Taking The Black Shilling

This was a phrase uttered to me during the mid-90s. I was self-employed for a couple of years, doing various sales and strategy projects for small growing firms. I loved it. Then I went full-time inside one of my customers.

The chap that knowingly mentioned this to me was himself a short-term technical project manager for hire. I suspect the saying’s origins are with a black shilling equating to dirty money.

The inference I drew was less that the source of funds was unsavoury, more that you’d kind of sold out your principles. In this case sacrificing independence for potential clientside glory. And as was pointed out to me, this often ends in tears.

I recently spent a few days hosting a friend of mine for their first time in Cape Town. For the past decade, he’s been part of the top team running a business intelligence software enterprise across the Anglosphere.

Our conversations touched on the trauma of when you pull out all the stops to win a customer, but they then drain all the energy out of your endeavours.

This can be for many reasons; they make unreasonable demands, they don’t pay their bills on time (or at all), they don’t share in your vision, they think you should be doing something that will take you down different and unattractive tracks just to suit them, you become victim to their internal politicking, they know only the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

What you should do, we agreed, is cull them. It’s a mercy killing. But this takes balls. Cojones that very few people posses when push comes to shove. The revenue is often just too sparkly.

When I myself have fallen foul of this syndrome, I have witnessed how demotivating dealing with said client can be. Its effects are devastating. Your internal meetings become fraught with tension. The balance changes damagingly from macro to micro. Smiles turn to frowns. And even worse, other customers that should be receiving your usual platimun service become neglected.

As a salesperson, which accounts are taking up too much of your time in non-sales issues? Regain your respect and get rid of them. Refocus on the truly glittering golden shillings.

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