A hard day’s night

Let’s set the stage with this scenario: You are an independent business person living in the world of “eat what you kill.” Another way to state this is “kill or you don’t eat.” Let me clarify this for those of you who are working for a piano gallery – even if you aren’t the owner and depend upon commissions to pay your way, you are an “eat what you kill” professional; whether you are a base-plus-commission or a fully-salary paid sales pro, you are still part of this group, because if you don’t achieve the numbers the owner needs you to, your security blanket will be erased. Trust me, even GM’s are subject to performance evaluations. The following word picture could be biographical for countless thousands of sales individuals.

To further the picture painting- if you don’t sell, you don’t pay the rent, utilities, keep your wife happy (or just plain keep her), your kids aren’t taken care of, the car payment isn’t made, and God knows what you’ll do if something major breaks and needs to be repaired. You must sell, or your life is not funded, period.

You recently made a sale which may bode well for your future. It was a large client and, if they are a long term one, you may be half way to sanity. The other half the way, well you have no way to know where that may come from, or if it will come at all.

To aid the chemistry at home, you paint a Norman Rockwell picture of the future. You prop your wife up by sharing an optimistic prognostication of a future fulfilling all her dreams. You make sure your children see a positive, confident, nurturing and caring Father figure (or Mother figure, as all of this can be reversed gender-wise), despite your uncertainty about your financial ability to provide the stability you so desire to give them. Your game face is intended to keep the burden of worry and stress upon yourself, but let’s be real… being a commission paid sales pro with a lot of responsibility is stressful, especially if you are financially treading water.

Why is this article entitled “A Hard Day’s Night?” Because this isn’t a warm and fuzzy motivational article. This is a pragmatic look at how you need to approach your profession on an emotional and spiritual level, extracting all things unrealistic. This is not aimed at those so talented that they have never struggled. It is not meant for people who inherited a fortune and just need to manage it responsibly. If you fall into those two categories, the only reason to press on through this article is to see how the rest of us, with a normal skill set or origin, cope.

The reality is that all of us in the business world are subservient to Newton’s third law which is: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Translation? Everything we do has a consequence – good or bad. In the world of sales this means so much. In a culture which too often concentrates on numbers and results, I would like to shift the focus to intention and quality activity. The unrealistic mindset says that “If I keep swinging, some stuff will go over the fence”, and there is some truth to that thinking, yet it rivals the old “throw enough mud against the wall and some of it will stick” theory. This isn’t entirely untrue but runs upstream against the most profitable way to operate, which is to “work smart instead of hard.” As a mentor of hundreds of top performers over the years, I have learned to shun absolutes. I believe that you must work hard enough to throw the right mud, but you should never abandon the terms “smart” or “enough.” Make sense? Translation: work hard at throwing the right mud.

What is the right mud? Something you can sell that has integrity and true human value to it. Not widgets, not units, but something that changes people’s lives for the better. This is the spiritual element we must incorporate into our sales lives to sustain them. Simply working hard without any servitude towards a higher good is pure greed, and greed can only be justified if it serves someone else as much as it serves you. The love of money… most of us know the end of that scripture whether we be Christian, or simply aware of the principle. The “right mud” is the sales pitch which includes the intention of improving the lives of those being pitched in a sincere manner. Teddy Roosevelt coined the phrase repeated by Zig Ziglar, “People don’t care what you know until they know how much you care.”

Let me state this empathically – making money simply for the sake of making money has never proven to be a sustainable selling attitude. In and of itself, making money has not been a conqueror of the business world. I submit that power as the goal with money as the tool has been much more successful, but satisfying? Maybe not.

So, if you are struggling to make your bills, what does all this theoretical, ideological mumbo-jumbo mean to you? Let me give it to you straight – if you have the talent to be a great and profitable sales person and you’re not, then you are lacking in one of these key areas: mission or method. Meaning? You either don’t have the fire in your belly to make your current sales career work, or your method is lacking. You either don’t have an efficient method or weren’t given the talent or will to pull it off… very commonly it’s both.

