Recently, while traveling in Florida, I had the opportunity to reconnect with Jack, a sales exec I worked with at Telex Computer Products back in the early ’80s. While reminiscing about the “good old days” at Telex, Jack and his lovely wife, Mary Beth, related a story that made me laugh out loud, but more importantly demonstrated a life lesson that we can all learn from.

One evening, a senior executive from Telex named Bert paid a visit to Jack and Mary Beth’s house. The reason for Bert’s visit was to discuss his “side business” of investing in condo conversions in Boston. His list of investors included numerous Telex sales execs, including yours truly.

Bert enjoyed the finer things in life. He always dined at exclusive restaurants, drank the finest wine, and considered himself a gourmet cook. He lived in an exclusive neighborhood in downtown Boston. To the casual observer, he lived a lifestyle of the “rich and famous.”

Bert arrived at the house with a very expensive bottle of red wine. As Mary Beth related the story, he made it quite clear that this was a very special bottle of wine. Interestingly enough, he asked for only two glasses, meaning he didn’t intend for Mary Beth to enjoy this special wine. Mary Beth, knowing that she would not be included in the wine tasting, excused herself and went to the kitchen. Bert then carefully opened the bottle, and then asked Jack for a wine decanter, explaining that fine wine must breathe to open up the full bouquet. Next, he asked for a strainer, just in case there was some sediment in the bottle. Jack, not knowing where to find a strainer, walked into the kitchen and asked for one. Mary Beth told Jack she would find one, and in a few minutes emerged from the kitchen with a strainer. The men enjoyed the wine, and discussed the investment for the remainder of the evening. Later, after Bert left, Jack asked his wife where she had found the wine strainer. Mary Beth told Jack that she uses it to take dead fish out of the tank!

So what can we learn from this story? And how does it relate to professional sales, or life in general? More importantly, what does it tell you about Bert?

I would suggest a few key characteristics:

  • Self-centered
  • Selfish
  • Prideful
  • Does not put women on same level as men
  • Greedy
  • Demanding
  • Abusive

And that’s just to name a few. Would any of these character traits serve a professional sales exec well? I would suggest that to be successful long-term in sales, you should strive to be the polar opposite of these traits. My research and my professional experience indicate that the less proud, self-centered, and greedy you are, the more your prospects and customers gravitate toward you, and therefore give you more of an opportunity to do business. In other words, putting your clients’ needs first is a solid long-term receipt for success.

The other benefit is from an internal perspective, and involves how you deal with the folks who support your sales efforts. For example, I would have never had the success I had without the benefit of the entire support infrastructure of EMC. We had amazingly talented system engineers, tremendous field service technicians, senior executive and local sales management support, as well as top-notch administrative assistants. A smart sales exec knows how to leverage all of the available resources to achieve long-term success. Then he is smart enough to give credit where credit is due. Make certain that you involve your support team along the way, and make it known that a large portion of your success is due to their contributions. And when you close a big deal, be sure to thank the entire team. Because no matter how good you think you are, you can’t do it alone. It takes a team effort. Be humble, not prideful, or you may be drinking wine through a strainer used to remove dead fish. Mary Beth certainly got the last laugh!



Be humble, not prideful.

Proverbs 11:2

The stuck-up fall flat on their faces,

But down-to-earth people stand firm.