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Practice Management > Building Your Business

The Desire Myth

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This article is excerpted from Discover Your Sales Strengths: How the World’s Greatest Salespeople Develop Winning Careers, by Benson Smith and Tony Rutigliano, Copyright 2003 by the Gallup Organization (Warner Business Books).

Motivation is critical to excellent performance, but it alone is not enough. Our society sends the message that people can do anything they want to do as long as they are willing to work hard and make it happen. We hear this from elementary school on, but in the back of our minds, we know this just isn’t true.

Many people could never make it through medical school no matter how strongly they want to be doctors. And just because a person wants to be a famous movie actress, a rock-and-roll singer, or a professional athlete, it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. No matter how much people want success or are willing to work for it, they still need something more. And we are not talking about lucky breaks.

People need the appropriate strengths in order to be successful in a given occupation. In sales, strengths stemming from motivational themes are indeed important to an individual’s success. You might have your own vocabulary for these striving themes; you might think of them as determination, drive, persistence, or “fire in the belly.” But motivation, by itself, is not sufficient if you are to become a superior salesperson. Whatever your terminology, such strengths are exceedingly important only when they are accompanied by the requisite strengths in the other areas in sales.

In professional sales these other areas of requisite strengths normally include thinking abilities to help you solve customer problems. The ability to form productive relationships and impact others in a positive way are also important areas of talent. And finally, organizational talent to help you plan your work and follow through on customer commitments is required.

Most important, these talents need to be appropriate for the selling role you are in. For example, some sales jobs require that you meet new customers every day. You might have only one shot at a customer. Maybe you are in a business in which it’s unlikely you’ll ever see that customer again regardless of whether they buy. On the other hand, you may have to sustain a productive business relationship with the same customer over several years. These are very different relationship talents.

So, simply being motivated isn’t enough. It is critically important to possess other sales talents and to find the right match.

Take Donna, for example. Donna is well educated and articulate, and she possesses an incredibly strong desire to succeed. After completing her MBA, she was employed by a regional brokerage firm. However, she was unhappy in that situation and felt that the products her company offered really didn’t meet her clients’ needs. When an opportunity came up for her to join a well-known national brokerage company, she was ecstatic.

At this point, we interviewed Donna. We found that while she had many impressive attributes, she lacked the spontaneous responses that would allow her to push people into making decisions. Based on our research, the most successful people we interviewed at this brokerage firm were quite comfortable with “pushing” customers along when necessary.

We discussed this issues with Donna and her prospective manager. Donna felt that if she were selling a product that she really believed in, she would be more willing to push people along. The sales manager was so taken with her other attributes that he went ahead and offered the position.

Three months later we had a follow-up conversation with the sales manager, he told us how hard Donna was working and what excellent progress she had made. She had truly thrown herself into the taks of understanding all of her company’s products. The manager remarked that he had never seen someone get off to such a fast start.

At six months the manager was still glowing in his reports about Donna. She was now getting out in front of customers on a daily basis and starting to make some real progress. His expectations for her future were high.

At nine months Donna walked in and resigned. She told her manager and us that she had started to really hate the job. She didn’t like the constant pressure of having to ask people to buy things. She enjoyed explaining the products to her prospects, but when it came to asking them to make a decision, she just could not do it.

For Donna there was a happy outcome. We worked with her to help her understand her real strengths and were happy to see her take a position that capitalized on those strengths. She teamed up with another representative who loves making initial sales calls and starting up new accounts but does not have Donna’s talents for follow-up and subsequent account growth. Now Donna’s desire to succeed is on fire because she is doing something she does well every day. She is involved with customers in a way that she loves and is making much more money for herself and for her company.


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