Our Danger in Getting Civilized – Rocky, Freud, Darwin and Selling

In the movie Rocky III, Mickey resists training Rocky to fight Clubber Lang. Why? Mickey tells Rocky:

“Well, Rock, let’s put it this way. Now, three years ago you was supernatural. You was hard and you was nasty and you had this cast-iron jaw but then the worst thing happened to you, that could happen to any fighter. You got civilized.”

“Getting civilized” led Rocky to a crushing defeat in his first Clubber Lang fight. Getting civilized is also a huge problem for many successful salespeople.

Civilization is a two edged sword. It provides identity, a sense of belonging, security, and tremendous opportunities inherent in the free exchange of ideas and services.

However, civilized behavior can also be the business developer’s worst enemy.

A civilized person is socially appropriate; knows how to treat prospects like friends and family. Unfortunately, socially appropriate behavior is frequently incompatible with business development (B.D.). Civilized salespeople choose sub-optimal outcomes: making friends (social selling) over profitable new customers (business selling).

To create our ‘book of business’, we must often engage in uncivilized B.D. behavior, including:

  • Asking for introductions – isn’t that rude?
  • Storming the Bastille – sitting in the lobby tilthe buyer sees us
  • Going “all in” – insisting prospects behave reasonably when we request reasonable engagement or payments in kind– e.g. checking a reference, introducing us to another decision-maker
  • Helping (nudging) a prospect to make a decision

Once we create our“book of business”, we just might get civilized, like Rocky; we can start to slide, resting on our laurels, stifling our B.D. capability.

This creates two problems, according to observations by Darwin and Freud.

1. Darwin’s observation about cacti

In the Galapagos, Darwin observed how species evolve to the lowest energy usage. For example, on some islands, we find cacti with soft plastic-like thorns, instead of typical hard thorns. Why? These islands lack tortoises, which eat the cacti; by natural selection, cacti with soft thorns evolved over time – not needing defense against tortoises.In fact, a naturalist reported the cacti evolved over time from hard to soft thorns, after:

  • sailors brought rats to the island, which
  • ate the tortoise eggs leading to tortoise extinction.

If tortoises were re-introduced, the cacti with soft thorns would become rapidly extinct.

Through this prism, consider successful salespeople. At one time, they had strong B.D. skills which helped develop the“book of business”. Now, they can coast; milking the existing network of customers and contacts. If this network persists til retirement, the salespeople can live at the “lower energy level”, doing more customer service than B.D.

But, all too often our network degrades over time. Customers are acquired or hire new decision-makers. New competitors enter the market. Our network of big fans retires.

Now,salespeople are exposed. Having abandoned their natural defense – B.D. skills – they are adrift in a stormy sea, without direction or tools. In this context, they will fail.

One corrective is: to always keep our B.D. skills sharp, so we can evolve with the marketplace.

2. Freud’s observation about Civilization and B.D.

In Civilization and it’s Discontents, Freud discussed our frustration with civilization’s impositions. He argued society’s standards suppress our instinctual drives.

Without debating Freud’s proposed cause of discontent, consider the broader issue: the frustration in confirming to societal mores.We all need to stand up and be independent from time to time, or conformity will grind us into non-entities.

It is a happy coincidence B.D. selling values – vs. social selling – help us:

  1. build our book of business, creating relationships
  2. achieveour need for independence, overcoming societal mores, in a productive manner.

The conclusion for salespeople: learn from Rocky – being too civilized is bad policy.