The text below is an excerpt from my upcoming book which is almost finished and yet untitled. (I’ve changed the title three times! LOL!) The book is about how to survive and thrive during your first 12 – 18 months in outside sales, kind of a survival guide for those that have never done what we do.  

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Okay…enough with the shameless self promotion, here is a chapter excerpt from the upcoming book…

SURVIVAL Mode (They don’t teach it in school)

Q: What’s the difference between a large cheese pizza and a person in commission sales?

       A: A large cheese pizza can feed a family of five!

Okay, not funny, especially if you’ve just launched your sales career or worse, you’ve been around a while and you’re struggling. The whole point of this book is to prepare you to SURVIVE and win in the game of commission sales—to eventually become a true sales professional, not the punch line of a joke. I know you’ve heard the saying, “It’s a jungle out there”. Well, if you’re new in commission sales it will seem like a jungle. Danger will be lurking everywhere, savage beasts are ready to ambush you, and you’ll quickly run low on food and water.

You’ll have to learn how to survive and the conditions you’ll be asked to exist in will be very difficult

I believe that today’s work environment is very much a mirror of the times: uncertain and unstable. As new salespeople traverse this fast-paced landscape, they begin to develop attitudes based on their environment and those attitudes play out in their behavior. (Much more on ATTITUDES later in this book) My point is to have you understand how things have changed and evolved in the workplace overall and especially in high-powered sales environments.

In the past, most sales teams I’d been involved with were focused on the planning and execution of long-term growth objectives. The organizations I was a part of were places where careers were born and legacies were created. I’ve had the good fortune to work with a few world-class sales organizations such as Aflac, where teamwork, unity and collaboration were encouraged and advancement possibilities were real.

In today’s world, long-term business goals have been eclipsed by short-term personal goals. You will have to adapt to a habitation where everything is a priority and time management is unmanageable. This will require you to think even more differently than I did when I entered commission sales. You will need to focus on…

…surviving the unknown long enough to stay in the game and win

As you observe the behaviors and dynamics around you, you’ll take note that others around you are in what we’ll call survival mode. In the past it was easier to strike a friendship with people at your level. In today’s tension-filled environment others around you may only spend time with people who can help their careers or salvage their position. As a result, meaningful relationships are much harder to forge.

The survival mode atmosphere has also made it increasingly difficult to collect a team of people together in one room to collaborate. This is because each may have urgent issues to cope with. When people do meet they tend to posture and position to ensure that they are selling themselves, rather than advancing the organizational goals and initiatives. This kind of self-promotion is the ultimate sign of survival mode thinking and it creates a fierce dog-eat-dog mentality. The personal agenda mindset also fosters a general distrust amongst teammates. We are wary of engaging with those who may only be out to advance themselves.

Loyalty to an organization is another quality that seems to be fading into the sunset. It is easy to become alienated when survival mode takes hold. Think about it: When you go to the office and people are only interested in themselves, what’s the incentive to give more of yourself? If your direct report is focused more on his or her own advancement than the betterment of the team the wrong message is being sent out. Be very careful not to become caught up in all of this drama.

You can easily become a victim of someone else’s survival s strategy

You can begin to lose loyalty for your organization. Ultimately, It can drive you way from the organization or outside sales completely. They don’t teach survival mode in school. None of us started our careers hoping to work only for our own short-term goals. But as survival mode takes over in more and more organizations it will be important for you to know what the new rules are and to play the game to win. We don’t want to see you voted off the island. (Or, vote yourself off the island!)

By laying these truths out on the table up front I don’t intend to talk you out of your career choice. That would be hypocritical—I’ve done very well. What I want is for you to go into commission-only sales with your eyes and ears WIDE OPEN. Ultimately, if I can convince you how tricky the commission-only sales world can be, I can probably command enough of your attention to get my lessons to stick. I can probably persuade you to focus on the RIGHT things.

My first three years in commission sales were, by far, the hardest years of my life. (Rivaled only by second grade in Catholic school) but, it doesn’t have to be that way for you. My goal is to condense your pain down to your first year, or better yet, only your first six months.

