Most people reading this have heard stories from the past that describe business deals being made in “smoke-filled rooms.” However, if you’re under age 40, it’s unlikely you would have experienced doing business in such an environment. In fact, young professionals are often shocked to learn that smoke-filled rooms were actually the norm until about the year 2000.
The publisher I worked for prior to my arrival at Gulfshore Business was fond of cigars—and a pipe. And he was not shy about smoking them at our annual sales meetings in the conference room. I particularly recall those meetings when the national sales reps were flown in for all-day sales workshops and mentoring. My publisher would hold court over his sales team, dispelling wisdom he felt would be useful—all while puffing away and creating giant clouds of smoke in the very tight quarters. I remember many times my colleagues and I would feel queasy and lightheaded. Yet, there was nothing any of us could do but sit, listen and try not to gag.
Despite the smoky surroundings, we learned a tremendous amount at these sales meetings. We would role play with each other using strategies and techniques that we’d been taught, and there was also a great deal of bonding that took place among the reps. One year, we received a phone call direct to the conference room just as our publisher was about to make an important point. He answered, and when the caller identified himself as the deliveryman for our lunch, he slammed the phone down and then ripped the phone cord out of the wall. I bet if you were to ask any of my former colleagues to this day, each would recall our publisher and his giant cigars and pipe presiding over our sales meetings throughout the years.
Looking back, I now believe that my publisher’s behavior was part of his selling personality, and that he quietly used it as part of the conditioning of his salespeople. By this I mean that he was fully aware that we didn’t like his smoke, yet he continued nonetheless. His was a take-charge type of sales approach that demanded that he be a leader, and he wanted to be viewed by others as a leader. He was not afraid to do or say things that were controversial.
Additionally, he thrived in the role of being different and he had a persona that would necessarily be memorable. By our very participation in these meetings, we were put in an uncomfortable position and forced to adapt. That made us stronger as salespeople.
None of this would happen in today’s world—but there are always ways that you can make yourself stand out from the crowd.
Remember that life in sales is a constant rollercoaster ride. By overcoming things that are uncomfortable physically as well as mentally, you will develop the patient, calm temperament that is a key to success.
Rob Wardlaw is the associate publisher of Gulfshore Business magazine, firstname.lastname@example.org.