I know, the title sounds controversial. Why wouldn’t she get the job right? This is not 1950, and woman and men are mostly equal, at least that is what we try to espouse value wise, despite an opportunity not available here, and a pay gap there. For the most part, “she got the job” should not be a surprise to anyone.
In this case, sex has little to do with the story. It could have been Steve vs. Steve, or Mary vs. Mary, or James vs. Insert Gender Neutral Name Here. The mystery here is between two real people, with two different sets of qualifications, two different positions in life, and two very different approaches to finding a job whose stories go hand in hand with how sales works in the real world.
I have heard Grant Cardone say that sales, especially successful sales is an overwhelming amount of activity. He has said that great sales people are characterized by the ability to step away from mediocre by not doing an average amount of activity, but instead doing and intense, extreme, overwhelming amount of activity. That is what we will talk about in this story. We will discuss why two people, who I have anonymized ended up in two different placed, based not on their position, background, or capabilities, but simply because of a difference their approach.
For simplicity we will call our two characters Jane and John. Jane is single, around 30, and barely scraped her way out of high school. She does not have a college degree, but has a few courses under her belt for various things, office admin, dental billing, things like that. She comes from a pretty modest background. Her parents own a small business, and struggled most of her childhood, so she did not have a lot of money, and if you ask her that is a big reason she did not participate in a lot of extra curricular activities. She has been a life long renter, currently sharing an apartment with a friend she went to high school with. She’s shy, generally, but has learned that if you want something you have to go after it. Her biggest problem had nothing to do with her background, but everything to do with the present. A constant nagging health issue kept bringing her down, sometimes for months at a time. One surgery after another, and a cure for her ongoing problems seemed elusive.
John could not be more the polar opposite. He got married at twenty-three. He had kids at twenty-five, just when he was wrapping up his masters degree in business administration. He landed a job right out of college, basically handed to him on a silver platter. His parents are the picture of great financial health, and on the surface so is he. He’s well into a 30-year mortgage on $500k+ home that he got an amazing deal on – over 3,500 square feet, and in a great neighborhood. On the health front, John could not be a better picture of great health. He ate right, he worked out, and each of the regular trips he had to the doctor for wellness checks resulted in green check marks in every box. Suffice it to say he was doing well.
Ready. Set. Go.
Rewind a few years, just two to be exact. We were deep in a global pandemic, and jobs were scarce. Everyone was working remotely, Tech firms were hiring en masse, and jobs seemed to be coming out everyone’s ears. The economy wasn’t necessarily great, but we were entering a phase where, at least in some sectors, people were ready to get back to work. Both John and Jane found great jobs, and worked their butts off. This is where the mystery begins. Like any great mystery we will look at the end result, and then rewind time, look at the evidence, and then draw our conclusions as to why things came about as they did, and then all breath a collective sigh of relief when we understand how the pieces came together that solve our mystery.
So let’s start with the outcome. You read it in the title. She got the job. Jane and John had nothing in common, except that one day they both found the same job listing, both applied, and Jane, to the utter surprise of anyone not clued into all the pieces of the puzzle, won the job. Based on what you might know so far that may come as a surprise. Especially when you know that John held an MBA, had a near perfect employment record, and was the picture of stable, whereas Jane was none of those things.
What could possibly have set Jane up to be the perfect fit for this job, especially when you learn this interesting twist: John had just the one job from the beginning of our story, up to the application to this position, and Jane had not one but five different positions. Each one she had moved on from as a result of her continuous medical issues. Technically four, as one of them had graciously accepted her back after about two month absence and a short stint at another job.
What could be going through the minds of the HR people that selected her over John? Were they trying to meet a quota? Was it about gender? As I said before, it most certainly was not. As we crack open this case you will see just how strongly this relates to sales, and before we get there, let me solve this mystery for you, this is 100% about who understood the fundamentals of sales better. This was not a sales position mind you, but it deeply required each of these two people to sell themselves and to be prepared to be sold (call that product development).
Cracking The Case
As we look at the background of these two very real people we will make the parallels to sales and sales activity. At The Monssoen Group that is one of the myriad of things that we do. We help companies achieve better sales results by implementing the right practices and activities, as well as connecting them with the right resources, eliminating waste, and seeing things from a different perspective. Part of that is better utilizing data and understanding what data must be tracked within your sales process. Our Fractional CxO services, and our short-term engagements for business professionals can help in this area. Where we cannot help directly working with our sister companies like DEVUPP Private Limited, and Willow.ai can hlep achieve better results with your data.
Dissecting John’s Past
So, now we dig into this case. Let’s start with John. John, on the surface seems like the perfect candidate. He has a longer track record of employment, a better education, more stability in his home life, and is obviously more financially successful. John interviews for the position, and a background check ensues. His previous employer liked him, but described him as only “moderately” effective. A red flag. An important think to note is that John had been out of work for over a year. Despite the red flag a second interview is called, and it is here the red flag spills blood and ends Johns opportunity for this position – but we will get to why after we talk about Jane’s background.
