My 5 Decades in Sales

The very first book that I ever read on sales was How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling. It was the mid 70's and I had been selling for a decade, but was just starting to think of myself as a salesman. Frank Bettger wasn't a scientist, but he shared stories that made sense and I still use some of the lessons today.
As a kid I was never good at the fundraising sell-a-thons. My mother would tell you that I was too shy, but this story about my Italian aunts with big lips, etc. might give a clue as to how I learned to figure out what people needed and use it. I 'sold' fuller brushes and a couple of other things while I was in high school and college. They were side gigs. I wasn't committed and I had marginal results.

Elaine and I got married April 7, 1973 while she was in nursing school. She was at school, doing clinical or studying all the time. So, although I had a full time, non-sales job, I got another 'side gig' selling Cutco Cutlery. That 'gig' changed my life. I met Dave Kurlan and we made some stories of our own. I also met my mentor, Bob Jiguere. Bob is the guy that made me want to be the best salesman that I could be. He also taught me that it wasn't about selling knives, or even being able to sell myself. Rather, it was about learning how to live in a way that I didn't have to be two people. Rick, the salesman was the same guy as Rick the husband, father, son, etc. He taught me how to be real.

Dave and I left Cutco at about the same time. He started a music store that's still in business today and I sold retail furniture. Interestingly, it was Joe Q at the store that recognized that I sold clean and at a profit and it didn't take long for him to say that all new salespeople needed to work with me and learn how to sell the way I did. When Mark started playing Little League, I quit the furniture store because I wanted to attend his games at night and on weekends, rather than sell furniture. Elaine wasn't happy because I didn't have a job to go to, but it worked out.

I spent the next 20 years collecting debts from people that didn't want to pay. I typically worked for about 200 clients/year and that led to this article decades later. BTW, you think prospects avoid you. How hard do you think it is to get somebody that owes money on the phone? I sold debtors on the idea of paying the bill by finding a reason that they would want to pay it. Logic without threats. However, the big lesson was that everybody that stopped paying their bill stopped because they became unsold. Every collection problem was a sales problem in disguise and usually, if I finished 'selling' them, they paid.

If you've been watching my posts on LinkedIn or Twitter lately, you might begin to think that salespeople today are screwed. Most are. If you Google "How to scale sales" you'll get almost a billion results in less than half a second. (Did you notice that my son's article is #6? How cool is that?) If you take the time to read some of the billion articles, you'll begin to figure out that 'sameness and consistency' is the key to scaling and scaling is the key to making founders, investors and key executives rich. There's nothing wrong with making founders, investors and key executives rich, but...

If you look at the bibliography of Baseline Selling, you'll see dozens of books about how to become a better salesperson, how to sell more as an individual producer and how to get rich as an individual producer. There are also hundreds of sales consultants and trainers that can be hired to speak for an hour, a day or a kick off to get the sales team fired up for a few minutes. So, why is it that 3 out of 4 salespeople are failing?

Because salespeople don't matter.

I recently asked a client (owner/founder) what do I do that he didn't do. This was his reply.

Coaching mindset

The next few articles will share what I do.

  • How often and how long I coach.
  • How I start calls.
  • Topics.
  • Agendae.
  • How I use the OMG sales and sales manager evaluations.
  • How I help with motivation and top-grading.
  • How I balance patience with urgency.
  • How I debrief and prepare salespeople's sales calls
  • How I get them to DO the behavior.
  • and a bunch of other stuff.

If you're an owner or sales leader and you want your sales managers to be better coaches, send this article to your sales managers and suggest that they subscribe to updates. If you're a sales manager share it with your co-workers and suggest that they subscribe to updates. If you're a salesperson, share it up the org chart.

BTW, I work with sales managers two different ways.

  1. Evaluate the sales manager and salespeople and coach the sales manager on how to use the evaluations to handle specific reps in specific situations.
  2. Evaluate the sales manager and salespeople and allow the sales manager to listen to me use the evaluations to coach specific reps in specific situations.

My hope is that we can get sales managers to focus on getting every rep to double or triple their quota this year. Get everybody to read the articles and if you want to talk about fast-tracking your sales managers coaching skills, start here.

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