So, fair warning at the outset: if you are opposed to being challenged and don’t believe in constructive criticism, STOP now and don’t read this article. The gloves are off with this one. I never would have offered up this advice for public consumption pre-2007; I never would have been this harsh back in the “good old days,” when floor traffic was healthy and all a piano salesperson had to do was give a great demo to be a six-figure person. But guess what? The “good old days” have nothing to do with today.
Several of the following observations could be construed as critical in nature and in some instances, I admit, they morph into rants. Before I launch into some topics which (if examined internally and truthfully) will make many of you more effective salespeople, I need to qualify myself. I come from the streets. I carved out a multimillion-dollar career by cold calling businesses and being emotionally abused for a decade before I became a top flight sales professional and then sales manager and trainer at Cox Communications, at the time the world’s largest, privately held media company. My point? I don’t suffer whiners. I don’t normally get personal like I am here and detest trumpeting myself, always endeavoring to provide very diplomatic and pragmatic marketing content, but I can’t take it anymore! I have to get some things off my chest. I need you to know my qualifications because even if I sound half nuts in this article, you need to know that I am an educated, experienced nutcase. In other words, I have the credentials to have an opinion and I never ask people to do anything that I haven’t already done. So here is my first gripe/request…
Gripe/Request #1: Stop the Damn Whining! Nobody likes a whiney salesperson. Nobody likes a whiney person of any flavor. Quit working so hard at excuses when you could be spending that valuable energy making yourself and your company more profitable! Please stop the whining or I’ll go crazy… if I haven’t already. PLEASE, please don’t go into any more sales meeting with a litany of reasons you couldn’t get the job done.
I offer this piece of solid advice, and you can quote me: “Anything Good or Bad Starts with an Attitude.”
If you had a bad week or month, learn from it. Consider what the father of America’s mass production culture said:
Life is a series of experiences, each one of which makes us bigger, even though sometimes it is hard to realize this. For the world was built to develop character, and we must learn that the setbacks and grieves which we endure help us in our marching onward. – Henry Ford
For those of you who got into the sales game because you wanted an easy way to make a living, I have this advice: get out! You are incredibly insulting to hard working, ever-prospecting sales individuals by thinking you can cherry pick your way into a good career. Truth time: you are destined for mediocrity. If you do not intend, as Henry Ford states, to be a person of character, don’t fool yourself into thinking you can ever possess the passion, compassion or fortitude to make it in the world of “eat what you kill.” Oh, you may survive. You may bleed off enough to pay the bills, but if you don’t really care about other people, you are in the wrong place, pal. You may be some kind of an order taker, but order takers and true sale professionals, the twain shall never meet.
Gripe/Request #2: Grow a Sense of Humor! Why do you think anyone wants to buy from a boring, pencil pushing, analytical, stuffed shirt, bump on a log who acts like an alien ship lowered a tube down from the sky and attached it to the side of your head to suck all of their personality out? Well, guess what? They don’t. Even if you get the sale, it doesn’t mean the customer enjoyed the experience. Maybe you were convenient and had just what they wanted at the right time. Trust me: sales individuals lacking a sense of humor get the absolute lowest percentage of referrals. Have a personality, please. If you don’t have the people skills to engage and entertain customers, go – oh, I don’t know – build or count something. Don’t be a scourge on our kind, the sales professionals who actually enjoy people and what they do. Please, if you can’t laugh and have a good time and make folks like you, go away. Zig Ziglar said, “People Buy from People They Like.” Another good sales fact is that “People Buy on an Emotion and Back It Up with Logic.” How the hell is it good salesmanship to go around bumming people out? Well, it ain’t. If you are boring, go home. You can’t hurt anybody there. Fair enough? I thought so.
Gripe/Request #3: Get a perspective; get a grip! Reality time, kiddies. It takes so many “nos” to get to a “yes” and that will never change.
I once had a sharp, well-meaning young man interview with me for a sales position. He said he couldn’t wait until he had his customer base built up to the point where he wouldn’t need to prospect anymore. After a moment of silence, I leaned over for effect and lowered my voice to share this stark reality: “Prospecting is forever.” Awkward silence ensued. Then he unbelievingly inquired, “forever?” I nodded and repeated the word softly, “forever.” After quiet consideration, he opted to discontinue the interview. He went into the food business… not as a salesman.