First, a little bit more about John, and what is wrong – and most importantly how it connects to sales. We should start out by pointing out an obvious fact, and the flaw that often comes along with it. This is not the case for every person with this background, but it is often the reason behind an important missing set of skills. John has always had it “easy.” He has never had to solve difficult problems to get what he wants. As a result, John’s critical thinking skills, problem solving skills, and that drive to push past barriers are missing. When faced with what seems like an impossible question, John gives up, and quickly. Presented with a hypothetical problem as a manager that seems like it only has bad options, John within a few moments says he would “prefer to pass the responsibility to a superior who might have a better view of the effects of the problem.” Here again, on the surface this seems like a good answer, a typical MBA answer, but one that rings hollow and verifies that red flag. John thinks that problem solving is someone else’s job. He didn’t even try to exercise his critical thinking skills, and likely because they are not a muscle that is well developed.
The line of questioning turns quickly to these difficult problems, and one after another John grows more uncomfortable with the line of questioning. Some of the questions he simply says are unreasonable. Sadly, nearly all of the questions are garnered from real experiences our company, or our client companies have faced. The real world has real problems. Big surprise.
We did into some other Q&A and ask John more about his background. We really want to know how an MBA does not have these skills. That is not one but two trips to a university, many of which have critical thinking courses as part of their mandatory learning goals. We won’t call out the university in question, but suffice it to say they did a wonderful job teaching ABOUT critical thinking, but not engendering the practice itself. John could tell you precisely what critical thinking was, but could not demonstrate it in action. Quite similarly, he could explain the scientific method, but could not use it to solve a simple problem that required a hypothesis.
Digging into John’s background what we discovered he was missing was friction. Friction of any kind. Their child rearing was smooth, no colic, no medical issues, a breeze. The baby started sleeping through the night early. The baby fed on a regular schedule. No complications during the pregnancy. His college career was smooth. No trouble, no friction with professors. It was not that it was “too good to be true.” It was that it was truly mediocre. He was not a star performer, but was also not lay about. He did well enough in all his courses, and had a good mix of extra curriculars, and even scored toward the top of his class. What was missing was the tenacity to be in the REAL top of the class, or the evidence of problems that required critical thinking to be overcome.
His childhood was much the same. Horseback riding lessons, hockey, debate club, chess club, and a lot of other activities. He hadn’t been an outstanding performer in any of those either. They were good activities that should have taught some of those skills we were looking for, but without really digging in to be AMAZING in any of those activities they had been just that – activities. He might as well have been coloring pictures to put on the fridge. That is not meant to be mean, it is simply meant to say that those activities are important because of the friction created by competition, and if you truly want to compete you gain skills, you practice and hone those skills, and you come out the other side a champion. Maybe you aren’t first place nationwide, but you demonstrate that you can win, and you win because practice after practice moves you ever closer to “perfection.”
Here is the link to sales. Sales are hard. Sales require skills, but they are probably not the skills you think they are. Here is a rundown of the skills John lacked, and where he could have gotten them, and how they were relevant to him selling himself to our team:
- Endurance. Those horseback riding lessons, those could have led to competitions. Those competitions require intense practice. That practice builds endurance. That endurance leads to the skill of being able to fail (ie fall of the horse and get back on again) and keep on going. John learned to ride a horse. Now he is qualified to ride in a parade. Not impressed. A sales person needs endurance. Had he gone further with those lessons, he could have sold me on that skill, and let me know that no matter what problem came up in his career he had the skill to push past it.
- Strategy. That chess club that made him 20% more a nerd, it could have made him 1000% more valuable, especially as a sales person, but even in this case for selling himself. The ability to envision the future and see a few moves ahead is a critical skill in both sales and selling yourself. Knowing what the customer might say, how they might object, and what value you can bring – planned before they have the opportunity to object leaves behind a feeling of confidence that cannot be matched. Even as we told John how he lacked the hidden qualifications we were looking for we could see him crumble under the pressure of having never felt this kind of rejection.
- Fearlessness. Those hockey games could have been hard. They were not. It turned out he was on a mostly winning team that was filled with players who are slightly older and slightly more advanced than he was. He never really had the opportunity to “break out” as a team leader. What that resulted in was an unhealthy expectation and pride that they would always win, because they did. It never required him to swallow his fear and charge across the ice into the unexpected – a bigger player pressing him against the boards, a fist to the helmet, nothing of the sort. It required him to follow the leader, and created more obedience to the system, as opposed to more problem solving skills – like how do I get past the guy that is faster than me?
- Positioning. Debate club could have taught one of the most amazing skills for sales and marketing. A deep understanding of how your position affects your problem. In debate you can make slight changes to your position to take advantage of observed weaknesses in your debate partner. What John took away from debate was an unhealthy desire to win arguments. Not by outmaneuvering his opponent, but ultimately by utilizing arguments that were unwinnable because they were often logical fallacies. Oddly enough, when pressed it came out that this was a secret point of contention in his otherwise frictionless marriage. They never argued because his wife gave up, she could never win because he would never “play fair.” Even more oddly he was quite pleased with this. To us, this was another HUGE red flag. A person who never loses never learns. In sales, a person who argues with logical fallacies alienates customers.
