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What's a Successful Salesperson?

by Dave Kahle

This was to be a totally different article. I intended to write about what makes a successful salesperson. However, as I began to conceptualize the article, it occurred to me that I ought to begin with a definition of success. And it was there that I got side–tracked.

"Success," like "beauty" is a slippery term whose definition depends, in some significant way, on the perspective of the observer.

I once came across this definition, which I have used, more or less because of no good reason not to, as a working definition: Success is the continuous attainment of an ever–evolving series of goals.

When I sat down to expand on that, however, I found some problems with it. For example, that definition allows for some serious goal–achievers to be acknowledged as successful, when the mass of humanity would argue with that judgment. For example, Hitler achieved almost all of his goals. Was he successful? Or, on a more pedestrian level, imagine an entrepreneur who builds a successful company, and put so much time into that effort that he loses his family. Is he successful?

That definition has another problem with it, in that it is totally dependent on the aspirations of the individual. What about those individuals who have minimal expectations? For example, we can easily imagine a homeless–by–choice individual who has only the goal to make it through the day. Is he a successful person? Maybe by his own standards, but are the individual's standards sufficiently powerful enough to attract praise and attention from the mass of people?

Aren't some aspirations more noble and laudatory than others? For example, are the goals of the person who aspires to great deeds in public service nobler than those who just want to satisfy their own baser appetites? And, if he achieves some of them, isn't he more successful than the person whose goals impact only himself?

Then, there is the question of process versus achievement. I've often heard people say something like this: "I'm doing exactly what I love to do." Is that person, by virtue of the process, even if he achieves nothing, more successful than the person who finds a cure for lung cancer, but whose goal was to find the cure for all cancers? In other words, is success defined more by the process and less by the achievement? If you are in a process that you enjoy, are you therefore, successful? Likewise, if someone functions at 100 percent of their abilities, even if they are reduced, is he more successful than the exceptionally talented person who uses only a fraction of his talents, yet contributes significantly?

What about morality and ethics? Back to Hitler. Successful by the "goal" standard, but a poster child for almost everyone's standard of immorality If you achieve all your goals, make a huge contribution to the betterment of the world, but trample on people and cause pain by immoral and unethical behavior, are you still successful?

What about the cost? Some success comes with a cost that is out of balance with the resulting achievement. For example, one way to achieve success as a salesperson is to work longer. If you work 18 hours a day, destroy your marriage, alienate your kids, and ruin your health, has the cost been worth it? I believe success implies something of a balance.

Then, of course, there is the spiritual component. Should success be measured in worldly terms, or on a grander scale? Success in worldly terms may not at all reflect success in spiritual terms. In the book of Matthew, for example, Jesus says "What does it profit a man if he gains the entire world and losses his soul?" Matthew 16:26 (New International Version)

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Is there, then, a whole different perspective on success?

Whew! Who would have thought it was this complicated? Let's narrow this down. Since my goal was to write about the characteristics of a successful salesperson, I've decided to rule out the deeper and broader criteria that reflect on the success of a person's life. Let's leave life–long issues and the spiritual component for another article, and just focus on the career.

Here's where I've arrived.

1. A successful salesperson/sales manager/business person routinely meets or exceeds the continuous series of ever–evolving company and personal goals… OK. It's not just about achieving your own goals. You may aspire to be a mediocre salesperson. That's not good enough, and that's not success. You have to meet the goals created for you by the most important influence on your career. Since we're talking careers and work here, that would be your employer. But it is not enough just to sell a lot. You need to have some personal aspirations as well. Both goals.

2. while adhering to the highest ethical standards… It's my opinion, that success that comes as a result of unethical, immoral behavior is not really success. It's pseudo success.

3. without an undo cost to oneself or those around him. It's the balance thing. If you build that business and die at 40 of a heart attack, the cost was too great.

4. eventually rising to be within the top 20 percent of your profession. It just is not enough to do good in your own eyes. You must achieve more, do more, become more than the average. This places a relative benchmark on the issue, and injects a longevity standard. A successful person is not just successful for while.

Here it is, assembled: A successful salesperson/sales manager/business person routinely meets or exceeds a continuous series of ever–evolving company and personal goals, while adhering to the highest ethical standards, without an undo cost to oneself or those around him, and eventually rising to be within the top 20 percent of your profession.

There you have it. One person's definition of success on the job.

Dave Kahle has trained tens of thousands of B2B salespeople, sales managers and business owners to be more effective in the 21st Century economy. He's authored nine books, and presented in 47 states and seven countries. To access Dave's training, insights and tools online, visit The Sales Resource Center. Visit www.davekahle.com to check out a seminar near you.

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