In thinking about survival mode, you will first have to make sure you ask and answer two pertinent questions:

Do I have the stomach for a commission-only position?

Do I have the cash reserves to ramp up into a sales career?

The second question is just as important as the first. Regardless of the industry or company you choose—or what they tell you during the interview process—there’s always a ramp up period. You will starve a little while you’re learning your trade. This isn’t a bad thing; consider the ramp up period an extension of your college education, an advanced investment in yourself. Expect to go hungry for a little while, but it’ll be worth it if you are focusing on all of the right things. (And we intend on supplying you those things to focus on)

If we can help you survive that first year, you’ll probably never have to work a ‘real job’—one with a time clock and a cubicle—again! Even better, your own organization, (and industry headhunters) will beat a path to your door, offering you better positions and more compensation.

You’ve already figured out that outside sales offers you the rare opportunity to make your own hours and earn as much as you’d like. You’ve probably started to dream a bit. (And you should) You’re most likely imagining the lifestyle you want to create. It’s all quite possible, go ahead and dream, but first…let’s talk about what key survival traits you’ll need to own to make it through that critical first year.

It would be easy to draft a long list of specific character attributes, qualities, philosophies, styles and attitudes. Many companies depend on complicated aptitude tests or ‘profiling’ as a key part of their hiring practice, believing these tests are predictive of who will succeed. I believe these expensive tests can be good indicators of future success in sales, however, I miserably failed one of these tests once, and this was after I’d become a successful sales person and trainer. Given that no complicated profiling assessment is going to be 100% accurate anyway please allow me to simplify the process for you and offer you an alternative.

Based on thirty years of hiring and mentoring salespeople I can give you a predictable short list of key characteristics. In fact, I’ve boiled it down to three major attributes I knowyou must cultivate to have a realistic chance of success in commission sales. Let’s take a look a look at them:


A long-term mentality and a big vision is key to success in a commission sales position. You have to be the kind of individual that’s willing to run the distance race and worry about the cramps and blisters after the race is won. If you are looking for immediate gratification and you’re not willing to work the PUMP in the DESERT for deferred rewards, you may not be able to sustain a career in commission-only sales.

If you think you’re going to get rich quick in commission sales you are mistaken. The best you can hope for is to GET RICH SLOWLY

You must develop a vision of what you want your finished product to look like, (a successful YOU) and be willing to work every day to become that person. You must be willing to accept that you’re on a journey that’s more like a marathon than a sprint. You have to be committed to doing the work, (paying the price) every day, regardless of the lack of immediate results. You have to be willing to celebrate each minor victory until the major ones come along.

Unfortunately, societal conditioning and survival mode mentality may hinder certain generations from having this long-term outlook. I’m referring to the pervasive indoctrination of our youth by a world now based on instant gratification. We want the top position from the start. (Right out of college) We don’t want to work through the ranks like generations past. Some believe that an entry-level sales position or cold calling is simply beneath them. The classic rags to riches story? Nonsense…just give me the riches!

Nobody achieves sustained success without considerable difficulty. A belief that you are an exception to this rule will only be a hindrance to your progress

If you are the kind of kid that went to a school that out-lawed dodge ball games at lunch, or you played in a soccer or T-Ball league that didn’t keep score, you’re going to need to be reprogrammed. You’ll have to be willing to get smashed in the face by a rubber ball a few times.

On the other hand, if you are the type of person that can withstand a setback or two before the victories roll in, then you should give this thing a go. It’s about having the ability to stay the course even when the waters are rough. It’s about being a long-term thinker and being willing to pay a price for the deferred success that’s waiting out there for you.

  1. COACHABLE (…and trainable)

You’re probably venturing into an industry that you know little about. If you are one of those godforsaken know-it-alls, then good luck, I wish you the best, but your odds of making it are quite low.

For know-it-alls failure will surely result because they talk more than they listen, and when they pretend to listen they’re second-guessing their trainer, probably thinking they’re smarter or more talented. The wisdom and guidance offered by their trainer will bounce off their noggin like a 99-cent beach ball at Dodger Stadium.

