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Do spoiled children become the best salespeople?

May 16th, 2012 · 1 Comment

I was listening to Lucky or Smart today on my homeward commute. Bo Peabody says that the best entrepreneurs are B-students. A-students make good managers according to his line of reasoning. I don’t really want to agree — because I want to be an entrepreneur and I was an A-student. Maybe there’s hope because I got one F in first grade (because I couldn’t see the blackboard) and I got several B’s and a C in High School and college.

All the while the audiobook was playing, I was wrestling with the dissapointing thought that I might not be cut out to be an entrepreneur. Not that I mind being a manager. I’m thankful to have a job. I’ve just held a 25-year infatuation with entrepreneurship. My mom was enterprising and encouraged us kids to make things to sell at markets and gift shops. Then I moved to a place where private enterprise was outlawed. And now I spend most of my energy on my day job and work the greenhouse business evenings and weekends.

Emily is an amazing grower. She could grow and manage a huge greenhouse complex. But I wonder if we could sell all we can grow. It’s not that I’m a bad salesman, it’s just that I’m afraid of being a salesman. And I don’t like the word “NO” Which gets me to my topic.

A good salesman, I’ve been learning, does not take “no” for an answer.   No means “not right now”, “not in that color”, or  “how about lunch first….”   Or ultimately, “NO” means “NEXT!” to a good salesman.  However, my parents went to great pains to teach me “NO” at an early age.  Absolute no.  No arguing.  No wheedling.  No cajoling.  No manipulating.    And so instinctively, I began creatively finding ways  to make oblique requests — asking for permission in ways that could not be answered directly — ways of changing the subject and approaching  what I really wanted from different angles  — testing the waters — building repor — strengthening a thought precident.   

I found network marketing exhausting and frustrating.  I could see the potential and salivated at the thought of residual income pouring in from multiple directions.  And I believed in the product.  I researched it to the point that I could bore anyone with my knowledge of the products.  The more desperate I was for the money, the more I researched, and the longer I talked.    And rarely did any of my friends say “no”    Some said yes.  But not enough to create a sustainable cash flow.  And the thousands of sales letters I addressed and stamped by hand resulted in one phone prospect.  Three long phone calls later and about $30 in long distance charges, I realized she was bored and had no money and no intentions of ever spending future money on my products.

I guess it is cowardly to blame my lack of sales ability on my parents.  Other people with less strict parents are afraid of “no” too.   But my mom, at least, did not like salespeople.  We would walk into stores and try to be invisible while we shopped.  If a salesclerk stopped and asked if we needed help finding anything, she would herd us children away like a protective hen — as though the salesperson had an infectious disease.  And then she would talk at home about pushy salesmen like they were the lowest form of life that could still vote.   In reality, she was very frugal and probably knew that she would spend less if she only looked at items on her list.  But the message that was seared in my childish brain was that the only valid reason to speak to a salesperson was to ask directions to the restroom.

So what about children whose parents succumb to wheedling and whining?  Do those children learn sales skills?  Do they learn that “no” is simply a bump on the onramp to success?  What should I teach my children?  Should I teach them absolutes — “Daddy’s word is his bond”…?  Or should I teach them that everything is negotiable? 

And since I’m asking introspective questions,  why do I find “Strengthfinding” so exciting yet so troubling?   I love the concept of getting people to work within their strengths.  To strengthen strength and avoid or ignore weakness.  But when I start trying to apply it to my own life, I get frustrated.  I don’t know what my strengths are.  I don’t even feel like I’m qualified to determine my strengths.  Or if I could quantify and discover my strengths, I get this hunch that I would not be allowed to exercise them fully.  That somehow I’d always have blinders and a bridle and I’d never be a horse in an open meadow with no fences to stop an exulting gallop.  Perhaps it is the doctrine of sinless perfection, death-to-self, pride-comes-before-a-fall, all-flesh-is-grass that I was brought up with.  Or perhaps the doctrines were truth and my perception of them is twisted.

In Lives of Moral Leadership, I heard a quote that rang true with me.  It was from Al, a bus driver who volunteered to drive the first black kids to a white school.  He said, “It’s good to be busy.  But if you are too busy to change the world, you are busy keeping it the way it is.”   Amazing how  humble , uneducated people can be so profound. 

And even though I was an A student, I can still be an entrepreneur.  I have strengths and I will get the opportunity to exercise them to their fullest.  I have a destiny — even if I don’t know it yet.  My children can grow up and find their niches in the world whether I neglect or smother them.  Perhaps my search for significance will lead me to be a bus driver like Al.   Or perhaps unbridled fulfilment lies just ahead in my current profession.    Perhaps one day my goals will be as lofty and clear  as writer of Philippians “…[my determined purpose is] that I may know him [Christ], and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;  If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.”

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