What I learned from giving up a great sales job for a horrible one

in #career5 years ago (edited)

This is the story of how I gave up a job with an honest, reputable company - and the chance to make up to $60K - to work for a shockingly corrupt shitshow of a company instead.

In mid 2015, I had just left academia and didn't know what I wanted to do next. I thought I had one last stint as a lecturer at the university lined up for the summer, but when that fell through, I suddenly found myself living in Northern Colorado with absolutely no source of income.

I was fairly sure I'd be leaving the state within 6 months to live with my fiancé. I would have stayed in Colorado if he had ended up not getting a job right away, but we both knew that scenario was unlikely.

A series of increasingly poor decisions begins...

With the goals of making some cash immediately and doing something new and radically different, I started looking at entry-level marketing and sales jobs.

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Looking back, I realize that I chose this path for several reasons other than my pitiful lack of funds.

My family and social circle believed that only certain obnoxious personality types can do sales, and at the time, this bothered me. I wanted to prove them wrong and prove to myself that I could do it! I secretly thought some of them were introverted, risk-averse people who were just jealous of salespeople and their financial success.

I also felt like I had "failed" to be great in academia, and making a lot of money was another way to gain respect...

Mistake #1: There's nothing wrong with trying out this career path, but I shouldn't have been motivated by the desire to impress others or prove them wrong! I didn't have enough insight to realize I was basing my decisions on a need to impress, not just on what was best for me and my fiancé.

This vulnerability to other peoples' opinions combined with indecision about my future was a recipe for disaster.

I was also very attracted to the independence and responsibility involved in commission-based work. Being a wage slave, trading time for money everyday, with my only hope of advancement depending on the opinions of my "bosses" seemed so depressing. At least with commission the pay is based directly on performance. This is a much better reason for being interested in sales jobs!

Two jobs

Considering how broke I was and the difficulty of finding full-time work, I decided that my best bet was to take two part-time marketing positions with the potential for fast promotion to full-time jobs with higher pay.

One job consisted entirely of door-to-door lead generation for a local painting company (AKA "Pleasant Painters" for the purposes of this story), and the other involved going door-to-door and working trade shows to generate leads for a solar panel installer (AKA ..."Slimeball Solar"). Eventually I had to choose between them. Guess which one I chose?

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What happened in the following months was quite the learning experience, to say the least. This episode of my life reminds me of The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret. (If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend checking it out. It's one of the more accessible instances of British humor I've encountered on Netflix.)

Different business models, different cultures

Pleasant Painters hired me first. I responded to a Craigslist ad and was briefly interviewed by phone, then was asked in for an in-person interview. Our conversation focused on intrapreneurship and how hard I'd work for the company in a position with unlimited commission. It went very smoothly and I was hired the next day.

I found Slimeball Solar in the same way and called them, and they only did a phone interview. The conversation was similar but a bit less personal. I had to express interest in selling photovoltaic solar panels, so I said (truthfully) that I wondered why they weren't more popular with homeowners and would love to learn more about them. They also hired me right after the interview.

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The door-to-door and trade show shifts at Slimeball and Pleasant conflicted with each other, but neither was offering more than 4-5 shifts a week anyway, so I chose to work for both to hedge my bets. I didn't really have a plan beyond that.

It was clear from the get-go that the two companies had very different organization and culture. Here's a little chart I made for comparison.

Pleasant PaintersSlimeball Solar
Started and run by young ex College Pro painters who knew they could do it betterStarted by an ex financier and run by a professional salesman
Sales reps are like independent contractors. They are trained to hire and manage their own marketing teamSales reps have absolutely no control over the marketing division of the company
Marketing training took 2 - 3 hours and focused on practicing a simple pitchMarketing training involved a worthless Powerpoint presentation before field training
Sales training took one day and focused on identifying the customers' needs and fully understanding the productSales training took 4 days. Some of it was useful, but they wanted us to manipulate customers' emotions and said we didn't need to understand the product
My bosses seemed trustworthy and down-to-earth. Maybe a bit too relaxed at timesThe managers were more intense, but I got creepy vibes

I did pretty well generating leads for both companies and promotions seemed likely within a month!

Mistakes #2 and #3: I didn't plan ahead and I lost sight of the big picture.

Even when I knew both companies were about to give me a full-time offer, I didn't start planning. Rather than comparing the pros and cons of the companies in order to make a logical choice ASAP, keeping in mind the fact that I probably wouldn't be staying in the state, I just strung both companies along for as long as I could.

I wasn't upfront enough with Slimeball or Pleasant about the fact that I had to make a choice soon.

