Among other things, I have in my relatively short career done door-to-door sales, telesales, sold advertising space (on and in maps), served tables and drinks extensively, and even pushed a broom for a factory cleaning service. My “favourite” of these was the door-to-door sales, an activity I endured with no less than two separate companies. Interestingly, both “jobs” were offered and conducted under the premise we were involved in some kind of “management training program.”
The first, we were essentially issued a rucksack, filled with a bunch of meaningless crap, given a lift to an area (Zambezi Drive in my case), where you were summarily released upon the world and instructed to sell as much of the crap as you could. For the not so astute reader – we were hawkers. Despite selling rather well, I did not hang on to this “position” (commission only) for long. It was summer and I don’t do well in the sun.
The second, was somewhat more sophisticated. Again under the premise of a “management training program” we attended extensive selection-interview-training-processes, at a rather fancy looking office block in Pretoria, for a little over a week. Those of us “chosen” were to be taken to an undisclosed location, put up and fed. There, we would continue with our management training. I am grossly simplifying how this all happened as I am only telling it for reference and the details have no bearing on the point. In a nutshell, we were put up on a campsite (erected by us), spend all day under the trees learning a pitch, which when nighttime arrived, we would deliver to unsuspecting homeowners, the idea being the sale of a much overrated, overpriced geyser timer.
At 15:00 we would clean up and dress up, suit and tie. By 17:00 we were dropped off at our allocated blocks, from 17:00 till 18:00 you knocked on doors, dodged dogs, traffic and berated residents, trying to make as many appointments as you can. From 18:00 till 20:00 you ran from appointment to appointment trying to peddle your shit. Simple as that.
How many among the modern workforce are still willing to go the extra – free – mile? I’m referring to taking a job for little or no pay, purely for experience, or, the right to add it to your resume. I’m talking about doing what needs to be done because it’s all there is for the moment. When nobody is hiring because you have no experience, when nobody is contracting because there is no budget, when nobody is listening because you have no clout. When determination and sheer fortitude is what it requires to succeed.
I’m talking about going longer, harder and sticking it out, above all others. I’m talking about conducting yourself with your long-term goal in mind. Doing things you don’t want to do, things others refuse to do, just so you can ensure a greater success later on. I’m talking about offering help where it may be needed to establish yourself as an asset in a group, tribe or industry. I’m talking about rolling stones out of the path of others, not only so they can return the favour, but rather in the belief it will mean something later on, prove you are a team player, show you possess empathy and work ethic.
It is not low hanging fruit, but neither is it difficult to do, it is just at times unpleasant. Few successful entrepreneurs tell career-stories which don’t include this type of narrative. People who “worked their way up” are the same. There are things which are vital in the shaping of successful individuals. Now, I am not saying it all needs to be unpleasant, that unpleasantness is a prerequisite to success. In fact, many of these experiences will become fond memories, or may even be viewed as interests. What I am trying to drive home is this, possessing the qualities it requires to do these things, and to execute them well, is what it takes to make it in the long run.
When I look back at the two experiences above, it is not with fondness. But I do not regret doing them at all, on the contrary, I am truly glad I did. It taught me a lot about sales, human nature and even more importantly my nature. It taught me, that which you read in the sales-books will not get you very far in the real world. The books are a guide only, that every individual is nuanced and requires a fresh, adaptive approach to sales. It taught me that none of us are as important as we think we are. It taught me there is no shortage of unscrupulous individuals willing to take advantage of the unsuspecting, but the most important thing I learned, is that there are still people in the world with kindness in their hearts. People who offer dinner, to a stranger, when they clearly had little, people who donated umbrellas, when it was raining. People who offered whatever they could because a stranger could benefit more from it than they could.
If you are unwilling or unable to put in the effort, stick it out, with the long game in mind, well, someone else will. They’ll leave you whining about how your life is so unfair, while they enjoy the fruits of their years of labour. You may even find yourself their underlings, bitter at their success, and it will be all your fault. Proving yourself valuable now is not rocket-science, dig in, dig deep, repeat. When the time comes, it will be your turn to help others. This is an ongoing cycle, this is the long game.