The 'why' of success in sales

By Jon Shuman
Jon Shuman is leader of the workplace insurance sales team for MassMutual.
Posted on Jan 17, 2018

Only eight teams have won back-to-back Super Bowls in the more than 50 years the title game has been played. In 115 years, 21 teams have repeated as World Series champions. Since 1934, only three golfers have successfully defended a Masters Championship.

Success, it seems, is often easier to attain than to maintain. There is tremendous competition for the top spot in any profession so it stands to reason that once we reach the summit, it is a precarious perch.

It’s true for many vocations – not only sports – and may be especially so for salespeople. How many times have we seen someone achieve the leadership spot in a sales organization, only to slide back into the pack the next year?

It starts and ends with being hungry for success. Early in our careers, many insurance agents and financial advisors need to scramble every day just to survive. They build their book of business one phone call, one meeting, one client at a time. Few professions demand greater persistence, emotional intelligence or daily growth.

For most, it starts with cold-calling scores of prospects, experiencing the pain of routine rejection and the occasional euphoria of small-but-satisfying successes. Over time, we become more efficient, finding new clients through seminars, workshops and eventually, referrals.

And then, success. Those who combine hard work with some good fortune and reach the top enjoy rewards such as affirmation, recognition and financial remuneration. But for the best salespeople, that is not enough. They need a mission, a purpose, a why that drives them.

The best salespeople recognize that success may lead to a dangerous state of satisfaction. Satisfaction replaces hunger. Satisfaction breeds complacency. Satisfaction leads to mediocrity.

How many times have sports fans witnessed a star running back, baseball slugger or other successful athlete sign a nine- or 10-figure contract only to subsequently underperform? The pursuit of excellence for financial gain has been achieved, leaving little more to accomplish than the player’s sense of pride.

For the most successful people – those get out of bed every day with a hunger and determination – success is a state of being. The best salespeople never deviate from their goals and their purpose.

Those of us who are salespeople in the worlds of insurance and financial services are fortunate that we have a purpose that is not only helpful to our customers, it’s a noble cause. At MassMutual, we articulate that purpose as helping our customers secure their future and protect the ones they love.

That purpose is the “why” behind what we do. With more than half of middle-income Americans describing themselves as either “somewhat” or “not at all” financially secure, we are in position to make a difference in many people’s lives.1 People are depending upon us to help them protect their families, secure their futures and to help alleviate at least some of their cares.

It’s the “why” that should drive us. It’s the mission, not the money, that should be our priority. For those who achieve that goal, the rewards will come soon enough.

As we head into the New Year, redefining or reaffirming the “why” of what we do may help each of us prioritize what’s most important and focus on winning for a higher purpose. It may help each of us step up our game and once again point ourselves down the path to success.

Make this year your personal Super Bowl.

Jon Shuman is leader of the workplace insurance sales team for Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. (MassMutual).

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1MassMutual, "MassMutual Middle America Financial Security Study," June 2017.