In the competitive world of business, it’s the underdogs who often get swept aside while the big dogs with resources to afford the top sales talent, software, and tools walk away with the spoils.
Others may ignore and underestimate them because their businesses are small or their backgrounds are disadvantaged, but I’ve always loved the perseverance of underdogs. Those small and medium business owners who are tirelessly working to support their families and make an impact have my respect.
Why? Let me start with a story.
In the 1980s, I was a rising star on the sales team of an international company. I’d been recognized as valedictorian of the class in my initial sales training program, had earned promotions that moved my family from San Francisco and then to Seattle, and was ultimately offered an opportunity to transfer to the company’s headquarters in Atlanta, GA.
As a biracial kid growing up Compton, CA, I’d experienced plenty of racism — from other kids, from the parents of girls I dated, and even from family members on both sides. But I’d learned that sports achievement was a big equalizer. Whether I was throwing touchdown passes or hitting home runs, sports gave me an opportunity to prove myself based on my performance rather than my race.
My career in sales was the same. I fell into sales because, like sports, either you do the work and produce the results or you don’t. I became very good at sales — not because it was my calling, but because it was a way for me to be rewarded for the results I produced.
Sales goals and metrics leveled the playing field, removing all subjectivity and giving me a platform for success or failure that measured my ability, rather than my racial or social background. At least, that’s what I thought until I was offered the promotion to company headquarters, and attended the company’s 100-year anniversary celebration in Atlanta.
Coming back late that night from the celebration, I shared the elevator with the company’s VP of Sales — my ultimate manager. I reached out my hand to thank him and to introduce him to my blond wife.
He didn’t take it. Instead, he gave my wife and I a look of disgust. A look that could kill.
At that moment, I realized I couldn’t work for that company anymore. All my achievements, all my performance excellence, all those years of meeting or exceeding my goals? They meant nothing to a VP of Sales who still only saw the color of my skin.
You see, this man had worked out to our regional office in San Francisco and had recognized me in front of my team and peers as a stellar performer. He’d seemed to genuinely appreciate my efforts, and I looked up to him as a mentor in my career. But during that moment in the elevator, I realized that despite all this he still held prejudice toward me because of my skin color, and prejudice toward my wife for marrying me.
For all my impact on sales and contributions to the company’s goals, I realized there was still a subjective element. No matter what I did, my performance would not be enough to let me be fully accepted or embraced by this company at this time.
This moment helped cement my love for the underdog.
I’ve always had a heart for people who’ve been dismissed by others — whether because of race, origin, social or economic influence, or identity. I work at evolving my own internal beliefs around all these things, and search to align myself with people who share those same values.
From an early age, my incredible mother taught me that it does not matter what your social, economic or racial background is. If you treat people well, if you work hard, if you produce results, you will be successful.
Despite facing years of adversity, I still believe this with my whole heart. It’s the mindset I take into every aspect of my life. Whether I’m coaching kids in sports or coaching a small business owner to achieving sales success, I continue to believe in honoring hard work and results over background.
It’s an underdog attitude.
This is why I love working with small business owners in my function as a sales coach or an outsourced VP of sales.
I love small business owners because they create their own environment. They work tirelessly to grow a business that has meaning and provides social impact to their communities. They don’t have the resources of the big company, they don’t have all the tools, they can’t always recruit the best people — and they certainly can’t afford to make many mistakes before they fail.
I understand the tightrope of risk and reward small business owners face, because I’ve been there. But I’ve also been running with the big dogs, and I know the tools, processes, and resources they use.
That’s why my goal is to help small and medium businesses who may not have access to those tools and sales experience get a leg up on the big dogs.
I am here to serve the underdog.
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