When I joined the local golf club, it was only the old guys who played in the Saturday morning pickup games. We called them “golf in slow motion”.
Now, I’m that guy. When I started in sales in 1982, we scoffed at the legacy reps who lumbered in and out of the office, drove old Buicks, and lamented about the old days. Now — save for the Buick — I’m that guy.
In addition to their stories of “how things were when I was your age,” those legacy print sales reps gave us sales youngsters the kind of advice you would expect from a veteran of the industry, saying things like, “Work hard” and “Be patient.” You know, real gems.
I had a “Where did the time go?” moment the other day. Someone had asked me how long I’ve been in sales and it took my breath away to realize I was starting my 40th year. If my 60-year-old self could talk to my 21-year-old self, I would save the Captain Obvious pearls for sales books and seminars.
My advice would be more of the wish-I-knew-then-what-I-know-now variety. Here, let me tell you the five odd pieces of sales advice I would tell me if I could:
Everything that happens to you in sales will happen again … and again — I don’t know why this isn’t as obvious as it sounds, but it isn’t. We think of life in terms of transitioning and evolving, as if a problem solved is behind us and will not reappear in the future.
Just because you struggle to build your initial book of business and suffer through frustration and self-doubt doesn’t mean it won’t repeat from time to time when an account is lost, especially a large one. Four decades later, I still go through those periods where no one is buying anything from me and those same negative thoughts return. Likewise, a hot sales streak occurs every once in a while and you feel 10-ft. tall and bulletproof.
All of the sales is temporary. When things are slow, stick to the fundamentals and apply that “Work hard” advice. Sell yourself out of the rut. Be persistent and focus on sales activities. Do the right things and success will come. Similarly, when you are crazy busy, appreciate that for what it is. Do everything you can to keep the chaos going. You are likely quite profitable.
Finally, remember how you solved each and every problem along the way. You’ll need that process for when it comes back again. Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.
Don’t just think about getting there, think about being there — One of the biggest mistakes I ever made in sales was reaching a goal without having given any thought to what happens next. I was so focused on selling $1 million that it never occurred to me what life would look like from that vantage point. After the high fives and celebration, I lost all motivation and began to slide backward. As a sales coach, I see this in my successful clients.
It is incredibly frustrating and you can’t figure out why you have not driven the way you once were. I vividly remember shouting, “WHY AM I NOT HAPPY?” How I wish I had thought to evolve. How I wish I had seen a fork in the road ahead and not a finish line.
Since then, I have learned to constantly move my company toward new opportunities and continually redefine/rebrand myself, all while sticking to my core beliefs. This occurs best when you apply this next piece of advice.
Pay attention to where the customer is headed — In the past, it was fully acceptable to be reactive and wait for the phone to ring. The business was plentiful and the economy was booming. Optional was the practice of understanding clients’ business needs and challenges to the point where you were a subject matter expert in their field. Only the premier reps — the best of the best — put in the time to study their customers.
While that practice was once optional, it is now mandatory. A focus on your client’s future not only allows you to stay relevant but shows you how to chart your own future. Fortunately, staying ahead of the customer is easier today, given the amount of information publicly available on both the company and their industry.
Learn the value of a good afternoon nap — Wait, what? Naps are for babies, grandparents, and summer afternoons in a hammock. Naps are synonymous with relaxation and even laziness.
And yet, I was amazed to find a common denominator in the biographies I read: They all stressed the value of an afternoon nap. Ronald Reagan. Armand Hammer. Albert Einstein. Shall I go on? Physiologically, our bodies make processing food a priority. This explains why we get tired after lunch, especially if we hit the buffet line.
As a presenter, I groan when I find out I am the 2 p.m. speaker, knowing that eyelids will be heavy and I’ll need to work to keep their attention. You don’t need to be 60 years old and have 40 years of sales experience to take advantage of this odd sales advice.
Effective sales require creativity and by the mid-afternoon, we might have hit a lull. Find a quiet place. Close your eyes. Bring all of your attention to your breath (i.e., the present moment). Set a timer for 10 minutes. Even if you don’t fall asleep, you will have effectively hit the reset button.
What comes next — increased creativity, energy, and laser-sharp focus — is your reward. Oh, and make sure you remember me when someone writes your biography.
Enjoy the ride — Sales is the best profession on earth. Where else can you solve a problem with a design of your creation and then witness the difference your ideas have made? How many other jobs put you in charge of your work schedule and income level?
And yet, the frustration is unlike any other. The feeling of pending doom that permeates your mind every once in a while will bring you to your knees (remember, everything that happens in sales will happen again).
But the bad will fade away and your memories will be of friendships and successes. Sales are not for the meek. It’s a roller coaster of high highs and low lows. You need to fasten that seatbelt, throw your hands in the air, and scream with delight. Do your best, stick to the fundamentals, and have fun doing it.
One last thing. When I am coaching a new rep, I tell them to imagine a future version of themselves suddenly appearing, urging them to persevere, convincing them of their pending success, and encouraging them to sell with the confidence of a sure-thing outcome.
Some day, they will be “that guy” and it will be their turn to tell tales and pass along advice, shortcuts, and pearls. Let’s hope it’s a long, winding, and exhilarating ride.