Selling is Going Against the Societal Grain, and calls for Stoic Discipline

“…those that have resolutely chartered their own waters have emerged triumphant. And the same society that was against them, now becomes their cheering squad.”

The foremost formidable challenge selling faces is that it goes against the societal grain. Most people are happy to take the well trodden path, not the one less travelled. They are happier to go with the flow than swim against the tide; the former is so much easier than the latter. Why struggle they reason? And so they resign to the hum drum of life; familiarity becomes their stock in trade. When all around you are moving North then steering South, solo, can be intimidating. Here’s three ways selling goes against the grain:


Perhaps the last concrete plan the average Kenyan had was when he was using the timetable. Back in school, the day, week, term and year were laid out in delicate detail. As much as we detested that planning tool (aka timetable) it worked with ruthless efficiency. And then we left school and pandemonium set in. Planning is not evident in our lives. We are a last minute society. We will take an emergency loan from the Sacco because the wife has been rushed to hospital to deliver. Forget that we had a 9 month notice! We’ll happily pay three times more in airfare than book three months in advance.

Culturally, deadlines in Kenya are guidelines. Selling is looking for work and doing so without planning is pushing your luck. The alternative is to wait for work to come to you. It’s easier to do this in the already existing framework of an organization. Thoughtful planning (like the timetable) is the cornerstone to thriving in selling. Continual intelligent prospecting and rehearsing the presentation are examples of planning; and planning in an environment that doesn’t do so, requires stoic discipline.


Tragically, in most organizations, Sales is placed in the bottom of the corporate food chain. The sales structure must be the flattest any organization has. Three levels deep is rare. Mobility is usually via making more and more money or getting into the pyramidal corporate hierarchy and ‘rising’ from thereon. The rising is in quotes because society has defined growth in the work world as rising within the hierarchy. And many salespeople have wholeheartedly bought that sale.

The sales function was a latter-day addition to the pyramid. To this day, many organizations struggle with suitably placing the sales function in the pyramid. That’s why salespeople will be given only short term loans (if at all they are granted any) and access to the hallowed grounds of the corporate office (they represent) is a privilege. Being made to feel like an outcast by the very support structure that should be propping you up is obviously not inspiring. Yet that’s what successful selling requires. A resolve to keep at it despite what society (family and colleagues) think of you.


The question was asked of respondents in a research: what comes first to mind when you hear salesman? The responses: slimy, pushy, yuck, annoying, ugh, manipulative. You shouldn’t be surprised. That’s how salespeople are perceived. Remaining focused in such an environment is not easy. It is much easier to be on the benches booing than in the field playing. To be fair, the perception is not unfounded. Over the years, selling has become a dysfunctional fear-based relationship.

Several unfortunate experiences of being tricked later, buyers fear they are being talked into buying something that’s not right for them; they fear they are making foolish decisions because they lack information. They have thus learnt to be defensive and this shows itself most prominently through blunt rejections. I cannot think of another job besides selling, in which rejection is a constant companion. To thrive through rejections in a society that actively avoids them, calls for a resolve that society secretly admires but openly criticizes.

Successfully going against the societal grain calls for military discipline; and those that have resolutely chartered their own waters have emerged triumphant. And the same society that was against them, now becomes their cheering squad.

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