How long did it take me to get good?
(This is part one and two of a four-part article. Part three and four follow below.)
Dear Jeffrey, I have been a subscriber of your Sales Caffeine email magazine for about six months and have read The Little Red Book of Selling. I have a personal question for you that may help other subscribers deal with the ups and downs of being in the sales profession. Honestly, how long did it take YOU to become a “good” salesman? –William
The short answer is: A long time. Little-by-little. Day-by-day.
Sale-by-sale. Lost sale-by-lost sale.
A better answer is: Goodness and mastery evolve — IF you decide you want to master the science, IF you have a positive attitude, and IF you believe in and love what you’re selling.
I am going to present a list of elements, as I traditionally do. The difference is that this list is personal. Everyone grows up in a slightly different way. I’m not saying my way is right or wrong, or good or bad. I am only saying, “it was what it was” and these are the lessons that I learned as a result of it. I have evolved to become a great salesperson, an entrepreneur, a writer, and a speaker as a result of my growing up environment and the influence of others, combined with my own thought process, decisions, and the luck — or the grace — of the gods.
Here are the fundamental elements of how I got good. I hope they help you get good — or gooder than me. As you read each of these elements, I challenge you to examine how these same elements have affected you and your decisions:
The right household. I grew up in a family that was close. Not just my immediate family, all of my mother’s and father’s brothers and sisters, and all of my cousins. My mother made certain that our house was kid central. Everyone came to our house to play and partake of fresh baked goods and Coca-Cola in little bottles. I was fortunate to grow up in a place where I loved coming home.
Smart parents. My mother was a teacher. My family stressed education as one of the requirements for success. At one point in my education, my father and I went to night school together. He would always get an A without trying. I struggled to keep up, with a B or a C. I always envied my father’s writing skill. Packing perfect thought into short sentences. Sometimes the inspiration and wisdom of your parents takes 30 years to realize.
An entrepreneurial environment. My father was an entrepreneur. Business was always the topic of discussion in our household, whether it was with my immediate family, or my family with their friends. This environment, whether I agreed with it or fought it at the time, laid the foundation for my understanding of the world.
Working for my dad. As early as I can remember, I loved going to work with my father. On Saturdays, he would take me to the kitchen cabinet factory — and I would just hang out. In high school, I began working there. And by 19 years old, I had decided to drop out of day school and take on the role of plant manager. Then at night, my dad and I could discuss what happened at the plant that day. I got a master’s degree and a doctorate in “real world business.”
Willingness to lose it all — taking a gamble (aka: risking). Risk starts young. Not getting caught for doing something wrong, or not doing your homework. I used to take the family car for a drive around the neighborhood at night when my parents left me home alone. Underage AND no license. Being an entrepreneur and being in sales requires risk-tolerance every day. I have risked and lost a thousand times, but I have risked and won ten times more. “No risk, no reward” is an incorrect phrase. The correct phrase is “No rish, no nothing.”
Starting my own business was a pivotal point in the transformation process. At age 23, I made the leap from working for my dad to working for myself. My pay immediately went down. Seems as though I wasn’t paying myself enough, because there wasn’t enough money. I had to sell more. AHA! I could raise my pay by raising my sales.
The gift of gab. I was always a talker. My first baseball coach told me if my glove were as good as my mouth, I would make the hall of fame. (It wasn’t. Neither was my bat.) But I could always engage others in conversation. In my early days, I talked my way past many sales simply because, after the sale was made, I would not shut up and in some cases would end up buying it back.
Realizing that “I” was the only salesman I trusted. I realized early on if I didn’t make sales, there were no sales. And the first ones I made were based on the gift of gab combined with the enthusiasm and passion for my business. But there were never enough sales. And I could never understand why.
