Forty-one years ago when I joined the ranks of professional salespeople, I was convinced the harder I worked, the more successful I would be.  

I was also convinced the more successful I was at selling, the wealthier I would become.  However, there was one small problem–I was paid a salary with the hope of receiving a share of profits.  I remember vividly meeting with my boss, reminding him of my excellent performance and then asking for a raise (one I thought should have come naturally as a result of my performance).  It was at that moment I realized for the very first time, as long as I was paid a salary, my boss controlled my financial destiny, not me.  A career as a commissioned salesperson is the only career where you have complete control of your earned income.

A few years ago, I read the book Driven, the autobiography of Larry H. Miller.  He explained the possible reason for his ninety-hour workweek for most of his career.  He suggested, in part, it might have been the fact he had no college degree to fall back on, so working long hard hours was the only way he could control his destiny.  If he always excelled at his work, he would be the last person standing in difficult employment times.  He wanted to provide for his family, and hard work and long hours seemed to be his only alternative.

Let me identify five principles that will allow you to control your destiny and contribute to your financial success as a commissioned salesperson.  Committing yourself to these principles will help you achieve financial success.

  1. TIME AND EFFORT:  A commitment to give your sales career the appropriate time and effort is critical.  I’ve seen too many salespeople over the course of my career that were unwilling to put in the time.  Since most salespeople aren’t monitored, they take advantage of the freedom of their position and don’t work a full eight-hour day selling.  Very few salespeople are willing to work as hard as they should every hour of every day.  Time and effort are essential components for success.  Get yourself a time management tool and use it effectively every day.  Plan what you are going to do each day.  Prioritize the activities you have planned, so the important things always get done.  Determine how much time you are going to spend on every activity.  Move each activity into a time frame, or a block of time, to ensure you are working on the right activities at the right time.  If you don’t plan and schedule an activity, it is very likely you will never do it.  The best way to work hard is to challenge yourself to do more each day.
  2. SET GOALS:  Successful people didn’t stumble upon success, they set goals that led them to success.  Goals should become a part of everything you do in selling.  Set a goal for the number of activities you want to achieve within a certain amount of time.  Set a goal for the sales dollars you want to generate each day, week and month.  Set a goal for the number of new prospects you want to contact within a specific period of time.  Always  be thinking in terms of numbers and time.  Everything you do in sales can be reduced to goals, and all goals can be reduced to numbers and time.  Salespeople who set goals don’t waste time because they realize the value of their time.  Goals can be a salesperson’s best friend.  Consistently focusing on the achievement of goals will guarantee you will be working at your optimum level of performance.  Goal setting creates the focus required to do your best effort.  I encourage all of my clients to use a monthly goal sheet that identifies where their sales will come from, giving them the focus necessary to achieve their goals.
  3. EDUCATE YOURSELF IN SALES:  No one ever achieved their best without first being educated in that very thing.  Larry Miller admittedly did not have a college education.  He spent a total of six weeks at the University of Utah before deciding he was not programmed for college.  However, there was never a smarter, more educated man in the fields he pursued than Larry Miller.  He studied and learned, but not in the classroom.  He gained an education the hard way, with ninety-hour workweeks, teaching himself those things he needed to know to be successful.  He learned that knowledge was essential for succeeding in any endeavor.  It is not essential for a person to have a college degree to be successful in sales.  However, it is essential you gain the specific knowledge that will allow you to be successful.  Knowledge applied correctly is the key to success in any profession and it is never more true than in selling.
  4. LEARN HOW TO FOCUS:  Developing the ability to maintain a razor sharp focus on your objectives is an absolutely critical element in controlling your destiny.  You must be able to determine precisely those things you want to achieve and then be able to determine how to achieve them.  The ability to stay on task, or to compartmentalize, is necessary for achievement.  You don’t have to work on something from beginning to end in order to be successful, but you do need to be focused. Knowing where you are in relation to where you want to be and how you are going to get there is critical.  When you can clearly see where you want to go, then you can work on the means to get there.  Referring to the life of Larry Miller, I honestly believe he was focused on not failing, so he turned to something he was familiar with, automobiles.  He learned to identify every item in the parts department of the dealership where he worked in Denver.  He focused on gaining knowledge of automobile parts because that would make him indispensable and give him security.  In another chapter of his book he talked about getting out of debt and living within his means.  That particular focus, allowed him to save the money he eventually used as a down payment for his first dealership.  Had he not focused on saving, he never would have been able to exercise the opportunity to purchase an automobile dealership.
  5. FIND BALANCE IN YOUR LIFE:  It is possible to control your destiny without achieving balance in your life, but you will pay a high price.  Years ago when I worked for the M.A. Hanna Company in Cleveland, Ohio, my boss, Fred Heller, encouraged me to find balance in my life.  He insisted that I always take my family on vacations, spend quality time with my wife and children, and he promised me the company would rarely, if ever, require me to be out of town on weekends.  He assured me that a balanced life would be the most productive and rewarding life.  He knew if my life was in balance, then I would be a more profitable employee and he would be a more successful Senior Vice President of Sales.  I’ve never forgotten that lesson and it has served me well for the past forty-one years.  

One of the themes of the book Driven, is finding balance in your life.  As much as Larry Miller achieved in his life, it came at a price because of his lack of balance.  Could he have achieved the same level of success with a more balanced life?  I don’t know and neither did he.  Finding balance in your sales career is totally up to you.  You will be richer in so many more ways through achieving balance, than by not.  The reward is definitely worth the effort.  Don’t ever use finding balance in your life as an excuse for not managing your time and effort.  Finding balance requires you to effectively manage your time and effort.  You will only find balance when you set goals.  Finding balance requires educating yourself, because education is a form of freedom and freedom is essential to a balanced life.  Learning to focus on the important things in your life is the essence of achieving balance.