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Sober in Sales - The Secret Sauce to Sales Success!

For some time now, I’ve considered writing about being sober in sales. What stopped me? Fear. After all, what would my colleagues think? Could it limit my career opportunities? How would my customers react? Then I thought, who gives a damn! One in eight Americans struggles with alcohol. It causes more destruction than any other drug, yet we celebrate it as a huge part of being American. Every year, we look forward to the Bud Light commercials during the Super Bowl, and alcohol serves as a right of passage for young adults, especially males.

My goal here isn’t to condemn alcohol, but to give those who might be struggling with it the confidence to get help and to let them know their sales have the potential to soar.

With that said, let me give you some context to my story.

I grew up in an Irish Catholic family. Both my parents are from the Chicago area, and they moved to Atlanta in the ’70s to look for opportunity. Growing up in an amazing family, I watched my neighbors throw block parties and my father succeed in sales. I associated alcohol with being an adult and a way to enjoy life.

As I got older, I found a talent for ensuring those around me had a great time. I called it the Power of The Party. My house was the party house, though my parents made a point of keeping alcohol out while I was in high school. I found that creating an experience where people could come together gave me influence. My basement was a full sports bar, minus the alcohol – eight TVs, a pool table, ping pong and, oh yeah, a dance club: Club Matrix, with smoke machine, lasers and a state-of-the-art sound system to boot. This was the start of an interesting journey.

At the University of Georgia, I used my party-throwing experience to tend bar in Athens, Georgia. I loved it! However, this is when my drinking journey began. A bartender’s handshake is a shot and, needless to say, if you greet a lot of people, it can be an interesting night. At this point in my life, I was as close to Van Wilder as I think you could be. I ran bar hops, bartered with alcohol, threw the largest parties, bought a 52-foot school bus to take the party on the road and honestly enjoyed almost every minute of it. My recipe for bringing people together was a blend of influence, money and inclusion. And alcohol was the secret sauce.

Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be in sales. I loved business, figuring out problems and closing the deal. I looked up to my father and still do. The stories of my college years helped me score my first real sales job – that, and the fact that the two guys who interviewed me for that Fortune 500 job had been patrons at my bar the night before.

In my first five years in sales, alcohol and having a great time continued to be the handshake and secret sauce for growing my career. And it worked. People enjoyed the perks of going to exclusive night clubs and having a special experience. The problem is, if you’re the guy who’s “a good time,” you always have to perform, and this performance has a cost. In my case, it was my sobriety.

Sure, I was building my sales career, but my personal life was spiraling out of control and it was starting to seep into my job. I was dealing with severe depression, financial hardship, and low self-esteem. I knew I needed to make a change. Luckily for me, I found a strong woman who saw something in me and gave me a chance. Since 2013, we’ve walked through this journey together with the support of my wife, my family, my faith and close friends. My path to sobriety has had some setbacks and I haven’t been perfect – never will be – but some simply amazing things have happened in my career and my life.

In 2013, I was promoted to sales executive. Within three years, I became one of the top producers in the company and now have the privilege to lead the commercial sales team. While I don’t attribute all of this to sobriety, here are the 10 things I learned while being sober in sales:

  1. Time Is Precious – Sales is all about time management. I’m now able to harness my energy and make better use of my time. This is a no-brainer. Once you eliminate the late nights and foggy mornings that hurt your productivity, your efficiency and energy are multiplied.

  2. Relationships Matter – The people I now surround myself with are there because they value me, not my corporate card or just having a great time. This includes family, friends and business associates.

  3. Courage Builds – It takes courage to ask for a sale, but it also takes courage to turn down a shot, a cold beer or a glass of merlot. However, each time you do it, your confidence grows. This courage doesn’t apply just to alcohol, but also to all aspects of your life.

  4. Morning Coffee Is Awesome – The conversations I’ve had with my clients, friends and family over morning coffee have been 10 times more productive than any late-night bar talk. It’s amazing what people will tell you when you actually listen.

  5. Honesty Leads to Understanding – From CEOs to the guy sitting in the next cube, when you’re honest with people, they’ll trust you. And when they trust you, they’ll become your partners and invest in you.

  6. Being Yourself Is Amazing – People like to be around someone who’s authentic, and they can tell when you’re just putting on a show. It took a ton of pressure off me when I stopped trying to entertain everyone.

  7. Invest in Yourself – Being sober is an investment in your health. With more time and feeling good, you’ll be surprised by what you can do. Since I drank through most of my undergrad years, I decided to get an MBA. It’s amazing how much I learned by actually going to class this time and paying attention.

  8. You Can Leave Early – I still love to entertain, but now I show up, make sure everyone is good, have my conversations, then leave at 10. No one cares that you’re not there till 1 a.m.

  9. Life Sucks Sometimes – Life is still going to suck sometimes, but allowing yourself to feel it is what makes you human and alive. When you’re sober, you can move through these downtimes faster. Whether you’re having an issue at work or in life, a clear head and focus can only help.

  10. It’s Not Easy – This commitment is by far the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. I’ve had my setbacks but, just like sales, I get back up and move forward.

Again, I have nothing against drinking; to some extent I envy those who can do it in a healthy way. Being sober for me has been an investment in my health, my family and my career. In the sales profession, the abuse of alcohol is rarely talked about and not drinking is looked down upon in many industries. There are 18 million sales professionals in the United States alone, and I’d bet more than two million of them struggle with alcohol. I don’t have all the answers on it and I still take it day-by-day, but it is by far the best return on investment I’ve found for my life! Sobriety is my “Secret Sauce” to sales success!



Statistics on Sales that Drives Economy:

  • There are 14 - 18 Million Sales Professionals in the United States

  • Annual spending by U.S. companies on their field sales efforts is three times the amount spent on all consumer advertising, more than 20 times what they spend on all online media, and more than one hundred times what they currently spend on social media.

  • According to a Gallup survey, about 62 percent of U.S. adults who use social media say those sites have absolutely no influence on their purchasing decisions, while 30 percent say the sites have “some” influence, and only 5 percent claim that they have a “great deal of influence.”

Statistics on Alcoholism in America:

  • 1 in 8 people struggle with Alcohol

  • “Alcoholism,” rose by a shocking 49 percent in the first decade of the 2000s.

  • The CDC Control and Prevention estimates that 88,000 people a year die of alcohol-related causes, more than twice the annual death toll of opiate overdose

About he Author: PJ Zonsius is an experienced business development leader in Energy, Technology, Training and the Non-Profit space who earned his MBA from Georgia State - Robinson School of Business. He resides in Peachtree City with his wife, Meredith, and son, Landon.

PJ is currently the Sr. Manager of C&I Sales at Gas South. Gas South is a leading natural gas marketer, selling in deregulated markets across the Southeast.

As one of Atlanta's top young executives, PJ is well-known for igniting success in individuals and organizations.

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