If we wax nostalgic we can remember the time when there were folks pumping organs in the malls. Even before that, when pianos were a wide spread part of the culture, horse drawn wagons would set out into the rural areas loaded with pianos. The salesmen pulling the wagon knew that if they could get permission to set the piano up at “no obligation” inside the farm home, 80% of the time it would be a sale. Music was a family recreation and having a piano was a BIG DEAL to most homes. Oh! The times, how they have changed! We now have so many technological devices sparring for the recreational dollars that the pool of “built in” piano interest has evaporated to a new low. So, should those of us who believe that placing music in people’s lives is a noble and possibly lucrative endeavor abandon the mission? I think not. If the existence of having a mission is 50% of the success equation, we are half the way there… see, I did that math without a calculator! If we love music and helping people have access to and enjoy it, then we are mission bound to figure out the method we must use to be that profitable facilitator. But before we get all theoretical and motivational, let’s remember that whatever we chose to invest ourselves in career-wise, a stark reality exists – if it is indeed a worthwhile thing to accomplish, there is bound to be some blood, sweat and tears. Ever heard the old saying, “if it was easy, anyone could do it”? Well my friends, climbing to the top of the stack where the great sales performers reside takes resolve. It is not for the weak at heart and it creates some HARD DAY’S NIGHTS! (and I’ve been working like a dog) *

There are some lessons to be learned, first hand, along the way so I caution you: if you focus only on the destination and forget to enjoy the journey, you will be your own worst enemy. Sorry about spewing forth the clichés, but most of them were born to impart some wisdom and here is the naked truth: if results are the only thing that matters, the only days you will enjoy will be the ones where you tally up the sales numbers and they met your goal. All the days leading up to the goal (met or unmet) have a value predicated solely on how things ended up. What a sad damn way to live, I say.

Another cliché is “the true value of a mistake is the lesson you learn from it.” You can couch that in different ways (and I think it is a cliché by someone) but it is so true. Relative to the journey on the way to being successful, there will be mistakes. Making mistakes, and their value, is described this way by psychologist Anders Ericsson: On its own, a mistake has no value. The value and learning potential comes not from the mistake itself, but from the way we act on it. To achieve learning and extract value from a mistake, we must follow his Fs:

  • Focus: To recognize a learning opportunity.
  • Feedback: To understand what the learning opportunity says we must learn.

  • Fix It: Take action to correct the mistake.

The take-a-way here? Let’s use a Peter Drucker quote to summarize: “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence; it is to act with yesterday’s logic.”

This article is about sales people paying their dues and becoming their best version of themselves because they learn lessons on how to improve their mindset and selling approach, based upon their experiences. The reliving of the activities of the day is a vital exercise in sales growth and maturity. If you adjust your approach in different circumstances based upon the fact that you have examined the occurrences that led up to the results, be they good or bad, you will grow and improve. If you do not rehearse in your mind the succession of events that lead to the sale, or loss thereof, your growth will be incredibly slowed. You need the fellowship of other sales professionals to grow to the highest level at the fastest pace. You should voluntarily be involved in some “hard day’s nights” where you, both by yourself and with other sales pros, discuss how you handle and perform in different scenarios.

Now let me go out on a limb and possibly create some un-subscribers: sales people should study and practice their craft! I am amazed and appalled at how many folks who decide to sell for a living neither study their craft nor practice it. Doesn’t it make sense that if athletes train, and musicians practice and rehearse, that someone involved in the honorable career of selling should practice as well? How do you become the best of the best? Know more and work harder than those around you. Role playing is a wonderful way to warm up before you hit the phones, man the chat or give an important demonstration. Consider this quote from Colin Powell: “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”

A hard day’s night can indeed be your friend. As Mr. Powell included in his quote, “learning from failure” is so very important; failure is educational and motivational. I remember getting skunked one day and going home to my empty apartment. I was so frustrated and mad about how unproductive my day was, that my briefcase went airborne and hit the wall at break-neck speed (I used to pitch fairly well) in between the studs, creating a huge hole. The dry wall (sheet rock we call it in the south) was demolished in a roughly three feet in circumference configuration, insulation was poking out, and there was an impressive view of the inside of the wall now available.