Another dynamic will occur as know-it-alls mouth off in the weekly sales meeting. Their hierarchy will profile them—put them in a box—and begin to shut down on them. Put yourself in your trainer’s position…they have a limited time with each new trainee and their own production to worry about. By nature, they will gravitate to those that are most receptive. Trainers will focus on the salespeople that are following the program, doing the homework, and picking up the phone to prospect.

       To become coachable and trainable you must first be humble

You can’t learn how to be humble in a book…it requires a change of behavior and outlook. You have to accept that you need help from others. You will need to park your ego at the training room door. In addition to humility, you also have to apply ACTION to the equation. If you don’t get off your butt and apply the lessons you’re NOT coachable.

                         Another key part of being coachable is your willingness to GIVE UP CONTROL

If we are lucky enough to find a mentor, we may sometimes place him or her in a precarious position. We instinctively resist and block them until we see tangible results. The Catch 22 here is obvious…we only get results if we are willing to give up control. The surrender of control takes faith.

The problem with life is that it must be lived FORWARD…and can only be understood BACKWORD

In my experience with coaching salespeople they only realize the payback of change after the change has occurred. Hence, if you are not coachable and trainable, you wont hear anything that’s being taught and you will repel the people that are assigned to help you. (As well as everyone else around you)If you are an open, trainable person, suit up for this game!

  1. TOUGH-MINDED (There’s no crying in sales!)

Ultimately, you will learn that sales success can be likened to a predicable equation, a mathematical type of formula. We will discuss this important concept ad nauseam in the following chapters; however, I feel the need to introduce this point now to establish the third key attribute that I believe is essential for your survival.

We are all emotional creatures to one degree or another, but if you are the kind of person that becomes easily depressed when things don’t go well, or when your concepts are rejected, you’ll have a difficult time surviving in commission sales. In this book we will teach you how to adopt a completely different approach.

You will learn how to respond to rejection analytically versus emotionally

The best and brightest sales people operate in a level mode with solid and unwavering attitudes. They never get too UP and they never get too DOWN. They live in the middle and register rejection, (as well as sales wins) as merely RESULTS for later analysis. They can almost seem robotic, but all they’ve done is develop logical coping mechanisms.

In this book we will convey a set of truths so powerful, that if followed, your entire sales career can transform. You will learn that a “NO” is okay, (certainly a “YES” is better) but both are simply RESULTS and are NECCESARY METRICS within your daily, weekly and monthly sales cycles. Your most important coping tool will come from the simple understanding that…

…the whole game of sales can be reduced to nothing more than a predictable mathematical EQUATION

…but, more on that after we teach you some other key, foundational values and building blocks.

So far I’ve challenged you to THINK LONG TERM, become a COACHABLE person and to be TOUGH-MINDED—table your natural, self-destructive emotions.

These are the three traits that are most critical and identifiable in the makeup of a successful commission-only salesperson. In fact, I’ve never seen a person fail in commission sales if they possessed, cultivated and practiced these three characteristics!

Survival mode may not be taught in school, but I will teach it to you in this book.


Okay…I hope you enjoyed the excerpt. Remember to click on FOLLOW and also take a look at some of the other highly read articles in the archives and SHARE them.



12 thoughts on “SURVIVAL Mode, (They don’t teach it in school)

  1. Stu

    Spot on, Joe. You’ve managed to capture the essence of best practices for a commisssion-only start-up business. Corporate staff should also take heed to your advice straight away as this would secure successful performance for their teams’ futures.

    1. joebuzzello Post author

      You are right, Jimmy. We are ALL in the sales game to some extent. Thanks for your kind words. Walk down the street and let me buy you a glass of wine! LOL!

  2. Mollie Pearson

    This looks like a good chapter, Joe. Hope your book will cover rising above the “Grapevine” full of distortions of fact and vicious rumors. It takes a strong will to stay in the game when targeted in such a manner.

  3. Pingback: SURVIVAL Mode, (They don’t teach it in school) | Burn the Boats!

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