Then I learned the science of selling, and my whole world of understanding changed forever. Keep in mind that I learned the science of selling in 1972, when the superstars were J. Douglas Edwards, Bill Gove, Charles Roth, Willie Gayle, Elmer Leterman, and other pioneer sales trainers of their day. All of them taught some form of manipulation. Early in my sales training career, I referred to it as hoodwinking. In essence, it was high-pressure selling that forced people to make a decision they weren’t comfortable with. But it was new to me, and I loved it. I realized that if I could combine the gift of gab with the science of selling, then I could get great at it. All I needed was the right product — one that I believed in.
Achieving a positive attitude. AHA! In the middle of my early sales training, there was also positive attitude training. I listened to records and watched movies from people like Glenn W. Turner, Zig Ziglar, and Earl Nightingale. In 1972, cassette tapes became available, and you could listen to recorded messages in your car. I listened to them over and over and over. By 1973, I had achieved an “internal” positive attitude, which I still have today. By 1974, I was a lethal selling weapon with the gift of gab and a positive attitude. Nothing could stop me — except myself.
EUREKA! In 1974, I began to manufacture and sell imprinted sportswear (t-shirts). I loved t-shirts. And off I went to New York City to make big sales. People caught my enthusiasm, and bought my t-shirts. Hundreds of thousands of them.
Selling in New York City is easily the toughest place in the country to sell. The song should have said, “If you can sell it there, you can sell it anywhere.” I learned more about real world selling in two years than most people would in a lifetime.
Cold calling in New York City must be done on the phone these days because of building security. But back in the 70’s you could get into anyplace you wanted, just by walking in. I had a hundred doors slammed in my face, but I also made a ton of huge sales. All by just walking in the door.
Doing business in New York City is triple hard. You have to get in, you have to make the sale, and you have to collect your money. There were several cases where I only did two out of three.
Moving up the personal development ladder. One step at a time.
I’m at part three of answering this email from a reader: “I have a personal question for you that may help other subscribers deal with the ups and downs of being in the sales profession. Honestly, how long did it take YOU to become a “good” salesman?” William
“All my life” is the answer. But that doesn’t help you understand what it takes. After I began learning the science of selling, I never wanted to become “good.” I always wanted to become “great.” With this goal, I passed the “good” level pretty quickly.
I also passed all the people who got into sales “for the money.”
In part one I discussed genetic, environmental, and family situations. Part two was the evolution of my selling skills. It’s interesting that as my skills as a salesman got better, my need to use them diminished. Once I began building relationships, and delivering value, people bought.
“Get Great” part three and four have the philosophical, long-term actions, and personal side of growth. All the elements below need time to mature, and take a consistent dedication, and never-ending desire to be “best.” I have become “the best at what I do” by reading, observing, thinking, speaking, and writing. So can you.
Realizing that I was better at sales than anybody else I knew. After a year of intensive sales training, I realized I had superior (but unproven) ability. After a few years of selling garments in New York City, I realized my skill level was high, not only in selling skills, but in presentation skills, and especially in creativity skills. I was able to combine all three.
Loving what I sell. It’s hard to get passionate about something you don’t love. Selling is no exception. Every success in sales that I have ever had has been because I loved what I sold. And that holds true to this very day.
Believing in what I sell. Everything I have ever sold came from a deep belief that I was selling the best of what I had to offer. In my business evolution there were several products and services that helped me grow. That growth was spawned by the deep belief in each one of them. My belief, my love, and my passion were so great that it became transferable to the buyer. They caught my emotion, and they bought my emotion.
Giving free speeches at trade shows and organizations I belonged to. As my expertise grew, people wanted to know how I did what I did. I would often get asked to speak at annual trade shows in my industry. I always looked at it as fun. I prepared well, had handouts for everyone, and due to my knowledge of the industry and of what I did, I was never nervous giving a speech. And it seemed as though every time I spoke it led me to more business.
Writing leads to wealth. On March 22, 1992 my first column appeared in the Charlotte Business Journal. It was not a life-changing event. It was The life-changing event. Every penny that I have earned since March 22, 1992 I can trace back to something that I wrote. NOTE WELL: I never wrote to make money. I wrote to clarify thinking and help others. But it seems as if you do it well and people accept your thought process and can adopt it, it somehow turns into money.