After the carnage, the learning began. I was not in a meaningful relationship at the time, therefore had no distractions, and the most valuable thing happened next… I reviewed in painful detail, with specific recall, the exchanges of the day that led to such a train wreck of a sales experience. I replayed the dialogue and found that so many times, I was concentrating on “my goal” and not breaking down the walls of distrust to just gain a new relationship. In short, by being so goal oriented and not more “people” oriented, I made myself a nuisance instead of an item of curiosity that deserved more discovery. In the world of professional football, they say that the great players get great AFTER they let the plays start to develop and the game slows down a little bit. They learn to let the game “come to them.”

By always forcing the issue, you can become the issue. If you position yourself as unstressed and sure of yourself (whether you are feeling that way or not), you allow the prospect the opportunity to trust you. If you are pushing too hard you can easily become your own worst enemy. Here is a jewel of a quote from a master coach and motivator John Wooden, from my home state of Indiana: “Go fast, but don’t get in a hurry.” You must pick up the pace sometimes to be sure your activity level is high enough but getting in a hurry isn’t an option. You’ll never make anyone feel confident by blowing through whatever introduction you want to make without care or concern for the person listening. If you just “do it to get it done”, that feeling is translated to the person you are speaking to and as stated earlier, for every action there is a reaction. The lesson I learned from my own self-examination? I was forcing the action and giving the people I was trying to cold-call the “heebie jeebies” by acting like just another selfish sales person, unconcerned with their time or how I may be inconveniencing them.

I didn’t begin my approach by saying something defusing like, “Hi, my name is Jack! I’m not selling anything today or taking a lot of people’s time, I’m just making a quick introduction to see if I should call on them at a future time.” Then, you read the prospect’s body language and response and continue from there to acquire permission to give them information, and possibly set a scheduled time to come back and visit with them. I had tried to accomplish more than what was practical in a first encounter, which can REALLY turn successful and incredibly busy people off. By having a HARD DAY’S NIGHT of self-examination, I figured out that I was trying to make a multiple sales process into a slam bam, shooting myself in the foot. A succession of simple, attainable goals (or as we say in the digital world, conversions) will fill your pipeline nicely with prospects who will buy from you when the time is right. Any amount of desperate motion is your enemy. Diplomatic, question-based pressure which you are the catalyst for, that allows them to reach the decision on which you would like them to arrive, is the most successful way to sell. The old cut-throat “go for the jugular” attitude, that gave sale persons the terrible reputation we must overcome, is the enemy, not by any means a friend to your career. I figured this out the hard way and the point was driven home as I used my utility knife to cut back the wall to the studs, so I could dry wall, mud, tape, sand, prime and paint the hole caused by my lack of patience and method.

A hard day’s night of disappointment can be your best friend. It can help you gain great ground on your journey to be the best version of your sales-self. All the great sale people of the past: Zig Ziglar, Dale Carnegie, the motivational pioneer Norma Vincent Peale, business coach Peter Drucker and more contemporaries such as Tony Robbins and Thomas Freese, all have one HUGE fact in common – they learned from their mistakes and improved their method, amount of wisdom and experience and effectiveness with every blunder. So, if you’ve had a hard day’s night, take heart. Nothing worth building, such as a successful sales career, is easy. Most all worthwhile things take some doing and there will be some bumps along the road. I suggest that you don‘t allow them to slow you down but use them to help you go faster… but enjoy the ride and as Coach Wooden said, “go fast, but don’t get in a hurry.

The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand – Vince Lombardi

*Just tying the article into the old Beatles hit that I used as the title.

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