Tryouts

Why are there so many bad salespeople? It’s a statistic I see pretty often when I talk to sales leaders, that something like half of sales professionals aren’t hitting their quotas or goals. Now, I could probably write another post on accurate goal-setting (and in fact, I think I will), but for today’s post I’m going to assume that the goals are accurate reflections both of what’s possible and of what’s necessary. If that’s the case, why are so many salespeople seemingly bad at their jobs?

(Spoiler: It’s a very good thing!)

Let’s also not assume that it’s a failure of leadership. It’s not about whether they’re being trained well or managed correctly – while there are definitely systemic problems with sales leadership, that’s actually just a part of the whole “some sales professionals are bad at their jobs” phenomenon, not the cause of it. Sales leaders are very typically just sales reps that got promoted.

No, the reason that many sales professionals are bad at their jobs is because sales is a phenomenal career launch point where huge numbers of people can try out in a live setting. That’s really it, and it’s fantastic.

Think about a heart surgeon. Every heart surgeon had to have a “first time” that they were the primary (not assisting) surgeon, holding a patient’s life in their literal hands. Now think about how much background had to happen to get to that point – years of training, practice runs on cadaver hearts, assisting other surgeons, etc. You can’t just show up on day one and “try out” to be a heart surgeon. But in sales, that’s exactly what happens. Want to see if you’ll be a good sales person? Go sell something today. It’s awesome.

The result is that, naturally, a lot of people try out and aren’t any good. But that same system also produces a lot of people who are great. The stakes in heart surgery are too high to have a similar system, but if we could, we’d end up with more great heart surgeons.

The more things people can try with low risk, the better off we are. There’s no substitute for a tryout, both as an individual (to discover your talents) or as a society (to help people sort themselves into their most productive and joyous roles). The more we take risks and let others do the same, the better off we are.

You can make your own tryouts, any time you like. There are tons of things you can do for a living that you could just start doing for yourself right now, to see if you can. I don’t recommend heart surgery, but there are vast reaches of things you can do for yourself just to see if you’ll like it and be any good at it before someone else offers you the opportunity.

So if you see someone who appears bad at what they’re doing, be happy. Be happy they had the opportunity to try, be respectful of the fact that they’re improving, and be grateful that you live in a society that encourages so many people to test the waters. Try them out yourself.

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