I recently got back in touch with one of my greatest mentors. This is a guy who in the early 90’s was making $300K++ selling photocopiers. I learned from one of the true sales masters (He worked 30 hours a week and spent more time watching the OJ Simpson trials than working .. because he was that good). You can go to his web site (he is now a public speaker)

I am considering a career change – the move from Sales to Sales Management (I did sales management previously, but this would be a long term change in career) and have spent a year thinking about it. My conundrum is simple: I look at that 45 year old sales person and the question pops in the head “Why didn’t he become a manager or VP? Is he ONLY a sales rep?”

Over time I have come to realize that this is a ‘rat race’ mentality. There is a different perspective; maybe these are the smart one? They make more money than the managers (Another good litmus test for sales: Does the top rep make more than the VP of sales? At good companies – they do). They don’t have sales reps and paper work bogging them down, they take care of their customers, their virtual team and themselves. They get recognized as valuable corporate assets. They control their own schedules.

Now the manager: At the beck and call of the sales rep. Very little direct control over their own fate as it must come through their reps. Constantly being put in the middle between rep objectives and corporate objectives and the good manager is the one who steps aside to let the rep have the glory during a success but is ready to step in and take a bullet for that rep when it goes bad.

As I ponder this decision (It has been a year of hard thinking), he told me this story:

The irony of the rat race explained:

A boat docked in a tiny Mexican village. An American tourist complimented the Mexican fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them.  “Not very long,” answered the Mexican.  “But then, why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?”  asked the American.  The Mexican explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.

The American asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”  “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife.  In the evenings, I go into the village to see my  friends, have a  few  drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs…I have a  full life.”  The American interrupted, “I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you!  You should start by fishing longer every day.  

You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat. With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles or even New York City! From there you can direct your huge enterprise!

“How long would that take?” asked the Mexican.

“Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years,” replied the American.      “And after that?”

“Afterwards? That’s when it gets really interesting,” answered the American, laughing.

“When your business gets really big, you can start selling stocks and make millions!”

“Millions? Really? And after that?”

 “After that you’ll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, fish a little, play with your grandchildren, and take a siesta with your wife.  In the evenings, you could go into the village to see your friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs…and have a full life ….

Is it so bad that I have great relationships with my customers – a flexible schedule – am well paid and get to golf? That is the quandary.

So had lunch with a Senior VP at my client, who I have come to know very well and laid out my dilemma, my thoughts and sought his viewpoint. His statement to me: “You can always go back. Take the step, get the experience and have it on your resume. It is all about choices – and you can choose to go back in the future”. I know lots of people who have done this – gone from sales to management and back to sales (then sometime back to management).

So, I made my choice: To ensure that I have the option of the “beach” in the future (Although in my case – the “course” is more appropriate *wink*)

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