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The great secret of sales is that being good is the selfish thing to do.

I’m sure goodness is the last thing that pops into the popular imagination when anyone thinks of sales. Sales and goodness are immiscible, to most people’s way of thinking. Effective sales is as much a moral proposition as working for Greenpeace, the March of Dimes, or the Catholic Church. (Well, maybe more than the Catholic Church given the fallen nature of some of the priesthood.) Sales is a vocation that should be a calling every bit as “other” centered as any of the so-called helping professions like ministry, social work, psychiatry or nursing.

The cliche of the sales ethos is most memorably summed up by Michael Douglas playing the smarmy M&A corporate snake oil purveyor Gordon Gecko in Wall Street. “Greed is good.” (My personal favorite testosterone-fueled salesman is Alec Baldwin as Blake in Glengarry Glen Ross personifying a stone-cold amoral hunter–a fierce closer, a killer and a “winner” at any and all costs.) Or the TV car salesman riding on the back of a hippopotamus, screaming “Deals! Deals! Deals!” into the screen.

Vince Lombardi is famous for saying, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Much as I admire Vince Lombardi, I don’t agree with the tone of his statement even in football, and certainly not in life. But I can assure you as a salesman for my own executive sales company Corporate Rain International, the way of winning in entrepreneurial sales is simply the path of service, truth and genuine care for potential clients or buyers. The really good salesmen I know are people who truly care about their clients. And by this I mean a soul deep caring, as to a fellow inhabitant of God’s universe, not the ersatch empathy or facsimile fellow feeling of the manipulator.

The “winning” of the salesman, and a true “selfishness” leading to long-term sales success, lies in really being good, bone deep good. Or as close as we can expect to be as imperfect beings. Just as physicians owe their service first to their patients, so salesmen owe their truth and passionate caring to their client at a soul deep level. This is not a treacly, wussy, or pollyannaish idealism. It is a winning and selfish practicing of goodness.

In fact selfish salesmanship, in the larger picture, is serving all members of society by the way you do business. Capitalism itself, in it’s best form, is simply dealing with customers and suppliers in mutually beneficial exchanges of goods, services and money. That’s how I try to see myself as a capitalist. That’s how I see myself as a entrepreneur. That’s how I see myself as a salesman.

Selfish.

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Lida Askew with daughter Kathy

My mother, Lida Askew, died yesterday of Parkinson’s Disease. She was 83. My four sisters and I took turns holding her desiccated body and stroking her waxen features as she slowly shut down. The end was a gentle, hospice assisted descent into the sweet arms of…whatever comes next.

My mother was a good old girl who lived a full, useful life and she died without regret. She enjoyed her life to the end.  She enjoyed herself even while confined to a wheelchair and shaking with Parkinson’s. But, particularly interestingly, hers was a most conscious and generous death.

My mother was very decidedly not an entrepreneur. In fact, I think she looked a bit askance at my late in life embrace of capitalism. But she was a tremendous long-term planner, and, as such, an inspiration to me in thinking about succession in my own life and in the life of my company. She foresaw and directed every aspect of her own end. This included a very rationated, specific splitting and dispensation of her estate to prevent family friction, as well as detailed instructions on how she wished to die–that is, in her own bed and not in the hospital. She was very precise about pulling plugs and not extending her life artificially. (My sister Kathy has chronicled this process in her excellent blog www.thenewelder.com.)

I want to have the forethought to create an equal grace around the succession and inheritance issues of my firm Corporate Rain International. I don’t know much about those issues yet, but I want to be just as smoothly efficacious and wise in thinking about my employees, my clients, my family, and myself when things end. In her modest way, my mother created a splendid suggestive road map.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how I deal with very bad days. Harking back to that posting, I remember being depressed and distraught one day years ago and turning to my mother for solace and advice. (I think it was about a failed love affair). She was appropriately sympathetic, of course. That’s a mother’s job. Then she said, “But you know, Timothy, there’s little I can say that will cheer you up.  There’s only one thing I know to do on really bleak, dark days. The only thing I know to do on such hopeless days is spend that time cleaning my toilets.”

Thank you, my dear mother.  Goodbye.

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