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Most of us were initially drawn to commission sales seeking a better life filled with independence, freedom and unlimited income potential.
However, times have changed and although millions of Americans still experience successful careers in commission sales, arriving at your destination takes more strategic planning than ever.
Utilizing our decades of personal experience and relationships with hundreds of sales professionals, we compiled the top ten potential roadblocks to avoid as you chart your course to sales retirement:
1. Bouncing Around From Company to Company
Finding a company you can work with long-term goes a long way towards building a solid and secure sales career. We’ve all been guilty of following the “silver bullet” or thinking the “grass might be greener” somewhere else.
However, we’re quickly reminded there are no real shortcuts to long-term success. Continually starting over with new companies and products can prevent us from ever achieving traction in our career.
Instead of 25 years of experience, we end up with one year of experience twenty-five times!
Recommendation: Take extra time searching for a company where you can “plant your feet” and grow with long-term. Resist the temptation to chase after the “next best thing” – there’s no such thing as a perfect company.
2. When You Stop Selling – You Stop Getting Paid
A major draw to the insurance industry decades ago was the potential of working hard for 10, 20 or 30 years and being able to retire comfortably on your book of business.
That being said, any insurance agents reading this know this reality is as rare now as it was commonplace then. As we have shifted to a “now” society, companies have responded by paying out more up-front commissions instead of paying long-term commissions on the agent’s book of business.
Of the companies that still pay renewal commissions, most stop paying them when we retire or leave the company to sell somewhere else, and may require long-term vesting schedules that effectively make you a “captive” agent.
Recommendation: Find a company that invests in your future by giving their sales agents a stake in the company, and commits to paying commissions on your book of business long after you stop selling or retire.
3. Feast or Famine Industry
Real estate is a great example of this…
When the real estate industry gets hot, it seems everyone that doesn’t have a real estate-related license goes out and gets one. However, booms come and go, and we don’t know when the next one will arrive.
The challenges with putting all of our energy into selling in a temporary or cyclical industry is:
a) it lacks consistency
b) our income becomes dependent on something we can’t control – the fickle economy.
Unless we put an exceptional amount of money away during the good times (that can hold us over for months or years), our family could be put in financial jeopardy when the market cools off.
Recommendation: Rather than putting all our eggs in the feast-or-famine basket, diversify by adding another income generator from a different industry. This positions you in a more consistent, dependable market if/when the “famine” hits.
4. Competitive Market
It’s easy to get drawn into a “hot” industry that like a magnet, attracts many sales professionals and companies. Unfortunately, the market suddenly becomes very competitive and often saturates quickly.
Whether you’re selling real estate, advertising, insurance or credit card processing, the more competitive the market is, the more difficult it can be to add and retain customers.
Recommendation: If you can find a unique product or service in an emerging niche market with less competition, you gain an ability to build a large client base in less time and make yourself invaluable to your clients long-term.
5. Living Above Our Means
Many of us have seasons in our business where we experience momentum and it feels like times will always be good. During these intervals, it’s easy to increase our spending and “upgrade” our lifestyles…
Then reality hits…
When momentum and sales slow, it tends to put more pressure on our day-to-day meetings and we run the risk of appearing desperate to our prospects.
Recommendation: When we reach our goals, we should reward ourselves, but within reason. Even when your sales career is on fire, garner the self-discipline to spend within your means. This helps position us for a healthy and secure sales career.
6. “Ground Floor Opportunities”
Although we hear of the few startups that make it big, the reality is our sales career is more likely to outlive most of them.
According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), half of new businesses close their doors within 5 years-and the great majority don’t make it to their 10th birthday.
There are few things more devastating than putting heart and soul into building a book of business only to have the company fold.
Recommendation: Reduce your risk and get the odds working in your favor by making sure any company you sell for passes the “10 year rule”, meaning they’ve been in business at least 10 years.
7. Severe Regulation
A certain amount of regulation is necessary in many industries. However, some tend to be regulated more than others. In these industries our career can be impacted overnight by a stroke of a pen.
Passing new legislation in highly regulated industries can frequently add additional and burdensome procedures, paperwork or wipe out an entire industry as we know it. Recent examples of extreme changes happening quickly are in the mortgage and health insurance industries.
Recommendation: When possible, choose an industry that historically is less likely to be affected by growing regulation that could be burdensome for conducting business.
8. Recession Weakness
After experiencing the Great Recession of the late 2000’s, it’s a good time to evaluate the strength of major industries.
Aside from obvious industries hit hardest like real estate, advertising and health insurance, a December 2010 USA Today article reported that households holding life insurance policies hit the lowest number in 50 years.
Recommendation: Since the economy runs in cycles, when designing your career path, look for industries that have a better chance of weathering a recession gracefully. Start by looking for companies that have emerged from the last 3 years with “flying colors.”
9. Assigned Territory
Working in a territory rarely ends well. After building up your book of business for many months or years, company management may decide to carve up, change or take away your territory all together.
Sometimes this comes along with a “promotion” to a manager position, putting more of a ceiling on your income than you had before.
Recommendation: When possible, avoid companies that restrict you to a territory. The ideal situation is not only having the freedom to cultivate new business anywhere, but also the flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances, such as your spouse being transferred to a different city or state.
10. Settling for Leads, Draw or Base
At some point in our careers, we might feel beat up, tired or demoralized and may seek the comfort of a company doing the prospecting for us (leads). We also may feel we’ve earned the right to receive compensation whether or not we sell anything.
We might not realize it at the time, but this is often a death sentence for reaching the financial security and retirement we dreamed of.
By taking easy money, leads or “benefits” now, we are, in turn, robbing our future retirement. These perks are set up for the company to benefit long-term, not us.
Recommendation: If you consider yourself a true commission sales professional who wants to win in the end, do everything you can to stay in a straight commission environment. This is where you generate your own leads, allowing for a true unlimited income situation.
There never has been, and probably never will be, a perfect company to work for. However, by limiting these potential roadblocks, you can better position yourself for a promising sales future and secure retirement.