The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Sales is a tough enough job without additional complications. Clients can be very demanding, and often we depend on logistics departments and production divisions to get the purchase to the buyer. We can’t control the quality of their service but, as far as the client is concerned, we have total responsibility. And there is the constant pressure of revenue results, with bosses always pushing hard on the numbers.

If we are successful and doing well, you would think that life would be good. We know the emotional roller coaster that is the sales life. You are only ever as good as your last deal. With a little success should come some respite from the turmoil of hitting the numbers. No such luck!

Our colleagues, by definition, cannot all be equally successful. The Pareto Principle says that the top 20 percent of salespeople will account for 80 percent of revenue. People come into sales from different backgrounds, with different levels of experience and degrees of motivation, and they join at different points in the annual results cycle. This means that some will be in the top group, a big chunk will be in the middle, and the rest at the bottom.

In the West, the usual way sales teams are managed is based on Darwin’s survival of the fittest. Those who can’t cut it are let go, and those who produce get to stay. If they can survive a couple of recessions, they may even be moved into management positions. This means those at the bottom are basically on their own, which should spur them to make a greater effort to move up. Yet this often doesn’t happen.

In Japan, most salespeople are on a salary and bonus structure, rather than salary and commission. Almost no one is on 100 percent commission. This means the financial ambition to get ahead is not as strong. Often, the base salaries are large by foreign standards, so people can live on the base.

In some cases, because the successful are making everyone else look bad, those failing may push back against the top through snide comments and negative inferences.

In a small sales team, this can be very uncomfortable. There is a degree of cooperation involved in sales, and this is usually where the disputes arise. Who owns the client, who owns the deal, and how is the revenue going to be split up?

If the sales politicians in the firm get going, they can really do damage to the morale of the organization. These people are usually excellent at whining, gathering whiners, and hosting whine parties. They use their energy to pull down those who are successful, instead of trying to become successful themselves.

When you are the top performer or are in the top ranks, you can feel that you have become a target. Instead of just worrying about getting sales done, you now have to waste precious energy walking on egg shells to avoid criticism from your colleagues. This is kept below the radar, so the boss is often unaware of what is really going on—and often they don’t care anyway. They are looking for numbers, and they don’t want to deal with soap operas in the office.

Bosses, sack the toxic! If you don’t, you will find the whole organization failing as the wrong culture takes hold. For top salespeople, insulate and isolate yourself from losers. Winners start early and concentrate on the Golden Time: 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. This is when we can see clients for meetings and create business. All the administrivia needs to fit outside these hours. Writing proposals, holding sales meetings, collecting data, putting together sales information, recording activities, etc. all happen outside the Golden Time.

Keep the time in the office with losers to an absolute minimum and protect yourself from their influence. Remember, you are superman or superwoman . . . and they are kryptonite.
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There is a degree of cooperation involved in sales, and this is usually where the disputes arise.