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Crisis of Faith

Being in sales means getting up one more time than you get knocked down

Wikipedia describes crisis of faith as “a term commonly applied to periods of intense doubt and internal conflict about one’s preconceived beliefs or life decisions. A crisis of faith can be contrasted to simply a period of doubt in that a crisis of faith demands reconciliation or reevaluation before one can continue believing in whichever tenet is in doubt or continuing in whatever life path is in question.”

Crisis of faith

Man, do we of the small but confident band of the initiated souls of the forever-shifting brotherhood of drummers, canvassers and knockersbattle that demon. Probably more than any other profession, our beliefs and life decisions are called into question on a fairly regular basis, mainly because our ability, our performance and our character are judged on a daily basis. And in sales, those judgments are almost always negative and intended to make us feel guilty and unworthy, the idea being that we will work even harder in order to correct those shortcomings.

Unfortunately, in practice it seldom works that way. The usual result of that type of critical management style is feeling bad about your performance and the job itself. And when it's served up piping hot on a daily basis, you start to question your own self-worth.

Ergo, a crisis of faith

We all go through them – the young, the not-so-young, the inexperienced, the veterans, anybody who's ever worn the yoke of last year’s numbers and who gets up every morning to sally forth one more time into the cave of the fire-breathing dragon. If you're in sales and you haven't experienced periods of melancholy and self-doubt, then you're not doing it right.

Good salespeople are driven more by pride and competiveness than money or other material rewards (although that's the medium by which we usually judge our victories and defeats), and when we are reminded incessantly of our perceived (manufactured?) failures, we react emotionally. Painfully emotionally.

Even awards, prizes and trips serve to do more negative damage to the psyche of the group than any positive reinforcement within the few. The many receive nothing of affirmation, only the sharp recognition of more failure, while the winners are feted and praised for a short period of time, then thrown right back in the systemic stew of what-have-you-done-for-us-lately. Acknowledgment in sales is a bittersweet apple to bite into, and the aftertaste can spoil your palate in a downward spiral of an ego-gratification-meets-reality hangover.

All glory is fleeting

The Romans had it right. Generals and emperors who had won a great victory, when returning home would take part in a triumphal procession through the city's streets. In the procession were slaves and captives, carts loaded with plunder and ranks of marching soldiers and cavalry. During the parade, a slave stood in the chariot behind the victorious general and over the general's head held a garland of laurel, signifying victory. As the procession moved through the streets of ancient Rome, the slave would repeatedly whisper in the general's ear, "All glory is fleeting. All glory is fleeting."

Ask any salesperson who's been around a while how true that short statement is. The good news is that although glory is fleeting, so is pain, at least the kind spooned out in the daily grub line of hit-your-quota, Bub, if you want more gruel slapped on your plate at tomorrow's offering. The problem is, it takes a great deal of hard work and self-discipline to work through the debilitating pain of uncertainty and get back to the glory days, an ability prevalent in successful salespeople. When good trainers and managers talk about having to work hard to be successful, they're not simply talking about putting in time as much as they are talking about the mental toughness of staying ever vigilant against the demon of sales despair; it's about the reconstruction process we go through periodically to reinforce and strengthen our resolve and commitment.

It's about gutting it out. You get tough or you perish. End of story.

And that's what makes sales so great, at least for me: the constant struggle between the power of a dark and bitter force against the strength of a validating and liberating spirit. Like the Charlie Sheen character in the movie Platoon, whose soul is torn between the malevolent Sergeant Barns (played by Tom Berringer) and the empowering Sergeant Elias (played by Willem Dafoe), a salesperson's soul is in an ongoing battle between colliding perspectives.

The Dark Side

It's easy, and sometimes necessary, to take a walk on the dark side. Sales is a tough, lonesome job, with lots of problems and negative distractions, and it's almost impossible to run that gauntlet on a daily basis without getting some of the slime on you. And when the slime starts to mount up to a point where you need a straw to breathe, it's time to get to work, once again, on reconciling and reevaluating your belief in the most basic of all tenets, your own self-worth.

It really is a simple question of faith, and when that faith is tainted or challenged, when you have trouble believing in who you are and what you do, when you fight through the tangle and undergrowth and burst out into bright, shining sunlight, you are one step closer to being a better salesperson. Good salespeople, like good marriages, are not the ones who never have to face any problems, they're the ones that work through the problems.

As much as I hate clever bromides and platitudes, there are a couple I particularly like. The first is that my life will not be defined by what is wrong, but by what is right. The second is that I will not be judged by the number of times I get knocked down, but by the number of times I get up.

Getting up is really what it's all about; it defines who we are. So don't worry about getting knocked down. Just keep getting up.

And keep the faith.

Richard Plinke is a salesman – a bang beat, bell-ringing, big haul, great go, neck-or-nothing, rip-roaring, every-time-a-bull's-eye salesman – who blogs at HowToSellThePlague.com.