I often google an image to post with my words, something I try to keep in mind while writing so as to keep a focus on the topic. Today, I'm writing about what it's like for your spouse or family member who has entered a sales career, and I wanted to use the allegory about the gold miner who gives up right before they hit paydirt. So I googled "golddigger" and found it sort of alarming that the images that come up with this search term are all of well-dressed women or African children in mines.
In no way do I want to liken the first-world problems of a sales career to a child slave working to mine for precious metals, but I chose that image to accompany this blog because it speaks to the message I really do want to convey. That is, if you are in a relationship with someone who is just beginning in a sales career, there are a few things you should know.
At the not-so-ripe age of about twenty-four, I started making serious money in the insurance industry. I was ambitious and hungry, but one of the earliest mistakes I made was not getting my husband to fully understand what it took for me to stay in this career. Rather than really sit him down and look him in the eye and get him to comprehend my world, I shut down, became secretive with money, and didn't share successes or failures with him.
He ran a McDonald's for many years while I was an agency owner. I can recall one time that I tried to get him to see my perspective- earlier that week he'd purchased a new piece of equipment for his store and mentioned how it was going to affect his bonus. I remember telling him, "You open the doors to your store and people come in. They're going to buy the food, you don't have to tell them they need it or explain how it's made or what it's made out of. Think of what your life would be like if McDonald's didn't spend millions of dollars on advertising and every day, if you owned the restaurant and you had to unlock the doors, then go to all the nearby businesses and ask them to come buy some food, and then you had to get enough people to come in that you can afford the new equipment..." I remember how he kind of looked at me like he understood, but he didn't really 'get' it.
Now that my son is coming into the sales business, and I'm going back into it, I'm faced with re-living some of the worst parts of building a sales career and trying to make sure that I don't revert to old behavior. I think sharing what you need to know if your spouse is beginning a sales career is long overdue.
* Unless your spouse happens to have a cutthroat type-A narcissistic personality, their first eighteen months in sales is going to challenge every aspect of their self-confidence. They are not going to tell you that they are having trouble picking up the phone to set appointments. They won't tell you that every time someone they thought had some respect for them ignores their call, they feel like they disappear a little. They will tell you they feel like they're bothering people, and they want you to believe that this is a valid excuse. If you support this, you're hurting them.
* Just because their schedule is flexible doesn't mean they're not busy. One of the absolute hardest lessons to learn for anyone married to someone in sales, especially a woman, is that just because she doesn't punch a clock doesn't mean she's free to do things. Men seem to deal with this aspect much better, but women in sales tend to pair their flexibility with the unrealistic expectation that they can still take care of everything and everyone AND run their businesses well. Although I cherished the flexibility I had when my kids were young, the fact that I did not know how to ask my husband to respect my time for work damaged my marriage and created resentment that I didn't deal with until years later.
* Easy come, easy go is not for the feint of heart. This is tough to write about because I recognize that the isolation I created in my career was one hundred percent my own fault- I didn't trust my husband with the ups and downs of my business. Let's face it, there's nothing worse than being elated that something great is going to happen, the commission is going to be awesome, your hubby starts spending it in his head and talking about what you'll be able to pay off or do with it, only to have to come home with your tail between your legs and explain that it's not going to happen after all. I made a huge mistake in thinking that my husband would judge me for losing business, but I made an even bigger mistake by not wanting to share success. We need to dream, we need to see good things happening in theory and talk about what we will do as a team with that income. If your relationship with your spouse and with money is such that they are afraid to share good news with you because you don't handle bad news well, you're not doing them any favors.
* Learn the business enough to support it. Whatever your spouse is selling, you should understand the basics. Make a concerted effort to understand the way they are compensated- this was one of the things that really hurt us. I never really sat down and explained how I got paid, and I am slightly ashamed to admit that for a long time especially early on, that was because I wasn't completely sure how I got paid. Depending on your personality, this is probably something your spouse doesn't want to admit or share with you; how much harder is it for them to have a shot at succeeding if they have to admit to you, the closest person in their circle, that they're not even sure how their compensation works? If they're new in their field, you might have to help them figure this out. Sit down with them, look at their contract, ask for a meeting with them and their manager so you can better understand. In my experience, especially when women leave the insurance business, it's because their husband has zero support for them in this area. This is a mistake because your wife has an opportunity to make a significant amount of money and STILL maintain that flexibility that makes sense for your family, and it DOES get easier- but generally it takes time to build the residual income you're looking for.
* Don't let them process their day alone. Your spouse or family member in sales has been beat up, pushed around, and dealt with things that would make no sense to you, like underwriters and rule changes and having to deliver bad news. In my case, I spent all day talking to people so when I was done for the day, the last thing I ever wanted to do was tell my husband what happened. I always felt like I would have to provide too much back-story.... like any anecdotes I had for the day won't make sense unless I provide context and that would take far too much time and effort. So if they don't want to talk about it, recognize that this might be because they feel the same way. Whatever your relationship dynamic is, find a way to let them vent about their day even if you're not going to be able to relate to it. If you don't, you're encouraging your partner to vent only to other people who work in the same field and have the knowledge to understand their situations without a lot of explanation. Maybe it's asking more questions, or making an effort to learn about the people your spouse works with so you can see the connections when they mention a name.
* Recognize that they may not have an "OFF" switch. I used to tell my husband that I envied the fact that when he left his store and the door closed behind him, he's OFF. He doesn't have to think about work or what's going on or who's doing what unless there was some kind of an emergency or his store was burning down. Even then, he had no ownership- he may have to solve problems occasionally off the clock, but most of the time when he's not working, he's free to think about everything in the world BUT work. People in sales who are really good at what they do and furthermore care about their clients or customers will never really turn it off. Even though I've had a break the last few years in corporate management, which has been nice, I have spent the majority of my career and am returning to the mindset of constantly caring. As a spouse, if you're jealous of this or can't handle that their attention is consumed by their business, you're creating a volatile situation. Especially if you've benefitted from their all-in mentality. To ask a passionate person in sales to turn OFF is like telling a mom to turn off mothering. I cannot think of a single person I know who has been successful in business who can successfully COMPLETELY disengage. Being on all the time is hard for both people in a marriage, and your spouse in sales doesn't need to be made to feel guilty for the relationship they have with the business that provides your family's security. To support them, when the phone rings and it's work related, mute the TV and pause the program. Ask if there are any tasks you can help with when you can tell they're overwhelmed. Remind them that you are proud of their commitment and recognize how much they put into what they do. Encourage them to find balance even in their ON mode by taking time for themselves, and time with you and with your kids. Ask them to commit time to you, but you can't possibly demand that they focus on their work only during the hours of 8ish to 5ish and devote the rest of their day to you. This is just not how a sales career works.
* Understand the amount of faith they have to have to make this work. Most people in sales get out because they don't possess gritty faith in themselves or in the process. If your spouse is trying to make a sales career work, try to remember how fragile faith can be. Day in and day out, your person is digging. They may not be a a young child in a mine somewhere in a third world country getting paid nothing to hunt for luxury, but they are toiling in conditions that require an immense amount of faith, that are often unfair and are most definitely uncomfortable. They started digging because they wanted to provide you and your family with something of value, and they believe they can find it. They know that it is there. If they're willing to do the work, regardless of the conditions and the time it takes, they believe they can find what they're looking for. Make sure you're not the voice in their head convincing them to give up just when they're about to strike gold.