Examining Jane’s Experiences
Suffice it to say that Jane’s resume did not impress us. She had concluded the majority of her jobs quite quickly, and with a brief explanation that while they liked her and would provide a positive reference, they had either terminated her or she had left prematurely as a result of an ongoing medical condition. By the time Jane reached us, her medical issues had largely concluded. A series of surgeries had proved successful, and unusually, despite these issues had been employed during the entire pandemic save for her brief medical interludes and she was ready and able to work.
Jane found her way into the interview room as a result of an amazing degree of tenacity. She called, she emailed, she showed up. In all honesty she landed the interview because she wouldn’t go away. After calling and emailing, and explaining why should we be a perfect fit to every gatekeeper, she ultimately appeared at our offices, and asked if she could talk to one of the interviewers, just to see if “she liked our organization.” It hit us funny. Here we were rejecting her, and she showed up with the confidence, no, the straight up iron guts to suggest that she might reject us. It was intriguing. We had after all just come off of the perfect resume candidate being a dismal misfit for us. So why not.
When Jane was brought in to interview both of her interviewers thought it would be a dead end, but still kept an open mind. Remember those 4 skills we talked about that are so important for sales? Jane had every one of them, in spades. She didn’t have them college or from skills in previous jobs, she had them because of life. Her life was the definition of friction. Her parents were divorced and still fighting after 20 years. She was constantly forced into the middle. It gave her another skill that John did not have – mediation. The ability to see two different sides objectively, and to help both people work through their differences to find some kind of peace, even if it was temporary.
Her medical problems gave her endurance. When asked despite having all these issues why did she have so many jobs, and how she remained employed she simply said that she would fill out as many applications as she could on Indeed every day, and follow up with as many as she had time for. Ultimately, this absolute endurance in the face of hundreds of “no thank you” responses gave her an endurance that truly impressed me.
I won’t dig into every great quality that Jane had, but suffice it to say that life had taught her all of the skills that John lacked, and then some. Jane was impressive, not because she had credentials on paper that would fit well into the machine, but because as a person the school of hard knocks had taught her everything we needed, and she had all the skills of a great sales person, and could make the relevant skills for this position obvious to us. Remember, this was not for a sales position, but required the person to be able to sell their abilities for the position to us.
Adding It All Up
Let’s get to the point, and recap here at the end. This article is, after all, about sales. The example we have given here is about two people that looked the reverse of what they truly were on paper. John looked great, Jane looked bad. They revealed an important concept though that we lean on heavily. Sales skills are often not developed in school, but in life. Everything starts with selling, and often the harder the life someone has had, the better they will be able to sell. The more friction and overcoming of that friction, the better off they will be.
Think that through. An easy life leads to a soft person. Here are some skills to recap to look for – and you can find your own way to connect these to real world situations that people have overcome.
- Strategy – Look for where people have had to think ahead, and how doing that helped them overcome something in their past.
- Endurance – You know where to look. What have they had to endure. Did they overcome it, or become a victim of it.
- Mediation – Have them been responsible for solving problems for OTHER PEOPLE, or just themselves? How did they do?
- Fearlessness – Can them demonstrate overcoming fear? Some people wear it like a jacket, you can see it immediately.
- Positioning – This one is tougher to see, but if a person can explain why their background fits what you need, even if it seems off the wall, this is good evidence of the ability to position.
- Product Development – Understanding and demonstrating number 5 shows a great leap toward this. Positioning right sometimes means moving the product. Make it better, make it easier to understand, lower the barriers, etc.
- Integrity – This may not have gone mentioned, but in the case of John and his desire to win, and his depiction of the relationship with his wife, this showed a serious lack of integrity. He wanted to win just for the sake of winning, not for the sake of improving the relationship or the betterment of anyone but him. Integrity is the foundation on which all other things are built. It creates trust, it brings people back, and when someone gets screwed, it brings them back to you like a magnet.
At The Monssoen Group, these foundational sales strategies are in our DNA. Not only do our professionals espouse these all important things, but we seek to train every expert who works with us how to improve on this scale. We utilize a 12-point program that teaches these valuable skills, helps to hone them into values, and aligns us with the right people who have these skills already under development and are most likely to hold them as personal values.
She got the job. You knew she would. Now you know why. I seriously almost wanted to tell her she should be in sales. She was in business and people administration, and guess what? She did an amazing job. She was the right hire. In retrospect I think she could have been an even more amazing sales person, but it is truly hard to convince someone to take a career path change when they are so bent on advancing the career they are in.
What you should take away is what to look for in a sales person. What skills do they need and how do they get them. How do you get them? How do you recognize them, and how to find them in the people you interview, whether they are contractors, employees, or firms like ours that you hire to help you advance your sales teams. Hope this helps!