Years ago, I was in a commissioned sales position with a paper distribution company. And when I say commissioned, I mean the 100% – no guaranteed income type of commission.
It was early in my sales career, about a year in. Money was still tight, we were raising young kids, I was trying to make my way in the world, you know the story. Needless to say, there was a certain amount of stress in being on this kind of compensation model, but I had reasonable confidence in myself to make it work to my advantage.
My largest customer at the time was Washington Trade Press. My income from this account was amazingly consistent from month to month. However, their G.M. was abrasive, unhappy, and overwhelmingly negative with my organization and me. Dealing with him was degrading and unpleasant. I put up with the unpleasantness mostly because Washington Trade Press pretty much paid my entire rent check every month.
However, one day, I had had enough. After listening to his latest litany explaining how much my company sucked, I told him, without planning it, that I wasn’t going to call on him anymore and I was going to ask for the account to be reassigned. I explained that I had run out of ways to help him, that clearly whatever I was doing wasn’t enough, and I didn’t have any more answers to give. I left and wished him the best with his new sales rep.
Now, as I drove away from this encounter, I realized:
My Sales Manager at the time was Vince Clubb. (Vince, wherever you are, I send my regards!). After I explained to him that I’d just fired my largest account, he pondered the news for a moment and then stood up and enthusiastically gave me a high five. He said, “you are a good salesperson, and you sell good products, and you represent a good company – so you shouldn’t have to sell to people who don’t deserve our business.”
Within several months, my commission numbers without Washington Trade Press were higher than they had been with them. I started focusing on those customers whose integrity and shared values made a real partner/customer relationship possible. I had more confidence. I sold with pride, and therefore, I sold more.
I believe one of the things that define our life is what we’re willing to tolerate. If we tolerate being treated poorly, we are treating ourselves poorly. When we are treating ourselves poorly, we can’t find our mojo. I found mine by taking a risk and by walking away from a sure thing. It’s a lesson I never forgot.