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Archive for the “Authenticity” Category

Back in the early eighties I was watching Johnny Carson one night. The actress Shelley Winters was Johnny’s guest. Shelley Winters flounced herself out and sat her fat amplitude into the guest chair. Johnny Carson was obviously fond of her, as he frequently had her on. Johnny, as I recall began with something like, “So, Shelley, how’ve you been lately?” Shelley Winters paused a moment, gave a great sigh and said, “Well John, the problem with me is that wherever I go, I go too.” It was funny but also sad. Winters was a notorious neurotic whose problems with drugs and men often played out very publicly. Nevertheless, there was a compelling sincerity to her lostness that was poignant and illuminating.  She was deeply authentic in a morose and melancholic way.

Shelley Winters was a most troubled woman, but, in reality, it should be a good thing that “wherever I go, I go too.” It goes to the soul of what I feel is crucial in good salesmen—authenticity. It seems to me that personal authenticity should always be a primary and ongoing quest of the salesman for at least two reasons. One, it makes for long-term personal health. Two, it results in successful sales.

People like what is real and they trust it instinctively. And there are a million different equally valid ways to be real.  It’s a lifelong task to imbue a rooted, unconscious integrity, a “real selfness”, to all interactions.

I have always been and continue to be distrustful of people who talk about magical sales techniques. Sales folk who turn for silver bullet solutions from various sales gurus ultimately will be disappointed. Because, like any other vocation, happiness and effectiveness for the salesman is only rendered dynamic and sound when placed on a bedrock of self-knowledge and integrated personal values—that is, an earned and lived integrity.

President George Bush, Sr. was visiting a nursing home in 1992 and, in his tour of the home, he met an Alzheimer’s patient who he asked, “Do you know who I am?” The patient’s answer was, “No, but if you go down the hall there’s a nurse who can tell you.” If only it were that simple.

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Andre AgassiI am very wary of celebrity autobiographical tell-alls.  These tawdry tales are often filled with narcissistic self-pity or ironic condescension or self-congratulatory grandiosity clothed in ersatz humility.

Not so the new autobiography of Andre Agassi entitled “Open”.

One of my jobs when I was younger was tennis pro and I’ve continued to follow tennis over the years. Even before this remarkable autobiography, I admired the grace, artistry and passion of Andre Agassi.  I admired his calm, his court savvy, his fierce spirit.  Barbra Streisand called Agassi “the Zen Master”.  While I agree with Barbra Streisand about very little, I do agree with her about this.

Last Sunday (November 8, 2009), I was deeply touched by an excellent interview with Mr. Agassi conducted by Katie Couric on “60 Minutes”.  In addition to being a fine piece of broadcast journalism, it limned Agassi’s spiritual journey with a superb dramatic arc.  For me, it was compelling television.  But more than the skilled professionalism of the piece, what stood out for me was the authenticity of Andre Agassi.

The interview was hyped on the revelation that Agassi admits he used crystal meth for a year during his tennis career and lied about it to the powers that be.  However, this rather minor revelation of a young man’s sin, to me, was not what made the piece extraordinary.  What made the interview powerful was that without real guidance or education (Mr. Agassi never graduated high school), he willed himself to become a deeply and profoundly authentic person – a person he didn’t even know he was when he began his journey.  His pilgrimage from liar, fake and lost soul to authentic human wholeness struck me as particularly heroic in that it was largely internal, solitary and autodidactic.  A profoundly lonely but determined odyssey.  While direct and confessional, Mr. Agassi was clear-eyed and without self-pity.  Admirable.  Even astonishing — and even more astonishing for the fact that he chose his path from a place of unanchored anomie: ungrounded in faith or family.

So you may say “How can you know Andre Agassi is not just a big ol’ self-absorbed phony out hyping his book”?  Well, I guess I can only point to the judge, who, when asked to define pornography simply said “I may not be able to specifically define it, but I know it when I see it”.  Me too.  Which brings me, rather elliptically, to sales.

I’m a salesman and my company, Corporate Rain International, is a sales company that specializes in c-suite sales, mostly of services.  For me, the key to successful salesmanship is simply authenticity.  That soulful core is the pure essence of good salesmanship.  A good salesman is authentic.  He knows who he is.  He tells the unalloyed truth from a centered space and people respond.  I hope I am neither a naïf nor disingenuous when I state with absolute sincerity that authenticity is the key to selling.  But you have to be authentic before you can sell authentically.  Though not a salesman, Andre Agassi is a remarkable case study and example of achieved authenticity.

So thank you Andre Agassi for becoming yourself.  You are, as Barbra Streisand so aptly put it, “the Zen Master”. Bravo, Andre.

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