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Archive for January, 2010

Rosalind Russell once said, “Flops are part of life’s menu and I’ve never been a girl to miss out on any of the courses.”

I posted about failure and the entrepreneur last week. This week let’s consider failure and sales.¬† And I mean this in the most positive way. Really.

One of the accidentally formative experiences in my life was spending ten years as an actor. One of the key things an actor must learn early is dealing with rejection. An actor must accept rejection (failure) on a daily basis. He deals with constant and very personal rejection. It’s a splendid preparation for sales. Put simply, to survive my actor’s life I had to find satisfaction not in the occasional success–actually getting a role–but in the process of auditioning itself. Likewise in sales, happiness must be found in the process, as well as the results.

Rejection is a big part of the salesman’s life. My solution, and my company Corporate Rain’s solution, to dealing with this conundrum is simply to look on all interactions with potential clients as service. Every moment should be a variation on “How can I help?” This creates a tonality and a truth of caring and mutuality. It is the correct selling ambiance. And it is simply karmically efficient. Certainly long-term, reputation-based sales success is generated from many small, trust-building actions, including getting even more courteous when rejection comes, as it does much of the time in the sales process.

Earlier in my life I chanted as a Buddhist for a year. One of my favorite Buddhist prayers thanks God for challenges and failures, not successes. Thereby you learn and grow. The lotus flower is born out of the muck.

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Theodore RooseveltI’m a failure. Many times a failure. It’s probably the most salient fact about me as an entrepreneur. And failure is my friend.

In fact whatever success has happened in my business life is directly related to my many failures–failure as an academic, failure as an actor, failure as an opera singer, failure as a Broadway producer. Still I did all those things with passion and a committed heart and one day found myself a successful entrepreneur, seemingly without even planning to be. Honestly, I don’t believe the mantle of success, however minor that success be, would ever have been fitted to me without fully embracing a lifetime of failures and personal botches. Somehow a glomeration of insufficiencies, by some magical alchemy, created a new being of entrepreneurial adequacy and fulfillment.

I realized my debt to failure several years ago, when one of my employees asked me the secret sauce of what I did as an entrepreneur and salesman for my company Corporate Rain. My rather pompous and condescending reply, I recall, had something to do with bromides like hard work, honesty, preparation–the usual suspects. But my employee interrupted me saying. “No, no, no. I want to know the special, personal thing you do that makes you really good.” After stuttering¬† a minute, the only thing I could come up with was that I got good by being quite bad–over and over again.

My client and entrepreneurial colleague Walt Lawrence, of Concussion Advertising in Dallas, recently sent me a quote. I’ll share it. It’s excerpted from a famous speech Theodore Roosevelt gave on April 23, 1910.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

Thanks, Theodore.

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Albert EinsteinIt’s good to know where you’re going before you begin to go there.

My minister tells great stories. Here’s one. Supposedly true. It concerns Albert Einstein who was notoriously absent-minded. Einstein was taking a ride on the Metro North train out of New York. The conductor comes by to collect the tickets. Albert pats his pockets and can’t seem to find his ticket. The conductor recognizes him and tells Einstein not to worry about it. He goes through the rest of the train collecting tickets. On his way back he sees Professor Einstein on his knees on the floor frantically looking for his ticket. The conductor once again tells him not to worry, it’s alright if he can’t find his ticket. Albert Einstein looks up from the floor and says, “But I can’t remember where I’m going.”

There are many things I do poorly as an entrepreneur. I am a poor administrator.  I am impatient with meetings. I am not good with the quotidian details of spread sheets and day-to-day financial analysis. I am a poor technologist. My personal organization is frequently inchoate. And this is but a short list.

Nevertheless, I’ve led my firm, Corporate Rain International, for sixteen years. Probably the chiefest reason I’ve managed to get by is that I am very clear about where I want to go, who I want to be, who I want to have as clients, who I want as employees and associates, and what I want my brand to represent.

Harvard Business School I ain’t. For example, when I started out, I typed my bills on an old Underwood typewriter. Even then (1996) that pretty much classified me as a dinosaur. I knew nothing. But I very clearly did know where I wanted to be in five years, ten years, and fifteen years. I had a clear unalloyed personal goal. I knew where I wanted my journey to take me.

There are lots of ways to be a successful entrepreneur. The entrepreneurial pilgrimage I’ve chosen involves creating value in my life. Unlike many entrepreneurial colleagues, my ambition isn’t to be a master of the universe. Though I am successful one day at a time, money is also not it for me (though I’d love to be very rich). But those goals are also fine. (I’m a huge admirer of Donald Trump, though not remotely interested in being like him.) However, as naive a point as it is, it’s really necessary to know where you personally want to go if you are to get there. Thanks, Albert.

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Tim AskewEleemosynary. It’s one of my favorite words that almost no one knows the meaning of. It’s a word that will stump almost every spelling bee champion. It derives from the Greek “elos” meaning compassion and “eleemosyne” meaning alms. In contemporary terms eleemosynary means “relating to charity or charity donations.”

We’re approaching a new year, a time for new thoughts and new plans aborning. Yet I find myself looking back this week. And, as usual, I wish I’d been more efficacious at embodying the eleemosynary values I believe in and trumpet. The litany of little omissions and sins could lead me into a veritable orgy of self-recriminations. Ah, hypocrisy. However, as always, I try to post about practical concerns of entrepreneurship and salesmanship. And, I guess, thereby, write about everything else, too.

The truth is that an eleemosynary entrepreneur is ultimately more selfish than competitors driven only by desire for lucre or personal aggrandizement. Almost all religious faiths bespeak this basic verity, most notably Buddhism in its doctrine of Karma. Personally I am a kind of weak-kneed Christian. I attend church consistently to discipline the habit of focusing for an hour a week on what is of ultimate value. Hopefully this commitment has at least a faint echo in my business actions during the week. Gandhi famously said we must embody the change we wish to see in the world. Oh, dear. I seem to be falling short.

Nevertheless, my belief is that generous giving, both of the spirit and of finances, is ultimately the most selfish of actions. My deepest hope for my company Corporate Rain International is that it institutionally embody the selfishness of deep kindness, unsentimental compassion, and communicated grace for all it touches. Including myself.

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