In the world of Internet lead generation, the majority of leads to be harvested are folks just entering the sales process who could accurately be defined as folks doing their initial discovery and homework. You have to sift through many leads to find the people who are “right now” currently in the market to buy (redundant I know, but purposely). It is critical to your psyche that you have a perspective on this real world marketplace condition. An 8% (which is acceptable, but not stellar) lead generation conversion to sales rate means that ninety-two out of every one hundred people you tried to do business with said no. That’s right. You were rejected, denied success, failed to write the business you desired to achieve.
Human nature must be overcome by a top performing salesperson. You can’t be great at shaking off rejection if you sit down with your wife or husband at the end of the day and talk about all the jerks you encountered. You must overcome that instinct and reprogram yourself not to focus on the thirteen idiots who wouldn’t help you support your family. Instead, you need to focus on the fourteenth person who did. And speaking of perspective, it takes a much longer maturation period these days before a buyer actually pulls the trigger. So are you going to focus on the rejection or keep your eye on the prize?
It’s up to you, but consider this quote from John Paul DeJoria, co-founder of styling product giant.
The biggest hurdle is rejection. Any business you start, be ready for it. The difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is the successful people do all the things the unsuccessful people don’t want to do. When 10 doors are slammed in your face, go to door number 11 enthusiastically, with a smile on your face.
Got it, colleagues? Selling and building a reputation as Mr. or Ms. “Piano Go-To” in your market takes blood, sweat, and tears and an entrepreneurial spirit. So go for it heart and soul or concede that you would be better off doing something else. For your own good and that of the company you work for, don’t work at it. Make it work. Build your reputation by walking through rejection like the temporary condition it is. Don’t even consider failure an option. That is the intestinal fortitude it takes to convert upwards of 10% of your leads into real, live business. Don’t focus on the obstacles. Enjoy each stride along the way. Enjoy the journey. If you must spend 8-10 hours a day doing something, you may as well learn to enjoy it and, trust me, success is much more enjoyable than failure. Live your sales life by overcoming rejection with resolve. You will be happy when you look back on where you started vs. where you end up.
Gripe/Request #4: Get out of your Rut! I have always taught and been a proponent of having a sales method. A method gives a sales professional a chronological order in which to attack the sales process: a way of selling which allows you to get in a groove and not fly by the seat of your pants when prospecting and presenting your goods and services. Deciding the best sales process for you is a discussion for another day. What is relevant here is that you can’t apply a sales process without creativity. Please acknowledge this: every individual you encounter has their own sum total of life experiences which is unique to them. They all are wired differently and have their own DNA.
If you continually launch into some boring, canned diatribe without any consideration for the individual person you are engaging, you run the same, old train down the same, old track with no customization to your audience. You are screwing up your income and closing ratio beyond belief. LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN to your customer. Don’t just talk. Telling ain’t selling, but identifying needs is. Your fact finding will be unique to each individual you are working with, so, if you are paying attention to what they tell you, you will ditch the robotics and tailor your dialogue to the needs of the person in front of you. Yes, steer them towards things you believe may excite them, but please, please, please don’t be stale and sound like someone going through rehearsed motions.
GET OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE and discover new twists. Learn new ways to do the same old thing from books and other salespersons. There have been great philosophers over the ages, especially the Greeks, but in this instance I will site one of my favorite modern day philosophers, Willie Nelson, who said, “It’s the same old love song. We just have to find new ways to write it.” Every person to whom you attempt to sell has their own way of thinking. Remember that selling at its highest level is a creative process. Don’t you dare be boring, automated, or selfish. Don’t even consider getting in a rut with the way you approach things. If you want to ensure burn out, then abandon curiosity. The best sales and marketing people I know are curious and creative. If you love sales – truly love sales – you will be, too. If you consider it just a way to make a living, well, what a pity. You are missing out on all the fun. And when you get good at it, it really is fun. Being in a rut like so many sales people I know is a waste of time, life, and potential, if I may hazard an opinion.
