an individual whose work I am familiar with. This individual is in sales and was assigned to a particular region of the country as their territory when they took a new job several years ago. Their territory was created through the division of a larger territory. Their work was good – not exceptional – but certainly not poor. The amount this individual sold relative to others on their sales team was in the upper third, but rarely did this person lead in overall sales, I was told. From what I could discern, a good employee in sales, but not outstanding in their field. I wasn’t intimately acquainted with their work, but I knew enough to know how they were doing.

Recently, this person moved on to another position. I took a look at their published bio on their new employer’s web page. Some quotes:

“<This individual> opened the <name of region> for <former employer>.” I don’t know all the ins and outs of what happened, but to say they “opened” the region is fanciful. Their region had been worked by other sales people before this individual arrived on the scene.

“<This individual> became a leading <name of position in sales>.” Leading? Since they were the only person in their region, I suppose you could say they were “leading”, but they were not leading the overall sales team.

Part of this is human nature. We like to emphasize what we’ve done right and de-emphasize what we’ve not done well. We’re insecure by nature and want to pump ourselves up so that we’ll be acceptable and perhaps impressive to others. But what is needed, when one is describing one’s person and work, is balance. For me, I tend to out of balance in the other direction. I tend to see all the mistakes I’ve made. In my 12 years as a business owner, I’m hard pressed to articulate the things I did right because I can’t get past the things I did wrong. As time passes, I’m starting to have a better appreciation for the good that I did, not just the mistakes I made. In spite of the fact that there are people walking on this earth right now who think I’m Satan’s gift to Christian Business Ownership, their opinion of me is not the summation of my life – personally or professionally. I’m learning to take a more balanced view of my person and work.

Christian Business Owners can be gullible. I’ve fallen for the charisma that is inherent in most sales people’s personas. After having been burned several times, I can attest that gullibility can be one of ownership’s real downfalls. Especially when it comes to working with sales people. Their excuses for lack of performance, month over month, would be humorous if they wasn’t so damaging to the company. This is a short list of some of the reasons I have been given for sales people not performing well – from their own mouths, mind you (none of these are exaggerations):

  • I’m not getting enough warm leads
  • The CRM system is slowing me down
  • I can’t force a customer to buy
  • I don’t have time to make fifty calls a day
  • Finding new customers is not how I work
  • The customer decided to postpone their project
  • I need better marketing collateral
  • My cube is too dark – it’s depressing
  • My cube is too noisy – it’s distracting
  • Our prices are too high
  • I’ve got too many deals to know which ones to focus on
  • This new sales process will mess me up
  • The sales training kept me from making my calls
  • So-and-so keeps taking my deals

In the future, when I hire another sales person, the only measure will be how much profit did you bring into the company this month? Not raw dollars, just profit. If a sales person is incentivized by raw dollars, then they won’t care about the profit in a deal. But if they are incentivized by how much profit they generate, then it’s nearly impossible for them to sell you into bankruptcy. And they will be held to a process with measurements. They either perform or find other work. Excuses be damned.

On another note, if you’re a Christian Business Owner who needs to interview new sales people, I’d suggest you utilize the Opt-Out method that I’ve written about elsewhere on this blog. And I suggest that you take a healthy dose of skepticism into the interview process and not be snowed by the charisma of the interviewees. Make them *prove* their claims of outstanding sales, opening new vistas, making all their former employer’s dreams come true and so forth. If they were so successful in their last job, then why are they unemployed now? Ask tough questions. See how they handle adversity by creating some in the interview process.

Sales people exaggerate. It’s a fact of life. It’s your job, as a business owner, to separate the wheat from the chaff. You’ll need to rely on the Holy Spirit to help you extract truth from the communication, taking out the exaggeration and coming up with the whole truth and nothing but the truth so that you can make sound personnel and business decisions. Beware of exaggeration. It can kill your business if you accept it as truth.

Bill English