Are High-Performing Sales Pros Like Teenagers?

The behaviors of some excellent, high-performing salespeople are sometimes like those of typical American teenagers.  This can be considered both positive and negative attributes of salespeople.

I first noticed the similarities when managing a group of primarily high-achieving salespeople while helping my wife raise our two then teenagers.  I was confronted with many of the same issues at work and home. For example, top salespeople and teenagers can be obstinate, challenging to manage, and resist direction or supervision, like herding cats.  They want to be left alone, to make their own mistakes.  They do not care that we previously faced many of the same situations. Our experiences are irrelevant to them.  Times have changed. They are both selfish – it is all about them. They can be very inconsiderate.  It is not that they do not care about others– they are too absorbed in their world to consider other’s feelings.   Other people exist, but the teenagers’ needs have higher priority.  And they can be moody, with large swings of happiness and being upset.   If they are upset, it is your fault, not theirs. They look for shortcuts and ignore possible future negative consequences, even if they could be severe, such as riding a motorcycle without a helmet. Teenagers are known to have very short attention spans.  Many top salespeople are similar.  They have a hard time staying on task.

The concept of delayed satisfaction eludes teenagers; it does not exist.  They live with instant, or nearly instant, gratification.  Top salespeople are the same, which can be a positive, especially at the end of fiscal quarters.  They want a new Apple watch, so they need to close the sale this month.  They can be rebellious and often unconsciously “break glass” or cause chaos. They greatly value their independence and rebel against authority figures.  As much as they want to assert their independence, they also seek approval from authority figures, such as their parents, teachers, or sales managers.

One cannot make a teenager or a salesperson do something if they don’t want to, regardless of the negative or positive consequences.  For example, a threat to ground a teenager was usually ignored, as was a bribe to get them to do a task not on their instant gratification list. Teenagers do not choose to clean their bedrooms.  Their clothes often lie on the floor, seemingly random to us, but they know where to find the ones they want to wear.

Top salespeople’s desks or workspaces are similar: to the observer, they look to be completely disorganized, with papers strewn everywhere.  Business cards are lurking underneath used tissues and uneaten candy.  But they know where everything can be found.  Both top salespeople and teenagers can be easily distracted. They can both also be very immature.  They are very impatient and short-term oriented.  Today and this week are far more critical than six months or one year from now. They can be boastful and judgmental, may be prone to bad decisions, have high energy, and are risk-takers (sneaking out late at night, not using birth control, or salespeople not following procedures.)

Teenagers, both young men and women, are concerned with their body image. Most top salespeople also seek the accouterments of success, such as Rolex watches, Corvettes, Gucci, and Yves St Laurent handbags, and diamond rings.

On the positive side, most teenagers and almost all top salespeople are very achievement oriented. They want to excel in their performances in school, extra-curricular activities, band, or sales and be noticed by their peer groups. They are often unusually extraverted.  Their peer groups greatly influence them and make them want to look and dress like them.  They like status symbols or clothes with known upscale brands.  They like to be noticed in fancy cars.  They would not be caught dead shopping at T J Maxx or Marshalls.  Top salespeople also don’t want to be seen in discount stores or with discount brands, such as Gap, Old Navy, or The Limited.   But it is also essential to be different – be their own person or identity, which is contradictory.  How does one conform and be different at the same time?  That is the conundrum they try to solve every day.  Sometimes, they will do outrageous things to get attention. They also may form cliques within an organization.  On the positive side, they want to learn.  They will also often act outrageous to get attention, especially when they are in groups.

Some differences are that teenagers are maturing physically and are in the process of establishing their values.  Top salespeople usually are fully grown adults.   Teenagers value establishing friendships with peers and receiving positive approval from them.   Some suicides are the result of teenagers who cannot form friendships and feel hopeless and isolated.  Top salespeople are often loners and do not need to have friendships at work. They seek sales positions that encourage autonomy and prefer not to be managed. They like to operate as “lone eagles” hunting their prey.    Teenagers may have eating disorders due to their insecurities or anxieties.  Top salespeople like to dine at the best restaurants, eat steaks, and drink expensive wine.

All the above descriptions are based on my anecdotal observations, not scientific studies.  Are you convinced?