Don’t be the guy who walks into the office and fashions himself as God’s gift to his company because he is a successful sales exec who busted through his quota or closed a huge deal. Understand that it’s not always about you, and long-term sales success requires more than one person, no matter how talented he or she is.
My fifth UNIVERSAL SALES TRUTH is “be humble, not prideful.” What exactly do I mean by this? Allow me to explain. In my 30-plus years of sales experience, I have witnessed various personalities of salespeople who have been extremely successful. Sometimes it occurred in the beginning stages of their careers, when they happened to be in the right place at the right time. Others moved from one company to another and ultimately found the perfect fit for their sales style. And some stayed with the same company for many years and moved up the management chain to become the VP of sales. So what do all of these successful sales professionals have in common? The answer is … they all needed lots of help to achieve their success. Perhaps some needed it more than others, but successful salespeople will never achieve their full potential on their own.
As Thanksgiving approaches, why not take a few minutes to reflect and perhaps thank the people who helped you get to the position you are in today? I believe there are four areas to consider that are fundamental to long-term success in professional sales.
- Opportunity – Be grateful to the hiring manager who gave you the opportunity to join the company. This might be your first sales manager who hired you directly out of college, or perhaps, in my case, the manager who took a chance on me even though I didn’t have the experience he was looking for. Without the opportunity to prove yourself, the other components of sales success would never come into play. Pretty obvious!
- Mentoring – Think back to the sales folks and sales managers who you looked to for advice and counsel. There is no substitute for the school of hard knocks. We typically learn from our mistakes. But if you were smart and took advantage of the senior sales execs in your office or region, you probably accelerated your learning curve and sales success exponentially. For example, I had various mentors as a young 24-year-old sales rep with TELEX. I had mentors who were experts in territory management, proposal generation, relationship building, account management, financial sales skills as well as dealing with internal issues. I took advantage of the experts in these disciplines to avoid mistakes that many junior sales reps would typically make. I needed lots of help! And I am extremely grateful to the mentors who took the time to work with me.
- The right company – For obvious reasons, it’s difficult to be successful representing a product that nobody wants to buy. But on the other hand, if you are fortunate, like I was, to represent companies that had products that were in demand, it makes all the difference in the world. It’s not only fun, but also financially rewarding. The only downside is, if you are not careful you might get the impression that you are a more talented sales rep than you really are — particularly if you become more of an order-taker than a professional sales exec. If this resonates with you, I would suggest you take UNIVERSAL SALES TRUTH #5 to heart!
- Support infrastructure – This is critical to long-term sales success. If the company you represent does not effectively support you after the sale, then there is a good chance you will not continue to do business with your client. This is HUGE! There are numerous components in this area, and it certainly varies greatly based on the product you sell. In my case, with EMC as an example, once the sale was made, it was by no means the end of the sales process. For example, my technical team needed to make sure the order was correct. The administrative staff had to enter the order. The manufacturing plant had to build the system in the timeframe I quoted. It needed to be prepared for shipment and delivered with special care. And finally, it had to be installed by our local field service technicians. Then our team would assist in the data migration. It was up to our field service organization to keep the client happy, because if the system failed and we couldn’t get it back online quickly or, God forbid, we lost data, the chances of doing business with the client again were slim to none. The good news for me was that our field service folks were awesome and a significant component of my long-term sales success. In fact, I emphasized the strength of our field service professionals in my sales presentations and proposals. There are few things worse than working hard to make a sale and then losing it because your internal support system failed you.
To summarize, to be successful in professional sales for the long term, it’s virtually impossible to do it on your own. You need to have the opportunity to work for a company that has a product that is in demand. Additionally, you need mentors to guide you and help you avoid making rookie mistakes and, finally, you need the company to stand behind the product you sell. So when you look back on your sales career, take some time to reflect on the folks who contributed to your success, and certainly don’t believe you did it all on your own. In other words, be humble, not prideful.
UNIVERSAL SALES TRUTH #5
Be humble, not prideful
The stuck-up fall flat on their faces,
But down-to-earth people stand firm
Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone,
and they will surely sprout wings
and fly off to the sky like an eagle.