Also, I was getting attached to the idea of being in sales and living "the life" in Fort Collins and Denver, so I was in denial about leaving. I tended to ignore this fact when I thought about work, and to say things like "I'm not sure I'm going anywhere" when my family asked about my plans. It was weird.

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The fatal decision

Anyway, within 2 months, I had gotten myself promoted to sales rep at Pleasant Painters. Their training was a one-day affair that included sales training, paint tech training, and a free lunch. I liked the relaxed atmosphere at Pleasant and I trusted my two bosses, so I told them I'd quit my job at Slimeball, and they were very excited.

So I called up Slimeball and quit. But the next day, I received an email from the Director of Sales and Marketing at Slimeball promoting me to sales rep. He was out of town and didn't know I had just quit!

Suddenly I regretted my decision to work for Pleasant Painters. The job at Slimeball included a little starting salary plus commission, and it seemed more glamorous. The commissions were bigger for solar panels than for paint. The company was larger and people dressed better. When I thought about it, I realized this sounded more fun than doing paint estimates of peoples' houses.

Mistake #4: I changed my mind, quit the paint job, and rejoined the solar company, leaving my bosses at Pleasant high and dry. They had wasted their time and money training me. I was more important to them than I was to Slimeball (which, it turned out, didn't value their employees at all), but I didn't understand this.

At Pleasant, they were just getting into commercial painting and wanted me to be the head of commercial sales. And I still turned them down in favor of the solar company.

A friend had gotten me promoted at Slimeball. I thought this person was egotistical and condescending at first, but convinced myself otherwise because he had a lot of ambition and good business ideas. By picking Slimeball, I was choosing to work with him and and Slimeball's crazy Director of Sales and Marketing over the guys at the paint company.

Mistake #5: I chose the WRONG people to work with.

Good vs. bad sales

What was so awful about this solar company, you ask? The chart above doesn't begin to describe what went on there. It was BAD.

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During the sales training I got from Pleasant Painters, the manager drew a line down the middle of the whiteboard and labeled one side "good sales" and the other "bad sales." He proceeded to ask us what words described bad salesmen, and we came up with things like

  • pushy
  • greedy
  • they don't listen to the customer
  • upselling
  • douchey (this was my comment)
  • obnoxious

Ironically, what we wrote was a perfect portrait of the Director of Sales and Marketing at Slimeball. Weekly sales training there consisted of him talking a mile a minute about how proud he was that he had sold people so many worthless mortgages and timeshares in his career.

He was extremely authoritarian and would not support any employees' efforts to generate leads in new ways. Sales reps spent their own money to advertise and succeeded in getting new business, and then he wouldn't pay them back for the advertising materials.

He and the Sales Manager insisted that the sales reps should not know how solar panels work! They refused to tell me details like where they got the panels, even though I had some potential customers who were scientists and engineers and kept asking.

During one sales training, he said "Tell them this discount ends next month. It's not true, but you should say it anyway." I wish I had a recording of this.

The company generated a pdf for each potential customer, supposedly showing the costs and benefits of buying solar panels for the roof. Their projected increase in the cost of electricity and their estimates of what customers were currently paying for their utilities were exaggerated, and the entire thing was based on these false numbers.

I figured this out pretty quickly, and they told me not to focus on the numbers. Instead, I was expected to rehearse the sales pitch 100 times until I could trick people into making an irrational decision.

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Needless to say, I didn't have this job for very long. I left after less than 2 months and made less than $8000. If I had stuck with Pleasant Painters, I could have easily have made $40-60k in my remaining time in Colorado.

After I left, I heard that another employee had quit because the company was lying to customers about the Federal tax credits on solar panels.

A 30% credit is available, but not every homeowner is eligible. This other employee, who was also a respected realtor in the area, said that she had sold solar panels to a couple who made their decision assuming they'd get the tax credit. They found out after signing the contract that they weren't eligible for the credit and couldn't afford the panels!

This was an accident on her part, because our sleazy Director of Sales and Marketing wanted to close deals at all costs and didn't give her enough information.

Conclusions

Trust your instincts when deciding whom to work with!

This is by far the most important thing I learned. If someone creeps you out on a deep level, then working closely with them is probably not a good idea. Don't overthink the situation or let them convince you that they're actually OK by showing their goo qualities or promising success.

Make sure you understand and believe in the product you're selling.

It's really hard to identify customers' needs and pitch a product as a solution if you don't understand the product! If your company won't tell you about the product, that's a bad sign.

