The turnover rate in our sales department at SupplyMart might be best compared to that of a fast-food restaurant. And at that, a fast-food restaurant with particularly low retention, like Bojangles’.
I became aware of this fact during my first week on the job, when two people got fired. One of them was a sweet, bubbly, Chinese homegirl from Brooklyn named Brittany. We got along splendidly from day one; three days later, after she was fired, I was assigned her territory and realized I had been hired to replace her.
As it turned out, only two people on the entire sales team of twelve had been working for SupplyMart for more than a year. Those who had made it past the six-month mark (which entitled one to a meager ration of paid time off) were considered veterans.
To be fair, sales positions in general tend to be revolving doors, being extremely cutthroat and cyclical. It is a job that demands persistence, aggression, rigid self-management, and, above all else, the ability to meet metered performance goals: namely, the sales quota.
In sales, your performance is very easy to track and quantify, and at SupplyMart the fundamental goal for all sales staff is to make 50 calls per day. Of those 50 calls, a certain percentage are bound to be solid client leads; of those solid leads, a good salesperson should be able to cultivate several accounts that should ultimately lead to greater purchases and incoming revenue for the company. The process is both an art and a science.
The hard part for most comes in the beginning of that process, when wading through those 50 calls. Though a portion of the leads are bound to be viable, the other ones equate to a crapload of rejection. And few (apart from some masochists and recurring American Idol auditioners) enjoy rejection.
Within my first few weeks on the phones at SupplyMart, I had developed a pretty thick skin, to say the least. However, after listening to a few of my veteran coworkers on their headsets, I realized that there was a skill to qualifying leads over the phone which allowed a good salesperson to reject the unprofitable customers before they had a chance to switch it around. It offered a pretty fascinating glimpse into the construction of desire in the human psyche. Everyone really does want what they think they can’t have, even if it’s something as utilitarian as a business membership for procuring office supplies.
In general, I didn’t hate my job; in fact, there were days when I got quite a thrill out of it. And, frankly, that’s what scared me the most.
“This job is just so uncreative,” I whined to Shirin one morning on the subway. “Every day is the same. Like, I literally can’t remember what I did last week. I don’t even remember who our rep was for Friday vendor training.”
Shirin stared blankly at me. “You know what, Kristine,” she said, “If you don’t want to be there, then why are you there?” This wasn’t the first time I had lamented after just under two months on the job, and I could tell she was growing weary of my trifling.
“Yeah, you’re right,” I said. “I’ll stop talking about it. I need the money right now.”
“No,” Shirin persisted. “If you don’t want to be there, then why be there? Why put yourself in a position where you’re unhappy every day? Just quit. You can find another job.” There was no sarcasm in her voice; she was serious.