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Archive for the “Salesman” Category

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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People want to fall in love. A good salesman should let them.

To explain what I mean by this, let me step backwards for a moment. The root of quality selling must always be in having something valid, something true, something genuinely helpful to sell. If you don’t have this, don’t even begin to try to sell. If you try to sell that in which you have no passionate belief or something that is false you are dead. You are a servant of the devil. You are an apostle of the unsavory. You are Bernie Madoff. You are a fraud and incipient thief, as well as a killer of your own soul.

Perhaps this is obvious, but, in truth, good selling begins with a moral choice to purvey a real value and it is essential to know this in advance.

But assuming the real value of your selling proposition, salesmanship is really nothing more than helping people be selfish, helping people do the right thing for themselves.

The salesman’s job is to guide people to “fall in love” with that which can raise them up. The salesman’s job is to help a business client succumb to that which, in varying degrees, offers ROI salvation for himself and his firm.

It cannot be denied that most of us associate falling in love with erotic desire. Indeed, like a new lover, a salesman’s job is to make the truth sexy. A passionately told truth is and should be a heart-fluttering aphrodisiac.

Dr. M. Scott Peck, in his profoundly insightful book The Road Less Traveled (1978-Simon & Schuster-p. 90) talks extensively about the nature of love. He states, “…falling in love is a trick that our genes pull on our otherwise perceptive mind to hoodwink or trap us into marriage.” But, for Peck, falling in love is also a tool for initially breaking down barriers separating us all from a deeper love, a deeper truth and an agapic potentiality.

A good salesman, like a good lover, combines a conscious employment of qualities like looks, charm, wardrobe, and, most importantly, a well-honed charisma of expressed faith in a product. Charisma emanates from a fervid inner truth and an embedded belief. A focused salesman leaves a palpable frisson in his wake and should awake an ardent longing in a potential client to do what is in the client’s best interest anyway. Effective salesmen are evangelists of “the good.”

The English philosopher Bertrand Russell, in The Impact of Science on Society, states simply, “If you feel love, you have a motive for existence, a reason for action.” Thank you, Bertrand.

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Give up. That’s right, give up. Every day. It’s not a bad thing to do before you begin your sales day. Have no hopes and no concupiscent desired expectations. Just begin to work. Here’s why. It makes you a free man. It keeps you in the present. It gives you license to be real. It allows the unexpected to occur. It makes the world funny and a delight. It imbues you with spontaneity and focus.

In Forbes Magazine, sports shrink Bob Rotella advises athletes to be like Manny Ramirez when he was with the Boston Red Sox, who famously said before the World Series that he didn’t care if he won or lost, that it wasn’t the end of the world. Ramirez took a lot of heat for his statement, but Rotella says Ramirez’ statement is insightful in that it showed his understanding of the need for relaxation and for being present in the moment for maximal focus and athletic achievement.

Sales is one of the least predictable and controllable of business functions. Success in sales is a result of many intangibles. It is not like analyzing a spread sheet. Successful sales come from instinctive, almost primitive, attributes among its quality practitioners. Perhaps a combination of charm, real caring for and sensitivity to other people, and a fierce, even vulpine, push for a final closing. These paradoxical qualities must exist simultaneously in a master salesman.

I know there is an army of sales experts out there who disagree with me. Their sales systems are legion and variegated. They all probably can work. But, unlike many other vocations, sales does not lend itself to iron control. If you’re a control freak, sales ain’t for you.

It can be overwhelming to sit down to a new sales or business development project. To create something out of nothing. To aggressively start to fill in a tabula rasa. It is an act of faith. Yet if you begin, the work takes its own form.

Spontaneity, though, can make sales such fun–a joy, a revelation. Even in rejection. And rejection will be the major result of most of any salesman’s efforts. (At least it is of mine.)

Per this, I remember the year I started my executive sales outsourcing company, Corporate Rain International, over sixteen years ago. A client in Atlanta was particularly keen to meet with the CMO of a company then called HBOC (now part of McKesson). I was determined to make this happen. Over six months I must have called and emailed this woman well over fifty times. No response. Finally, one morning I sat down at my desk, picked up the phone, called a final time and  told this CMO, “If you don’t call me back today, I’m going to kill myself.” She did! With great laughter. We then had a lovely chat and she then rejected my pitch for a meeting. Oh well. Yet it was a fun interaction and not an ineffective sales process, despite my failure.

Good things do happen if you create space for spontaneity, for freedom, for truth, for humor, for joy. Spontaneity allows for the non-rational to happen. Spontaneity is its own reward. It allows for miracles.

Many years ago I remember a song called “Greyhound” written by folk singer Harry Chapin. It’s a melancholy recounting of Mr. Chapin’s accidentally bumping into an old girlfriend while driving his cab and a wistful conjecture on the choices we make in life. But I remember the last line of the song well. That line is, “It’s got to be the goin’, not the gettin’ there that’s good.

Well said, Harry. Thank you.

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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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I’m a member of the International Wizard of Oz Club. (That’s only one of my eccentric personal hobbies.) I’ve been a huge fan of the Oz books since my mother read many of them to me when I was a boy. (Most people know only L. Frank Baum’s first book, “The Wizard of Oz“, but there are actually 40 marvelous, magical, beautiful books in this series.)

I love the Cowardly Lion. He reminds me so much of me. In the movie version of “The Wizard of Oz,” Dorothy confronts the Cowardly Lion and tells him he is nothing but a great big coward. The Lion’s reply is:

“You’re right, I am a coward! I haven’t any courage at all! I even scare myself.  Look at the circles under my eyes! I haven’t slept in weeks!”

Me too. For me to be an effective executive salesman for my company Corporate Rain International I need to slay this “fear” dragon each day. One of the things I do to cope with this fear I learned many years ago from a wonderful acting teacher I had in New York named Michael Howard.

Michael Howard spoke to my acting class one day about how to begin rehearsing a new scene. What he told us was to go immediately to the most risky, scary, personal place in the scene: that place that made us feel most fearful and exposed. This might be a spot that involved physical intimacy, like kissing, violence, or nudity. Or jealousy, rage, or cowardice. By facing the most dangerous part of the scene immediately the rest of the scene became more accessible, less fraught.

How do I apply this lesson in selling to my company’s potential clients at the c-suite level? By each day immediately doing that thing I most want not to do–by immediately making that call where I have the greatest fear of rejection, where my own feelings of cosmic inadequacy might be most called out and exposed–and taking this sweaty-palmed action the first thing in the day. I act as if I had courage and confidence and thereby have it in reality. I guess it’s kind of a business version of your inner mother telling you to eat your vegetables first. For me, it works to go daily and immediately toward my most fearful task.

So go to the danger. As the Cowardly Lion so insightfully sings: “What makes a king out of a slave? Courage!” Thank you L. Frank Baum.

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