As a newcomer into the world of academic publishing sales, I was anxious to prove myself. I had gone from being a top performing teacher in my old job, to a novice, inexperienced imposter. Or so it felt. I felt like I was running too quick on my hamster wheel, just dying to get someone to take nibble of my cheese. As you can see by the metaphor, sales still confuse me.
After about nine weeks in the position, the pandemic hit. My in-person, travelling, visiting professors in their offices job went virtual. Their classes went virtual. Cue the sea of unanswered emails that still flood my nightmares. Sales is hard at any time, but the stress of the pandemic reduced the normally low response rate even more so.
We had a big meeting about our new digital technology. Advanced ebooks with adaptive learning. They were amazing. Students could answer questions about the material they learned and then follow up quizzes would reflect and focus on their own particularly problematic areas of study. No two review quizzes would be the same. Plus gamified workbooks. These products had cost the company tons of money to develop, and we were urged to get them in front of our professors as soon as possible.
So I did. I really believed in this product and knew it would be an amazing addition to any class, let alone all the forced online classes that were being taught without notice or prep time. I emailed every prospect on my list with really great personalized emails.
I had one professor express interest. Thrilled, I ran a virtual demo of the product for him. He liked it. He agreed to use it for a class of 250 students! I went through all of the onboarding steps they were making up as they went along. I had follow up calls with the professor and created step-by-step instructions for his students. It would be minimal effort on his part and super easy for his students, who would reap from the added benefits of the technology. I was elated. I just knew this first big sale would move me out of my rookie ranks.
When connected for our weekly virtual team meeting that week, I was uncharacteristically cheerful. Normally I dreaded these meetings because we had to present the biggest opportunities we were working, and I often had little to say. This time would be different.
“I have a big announcement to make,” my manager announced a few minutes into the meeting. ”We officially have our very first Canadian adoption of our enhanced ebooks.”
I squealed. I knew my sale was a big one, but I hadn’t expected to be the very first Canadian rep to get this product into schools! That was amazing!
“Alexis has secured, rather aggressively, a 250 student adoption at the University of Treviston.”
I stared at my black Zoom screen, at the names of my muted off-camera coworkers. Congratulations started to fill the chat. But I felt numb. Had they heard what I heard?
Rather aggressively. The words played back in my head over and over again. What had he meant by that? Was it a compliment? Sales is all about tenacity, but does aggression fall under that same category? We definitely emphasized consultative skills over aggressive tactics in our trainings. In the reflection of my screen I could only see my own stricken face.
Had I been aggressive? I’d been thorough with my outreach, forthright with my opinions of the product and diligent and adaptable with its implementation to ensure success. I hadn’t forced the professor into this decision. I’d done everything they’d asked me to do. Was that aggressive?
The question that lingered the most after that call was whether or not he have chosen the same adjective if a male colleague had been the first Canadian rep to achieve this feat. If he did, would it have the same negative undertones I was picking up on? With the same almost sarcastic delivery? Had I imagined that? It didn’t sound or feel like a compliment. It felt like my huge accomplishment was being diminished somewhat. Aggressive is definitely a word with negative connotations, a word I’ve had associated with myself.
Regardless of his intention, I started looking for new jobs after that. I aggressively researched new companies, aggressively wrote cover letters and aggressively prepared for interviews. If aggression was an unbeknownst part of my personality these days, I might as well use it to my advantage.