A dark room. Uncomfortable figures are seated in a semi-circle on plastic chairs, fiddling nervously with cups, jewelry or anything else that is close to hand. A man enters the room and smiles welcomingly, but receives only glassy stares in return. He nods at one of the hunched figures and motions for them to stand.
Reluctantly they do so, white-faced and trembling. In a quiet voice, barely above a whisper, the words start to form. "My name is X and I am a salesperson".
Most of my working life has been on the sell-side and I have, up until recently, been quite proud of my career. Indeed, clients from many years ago remember me and, notwithstanding this, are still happy to speak to me and undertake business. However, the last few months have seen me question not only my career choice but also the very fibres that make up the humble being that is Lost in Finance.
To be clear, it is understood that anyone with low self-esteem should not choose a career in sales. The knock-backs are continuous and teflon skin is a pre-requisite, however it seems as if the current climate has brought about a sea change in the rules of the game. Sportsmanship has been replaced by cavalier indifference, and in one case (which prompted this self-pitying soliloquy), a vitriolic out-pouring finally made me understand the feeling of murderous intent.
I spent a short while on the buy-side and reveled in the attention I received. Not a day passed when I wasn't courted by one party or another. Not a week passed without an invitation to a glamorous event and yet, within all of that, I still retained a fairly solid grip on reality. Moreover, I made every effort to be courteous to those vying for my business. I will admit to being frenetically busy and not taking every call or reading every email, and so I delegated. That way I ensured that not only was a response provided, but also that I did not miss out on a valuable opportunity through a simple lack of time.
I am antiquated enough to have worked through a few market upheavals and recognise that this one has placed extraordinary pressure on both the buy and sell sides. The buyers are a diminishing group, and those selling have swelled their ranks and are pressing down on any available opportunity. My sympathy goes out to those of you collapsing under the strain; I am just a bit concerned that your humanity seems to have been squeezed out of you as well. This may come as a shock, but salespeople are human beings too. We are not an alien life-form that has been dropped on earth to cause mayhem and annoyance in a bid to rule the world. An attempt to 'knock our blocks off' will not result in our skin peeling away to reveal a hideous, scaly head worthy of a Dr Who adversary. We feel, we eat, we breathe and yes, we do have hearts.
To all of you on the buy-side, I do accept that caveat emptor has never been more apt. Therefore, let me share a few insights with you in the hope that it results in a little more understanding:
- We know you are busy and we know you are receiving hundreds of calls. If we email you, a short one-line response (without the use of swear words or the threat of violence) will work wonders.
- If you are too busy, delegate. You will benefit from one less follow up call or email from us and your efforts will be greatly appreciated.
- Not replying to an email will never be seen as lack of interest on your side, so please don't use this technique. I have lost count of the times I have heard "If I/he hasn't replied then he's/I'm not interested". This is akin to waving a red flag at a bull. It also doesn't help in the longer term as, without feedback, emails will keep flooding your inbox in a vain attempt to hit an area that does interest you. That is why we like talking to you. We want to understand you and what you are actually looking for.
- Further, if you ask us to call you back in two weeks, this should not be seen as a get out of jail free card. We will take you at your word and call you and will continue to do so, for as long at it takes.