Unless you're a psychopath, sales is much harder when you're trying to sell something you don't believe in. I was not confident enough at my sales appointments because I didn't believe in the company I worked for, and didn't even trust the numbers I was showing.

Never let greed or your ego take over.

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Don't make decisions based on the desire to feel important and show off! In the long run, these are not good motivators and are going to hurt you.

I had a strong desire to impress my family, some of my new friends (whom I ended up not even liking), and my coworkers. I literally got caught up in the fast-paced, glamorous lifestyle of driving around in fancy clothes and sunglasses trying to close deals. Close family members said I sounded deluded or grandiose on the phone, and of course I wouldn't listen to them.

I can't help laughing at this ridiculousness now, but it wasn't that long ago. People change quickly.

Oh, and don't get scammed by a solar panel installer!

Sort:  

Nice story, nicely written! It's a shame payouts close so early these days.

I get so frustrated with myself when I make these kinds of decisions, the kind that if I had just looked at things from a different perspective, I would already have had all the information I needed to make the right choice.

Thanks! Yeah, it's so frustrating. I've had lack of insight like this a few times and it made things a lot harder than they needed to be.

This is a great experience to share with the community. Too often we're lead down dark paths because of the choices we make that we think are right at the time. It's the hindsight now that has given you the wisdom you share in this tale, and I hope everyone is listening.

Also, I am now more cognizant of solar panel installers, thank you.

Thanks. They're not all scams, but I recommend being careful and doing your research. Lol.

That's definitely the message I received too! :)

So you are the one that answers the Craigslist ads for door-to-door salesmen. :)

But, seriously I have admiration for salespeople. It's a tough job and only a few people have natural talent for it and everybody else has to work hard at it. People tend to unnecessarily scorn the entire profession.

I enjoyed your story.

Haha. I've kind of rethought my relationship with Craigslist since then...

It was so hard. D2D sales can be pretty demoralizing when people are rude, but I also sympathize with them not wanting to be bothered at their doors!

Great article. It never fails to amaze me that Slimeball managers can act, and persuade their employees to act, without morality under the company name.

Thanks for sharing your experience and some valuable lessons! Yes ego usually gets in the way. BTW you showed a great contrast of good & bad sales practices. Are you still in the same field or did you leave it altogether?

Thanks! I left the field, but not out of disillusionment. I realized I was more interested in finance and blockchain technology than the solar stuff. If I sell something again it'll be something I make, or at least something I understand and feel good about supporting.

Sounds good. Yeah just curious because I would expect sales/marketing would be in demand in finance/blockchain as well... ttyl!

I am curious to know if you met creepy clients, too. lol
Personally, I had a Skype meeting with a potential client, only to see the guy video skyping while having a shower...

Lol, not really. There was just one guy who maybe complimented my appearance too much. I met with a family of potential clients who were hoarders and had to stand around in their house for a long time, and it was unbelievably filthy.

Interesting. What do you do?

I work as freelancer in Upwork. :)

Cool. Do you write or do some other type of work?

I work mostly as an assistant. Lately, I have been involved in web design :) If you are interested to get started in there, hit me in up steemit.chat. i have the same username.

@thebluepanda, thanks! I enjoy writing and am working on my web design skills, so this looks like a great opportunity. I'll be on steemit.chat a bit later.

Well first of all, thanks a lot for the inforamtion about solar panels )

I actually really understand what you are saying for the following reasons:

  1. I made a similar mistake almost 10 years ago when i returned from the army, i was going to move in into sales, and went in to work in a bank (at the same time i am from a different indusrty, and i had good offers). But everyone said, move into the bank industry and sales, its much more reputable.
    Well I did, but 3 month later i realized all what you describe above and moved back into the restaurants industry, where i quickly became to grow to a GM.

  2. As a restaurant GM, i swop jobs occasionaly (sometimes its just a thing of contracts). And it takes really a set of good skills to come to the right place.
    Recently I went to work in for a world known company (i will not mention the name), and guess what? It was a mistake again, I forgot all what I learned and it took me a year to recognise all of the above again.

Thanks for your comments! I'm glad you realized your mistake, even if it took 2 times. This just makes me wonder what other huge mistakes I can't even imagine now, but will make in the future.

Wow what tremendous experience you had. I understand a small amount of what you went through and I'm so sorry that you went through it. I've made bad job decisions but not to the extent that you did. It's a tough lesson learned but I hope that your job world has improved since then. Best of everything to you 😀

It has dramatically improved since then! Thank you. :)

Good life lessons.

Yep, live and learn.

That's a very valuable life experience you've passed along there. Thank you very much for this very informative story. I will make sure to follow you and your wisdom !

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