A friend of mine came back from a national meeting of sales leaders in her industry and sent me a very frank and telling note.
Here's an excerpt:
Wow. How things have changed. The guys who were at the top of the sales food chain in 1998 (35 to 45 years old, white, male, making $100,000 bases and $250,000 and up in commissions) have almost all fallen fast and fallen hard. Some are completely unemployed (not retired, but unemployed). However, the bulk of them have had three to four different jobs in the last six years. It is apparent that they are hired for 18 to 30 months so that the company that hired them can get introduced to their entire Rolodex; then they are eased out and replaced with a much younger (cheaper) sales person.
You can blame a lot of this on the national economy and what it has done to the industry, but I think there is more to it. So many of those guys have such a wealth of knowledge of the industry, so much confidence/fearlessness and yes, a huge number of contacts–but a lot of them have become tired, jaded and uninspired. No wonder their jobs are all short term!
Meanwhile, the “young” salespeople at this meeting have so much energy, enthusiasm, creativity and technological acumen. Who makes the better investment as a salesperson?
So after thinking about it for some time, I’ve decided that what I personally need to be is a salesperson who has the confidence, contacts and knowledge of an old experienced salesman with all of the technical savvy, energy and creativity of a young saleswoman. And the great thing is that I can keep up with technology and stay passionate and creative, much easier than young people can duplicate my experience and number of contacts!
There you have the essential sales hiring conflicts: energy vs. experience, contacts vs. context, technology vs. techniques.
My friend’s personal translation is the best of all worlds. She’ll emulate what the younger salespeople bring to the game and leverage what she already has.
Here are a couple of ways to follow that approach:
1. Pick a younger mentor. That’s right; pick someone who is 10 to 20 years younger. That person will bring the energy, technical savvy, creativity and “why not?” challenge to the conversation that will re-invigorate you. My friend has done this: The exchange is great, but she thinks she’s getting the better end of the deal.
2. Book a new person for lunch each week. If you talk to the same people all the time, you get the same thinking. One of the most vigorous mentors I have is Dr. Tom Hill. At 75 years old, he is younger than me by 20 years in his energy and thinking. He believes that our thoughts reflect the six people we spend the most time with, outside of family. Get new people into your head if you want to expand your ideas and energy.
3. Be curious. One of the great qualities of the veteran salespeople who, regardless of age, are still knocking the ball out of the park: They do not lose their curiosity and excitement. Earlier in your career, youth might boost your energy, and lack of information spurs your curiosity. But that doesn’t have to end; energy and curiosity are both choices you can make.
There is no fountain of youth, but there is a replenishing spring. Follow my friend’s lead and you will add to your energy.