The bright side of total failure

I used to be a timeshare salesman.

This was a long time ago, and I’m proud to say that I wasn’t very good at it. I am good at getting on with people and making them trust me, but I am not so good at turning that into cash through manipulation.

This is one of my favourite things about me, but it wasn’t one of the timeshare manager’s favourite things about me.

I got fired.

I didn’t care.  I was only 25 and was enjoying have an unconventional life that involved living in the sun (a novelty for someone from Yorkshire), and so being fired from a job I didn’t want had no downside at that point in my life.

I now know that there were three problems with my employment:

  1. Our values did not match
  2. I don’t associate money with work
  3. I am not motivated by people shouting at me


When your values don’t match up

I got told that I had to toughen up.

I complained to one of the bosses that he’d been rude to my clients.

Mainly I didn’t like it because I don’t like being rude to people, it’s just not a nice way to behave, but also it’s stupidly counter-productive when you’re trying to convince skeptical potential customers that you’re not like those nasty timeshare scumbags they see on the telly.

You’ve got to toughen up,” the big boss said, ignoring my argument.

They were having a good laugh at the rude things that had been said. A good manly laugh. A good tough-guy manly male tough laugh dripping with tough manly testosterone.

My argument (post-hockily thrown together, I admit) was that it was pretty poor word-of-mouth advertising to our small captive market to send perfectly pleasant people off with a negative story to tell about our sales operation.

How much more difficult will it be to sell to the next lot after they’ve shared a beer or two with this guy?  It’s just unprofessional to make our jobs more difficult and put potentially good customers off just because you take pleasure in asserting your big tough manly muscles through the medium of rudeness.

I didn’t get fired there and then. They just laughed at me and made a mental note that I wasn’t ill-suited to their organisation whose values were miles away from my own.

They had a point though.

I would have preferred no rudeness and no sale to rudeness plus sale.

They may have wrongly used being rude as a proxy for being tough and focused, but they were right that I was too far the other way, over-valuing the relationship at the expense of the transaction.

But, this is my blog, so we’re going to conclude that I was right, and to reinforce this point, here is some background on the type of business I was in: upstairs was a brothel run by the guy who ran the timeshare touts team. He was also an optician. He told me (correctly) that I had astigmatism as well as myopia and sold me a new pair of glasses that were actually pretty good, even if they were slightly tinted.

He’s in prison now, but not because of the glasses.

I didn’t beat myself up about my lack of sales industry success – what was interesting was that my lack of success was really about my fitting in with the industry culture rather than the lack of sales. I actually did sell, not so spectacularly that I got to rewrite the rule-book (and I was in a dry spell when I got fired), but I sold well enough to be regarded as competent and capable.

The problem was that they couldn’t overlook my shortcomings in the rudeness department.

They couldn’t break out of the personality proxy concept: that the way to succeed was to be a particular type of person; if you weren’t that type then you weren’t a success.


Money is not connected to work

It is naïve to imagine that money plays no role in motivation – and, to borrow from Herzberg’s two-factor model, if you don’t feel your compensation is fair, it can act as a “hygiene factor” and demotivate – but having a business model that relies on us being driven solely by a vision of fat pay packets was missing a serious trick.

Like most of the other humans, I am motivated by doing a job to a high standard, being able to use my strengths, feeling I am doing something valuable, and by getting recognition for what I achieve and the effort I make.

I am not, unlike most of the dogs I know, motivated by a simple tasty reward for the completion of a discrete task.

Had they paid more attention to process, and less on outcome, I would have been far more motivated – although I am not sure if this would have improved sales (which was the point, I keep forgetting that).


Shouting is rubbish

The worst morning motivational meeting was by a guy I shall call Dirk.

Dirk spent the meeting shouting at us, rearing to within centimeters of our faces and hollering about how we need to sell, sell, sell … he made us shout back at him how much we wanted to sell, sell, sell … we weren’t at all motivated to sell, sell, sell by the end of the meeting, we were extraordinarily embarrassed, extraordinarily embarrassed, extraordinarily embarrassed and wanted only to leave and work somewhere else.

So I learnt this:

Shouting at me doesn’t make me want to work for you

I stopped working in Sales soon after that.

Sometimes it’s good to fail completely, at least you know you haven’t missed your calling.

(A few weeks after the above shouty meeting, Dirk was hit in the face with a golf club and looked even more ridiculous for the following weeks as his face healed. I know I shouldn’t have found this funny, but I did)


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