Focus On The Input, Not The Output

Ten years ago, I was a door-to-door salesman. It worked like this: I got two days of sales training and a bag with a vacuum cleaner. Then they told me: go sell this vacuum cleaner. No leads, all leg work. What I did was that I went around neighbourhoods and introduced myself and did our sales process with all people I could meet.

I think I did 100 presentations before I sold my first vacuum cleaner. We had several goals in the business. The sales were commission based but we also had a small guaranteed salary that we would get if we had made 4 visits a day. So, a month of work was around 80 product demonstrations at least. But, my colleague and I usually did our work from 9 am to 9 pm and worked most days in the months. So we had some extra time. I think we made 4 demonstrations per day and worked 30 days a month.

After having done 120 demonstrations a month and not getting any sales, I felt bit bad. My hope was to be at least sell something. But, what I came to realize is that everything it was all a numbers game and everything was basic math:

  • In order to get 1 product demonstration, we had to knock on 7 doors.
  • In order to get one sale as an experienced sales person, you had to make four presentations.

So the basic process for a month was:

  • Meet 840 people (7 x 4 x 30)
  • Make 120 demonstrations (4 x 30)
  • Sell 30 vacuum cleaners (0.25 x 120)

It all added up and seeing the more experienced sales guys doing these numbers, there was hope for me.

The natural step is to first get those demonstrations right? I mean, in the beginning just developing the trust to get into someone’s home is a major challenge. There were many times where people were rejecting me time and time and time again. I had times where I knocked on more doors than I could remember without getting a person to let me in.

I struggled to get by for weeks. Not selling anything. But then I sold my first machine all my mindset shifted and I thought: “hey, this is really something I can do”. My hope that it would work turned into a belief that I could. A couple of weeks later, I managed to sell one vacuum cleaner every day for five days straight, I was on fire.

I saw the math playing out perfectly that week.

I met 140 people during five days. I got 20 product demonstration and made five sales.

The thing is this, something started to grow in me. I realized, I couldn’t be focusing on the time that I actually sold. I was just selling once a day, that one sale sure made me happy but I couldn’t go around and be not happy when I didn’t sell the other three times. I needed to find a way where I am happy and feel that I am making progress in times of rejection, adversity and tough moments. Not only when I was winning.

This is life. There is failure all around you if you just look closely. I can tell you lots of things I failed this week. Things that didn’t turn out as expected for one or another reason. But, to me two things work:

  • be extremely thankful for the things that work
  • focusing on the effort I put in – the inputs

What I mean is this – as a sales person, I focused on making those 840 meetings per month at first. I didn’t put up a goal about how many would buy. Of course the hope was that I would be performing as well as my more experienced colleagues. But in the beginning all just about putting in the work, meeting those people. Then later, I could start to think about how to sell more. Maybe after a month or so working actually having some success. But even at that point in time, it is a numbers game. If I reduce my input, the amount of meetings, then I reduce my output.

So, I recommend you to take this process to your job hunt. Think about the actionable things that you actually can do right now. Things that you can’t fail at. What are they?

  • Connect to people on LinkedIn?
  • Apply for jobs?
  • Make spontaneous applications?
  • Go to networking events

These are things that you put into the equation, these are your inputs. This is the hard work. Some people say, don’t work hard, work smart. I think you should do both. More importantly, if you don’t know how to work smart, start with working hard. You will learn how to make the process more efficient later. Yes, my sales process could have been improved while selling. But, as the quantity is really high we start to figure out what works and doesn’t. Results doesn’t come right away, but it doesn’t matter if we are playing the long term game. After having knocked on thousands of doors, I started to get a hang on how to introduce myself as the weird stranger I was.

In the long term game, you are the winner if you keep on putting effort, time and resources in. As long as you work towards your goal, you are making progress. Even if you are not getting the positive responses you are hoping to achieve.

In short:

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant”

-Robert Louis Stevenson

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