Discovering that writing leads to paid speaking engagements. Once my column became more widely known, more and more speaking requests came in. I’ve averaged more than 100 speeches a year for the last 15 years, without ever making a sales call.
As you read each of these elements, think about how you can incorporate them into your personal success model. One word of caution: none of these elements are easy to master. The words “best” and “easy” have nothing to do with one another. I recommend that you make an assessment of each element, and determine how it fits into your life, so you can fit more money into your pocket.
Most salespeople, and most entrepreneurs, get bogged down in wallet size issues. Their failure to see the big picture prevents them from hitting the big time. Below are strategic big picture elements that must be mastered in order to make the wallet size pictures visible:
Book or business card? I’ve always had a cool business card. Either the design, or my title — there’s been something that set me apart from the others. For the last eight years I have used a coin. But in November of 1994, everything changed. My business card plays a secondary role as an introduction tool to my book. Every time a new one comes out (and there have been five), I bring autographed copies with me on a sales call and give them out to all those in attendance. I don’t just autograph them. I personalize them. The recipients are always grateful, thankful, impressed, and happy.
Remaining a student. Because I’m constantly writing and speaking, by definition I’m constantly learning. Fortunately, I “knew everything” before the age of 21. It wasn’t until 22 that I realized how stupid I was and that I needed to study more. My goal at 22 was very simple: learn something new every day. That has been a subconscious focus of mine for 37 years.
Succeeding and failing. I was taught early on by my father, Max, the philosophy: “Son, if you want to succeed in business, you have to fail a few times.” At first I didn’t get it. Better stated, I began to get it after I failed the first time, and really got it after I failed the second time. Those failures, coupled with my positive attitude towards them, have led me to success.
Attracting mentors and finding role models. All along my road to success I have always sought out, and taken, the advice of wise people who have already succeeded. Remaining a student is not only a book-oriented process. If you seek to become successful, then it’s evident that you must study the success of others. To this day, mentors have made a significant contribution to my understanding of what I need to do to continue to grow. Quick Tip: Looking for a mentor? All you have to do is earn the respect of one, and presto.
Loving myself. I don’t have “bad days.” Partially because I love what I do; but mostly because I’m enthusiastic about what I can become. Pride of accomplishment combined with a continuous desire to achieve has created within me a permanent smile. I drive myself to excellence, but I love myself while I’m doing it.
Loving my family. My parents are gone. My brother is my only sibling. My three daughters, their husbands, and my three granddaughters make up the rest of my immediate family. I try to call them all every day. They know that I love them, that I support them, and that I’m there for them in every way. I neither argue with them nor pass judgment on them. I am open with them. I try to ask questions rather than make statements. The combination of those actions creates love. And I tell them all that I love them every chance that I get.
Selling everyday. (The .5) There’s an element that keeps me growing. Personal development gurus might call it staying focused. I don’t. I think focus is automatic when you’re doing what you love. My secret weapon is staying sharp. I don’t mean “sharpening my saw” sharp, I mean scalpel sharp. Alert, open, looking for opportunity, and communicating value to everyone I come into contact with. Oh yeah, I try to make a sale every day. Not consciously, but when it occurs I know it. I smile to myself and move on.
I have some final words of instruction. As you read, or reread, my own path to excellence, don’t take it as a story. Rather, look at it as a comparative lesson. What can you learn from what I’ve achieved? And how can that help make you a better person as a result? Keep in mind the immortal words of my mentor Mel Green, “Hard work makes luck.”
Jeffrey Gitomer is the author of The Sales Bible, and The Little Red Book of Selling. President of Charlotte-based Buy Gitomer, he gives seminars, runs annual sales meetings, and conducts internet training programs on sales and customer service at www.trainone.com. He can be reached at 704/333-1112 or e-mail to email@example.com
c 2006 All Rights Reserved – Don’t even think about reproducing this document without written permission from Jeffrey H. Gitomer and Buy Gitomer . 704/333-1112 www.gitomer.com