Final Gripe/Request, yep #5: Quit Being a Know-It-All! Nobody is the end-all be-all, consummate sales professional who can’t learn anymore. Nothing is a bigger turn-off than a salesperson who spends most of the encounter going on and on about themselves and their accomplishments to the exclusion of caring about the profession or the person to whom they are selling. Please remember this old adage: Nobody Cares What You Know Until They Know You Care. Truly helpful and educated salespersons don’t go around acting like they have something to prove. They are servants trying to guide their customer along the way to making a good decision on the right instrument. Yes, establish yourself as a resource and earn their trust, but – here’s a hot flash Mr./Ms. Been Everywhere, Done Everything – this isn’t about you. One of the most endearing traits of a great salesperson is knowing what questions to ask. Thomas Freese wrote a book called “The Secrets of Question Based Selling” which I highly recommend to all sales professionals at all levels of accomplishment.
Please consider ongoing education. As confident as I am in my sale abilities, if I ever had the opportunity to have coffee or dinner with Mr. Ziglar, Dale Carnegie (that would be a trick), Tony Robbins or any of those under consideration to be on the Mt. Rushmore of sales training, I would be asking and listening, asking and listening. Learning is until death as far as I’m concerned. Know-it-alls are not appreciative of the educational opportunities at hand because they are always trying to prove a point. In their own way, their self-serving and boisterous character is as boring as a church mouse. In the last segment, I mentioned the value of curiosity. I guess if you already know everything, you have no reason to be curious, one of the bedrock instincts of a great salesperson. Coming up through the corporate ranks, before becoming an independent, I never met a know-it-all who was as good at sales as he thought he was or had as many true friends as he thought he did.
Bottom line here: if you want to be a great salesperson, be a servant, an advisor, and a friend. In short, get over yourself. I spend so much time talking non-business stuff when selling that people listening in used to ask why I didn’t spend more time talking business. I would explain that I had been talking business the entire time. Caring about your clients and letting them know that you do is key to building rapport which is key to good salesmanship. If you find yourself off subject and out of the get-it-handled mode, it doesn’t mean you are no longer selling. It may mean you are doing the most valuable selling of the encounter.
In closing this section, I recall one of the best piano salespersons I’ve ever had the chance to watch and learn from. Myself and one of his employees were in the gallery when he sold a very large, expensive concert grand. At the end of the sale, the understudy said, “Strange. It didn’t even seem like he was selling them anything. It was like they were just visiting, and then they handed him a check for over $100 thousand dollars.” To this I replied, ‘”Artistry. They never felt sold. They felt sincerely advised and cared for. Pure artistry.” So I reiterate, GET OVER YOURSELF! It’s not about your commission; it’s not about moving lumber. It’s about people. There is a person tied to every dollar bill. If you take care of the person, the dollars will take care of themselves.
Ok, my friends, that is it. I feel so much better after unloading these thoughts and convictions in this unfiltered manner. As a marketing expert, it is so frustrating when we deliver the opportunity, but it doesn’t materialize. Sometimes it can’t be helped because of marketplace conditions or acts of God and to that you acknowledge that the missed sale was not in your control. Typically, we are our own worst enemies because we force the action and aren’t as well thought-out, organized or prepared as we should be to take advantage of the situation at hand. We’ve all been guilty of that, but we live and learn. This is not a scourge on the industry. The scourge is laziness and apathy and folks not wanting to play at the top of their game. We have clients with multiple people converting our leads at 8 -15% and we have folks just learning at 4% on their way to efficiency. My scolding is not for any of those well-meaning, constantly growing sales professionals. My final statement is for the imposters in our midst masquerading as piano salespeople:
If you have a good attitude, a sense of humor, a creative approach to sales, a servant’s heart, and you can keep rejection in perspective, I applaud you and consider you a colleague and credit to our kind, a kindred spirit.
If, however, you whine instead of working hard, if you’re a complainer who loves giving excuses, if you blow things out of proportion because selling is difficult, if you don’t spend time coming up with creative ways to dialogue and think you have all the answers while you wallow in mediocrity, then do yourself and all of us a big favor and please find something else to do.
You make our lives so much more difficult and less fun than it needs to be. I wish you well in finding where you really should be, but, sincerely, piano sales is obviously not your thing.
To The Rest of You,