7 messages I would tell myself if I could go back 30 years

What would You tell Yourself,  

If you could go back to the beginning of your sales career?

Toward the end of many interviews, the interviewer will ask, “If you could go back to the beginning of your career, what would you say to yourself?” I find this to be a very interesting part of the interview.  This is often when you find the most important lessons that this person took from their career. 

Now, let me ask you.  If you could go back 10-20-30 years to the very beginning of your sales career, what would you tell yourself?

Below are my answers.  I hope they help you if you are just starting out. 

  1. Network more: Even though I did quite a bit of networking, it was not nearly enough and not early enough in my selling career.  It took me a while before I joined professional trade groups.  I would also network sooner with other locations or business units in my company.  I worked for a large corporation that had locations and business units all over the country.  Those locations were solving the same problems that we were solving in our local business unit.  We reinvented the wheel over and over again in almost every aspect of our business: sales, marketing, production, and trucking.  I waited far too long to begin networking with my peers from outside my immediate area.
  2. Segment sooner: In my early years, I had little direction or awareness of who I should sell to or geographically where I should be focusing my time.  So, I did what every salesperson does…I went everywhere and sold every one.  Never taking into consideration if they were the best fit for me or themselves.  I was eager to get a sale.  Volume was the motivation as that equaled achievement.  Ten years into my sales career, I was introduced to the concept of segmentation.  It was part of a marketing discussion on our new go-to-market strategy.  Segmentation helped save time as I wasn’t chasing accounts that weren’t a good fit.  It also saved resources as every new customer took a lot of resources to set them up, train on our products, and finally use or sell them. 
  3. Increase my use and understanding of DISC and how it helps you sell: I was introduced to DISC early in my selling career.  However, I didn’t put a lot of emphasis on it.  I went out and sold as I always did.  My opinion was just be honest and direct and customers will appreciate it enough to adapt to my style.  Which is not a terrible approach.  However, there were many occasions when I simply did not connect with a customer or prospect.  Often, that failed connection was due to a difference in their DISC profile from my own. 
  4. Focus on the selling skill of asking better questions. This one skill is by far the most important and provides the greatest ROI (return on investment) of any selling skill.  More than being good at closing or being king of small talk/schmoozing or even knowing how to give dazzling presentations.  Asking better questions is the key to opening up a sale.  For this reason, I spend the majority of time in my sales training workshops on this one skill.
  5. Tough times are the best times to sell.  In every career, there will be peaks and valleys, good and bad times for your industry.  Obviously, customers will struggle during the tough times.  As a salesperson and trusted advisor to your customers, the tough times are the moments you build trust and grow your business.  Tough times are when your customers need you most.  When times are good and everyone is making money, selling is fun.  However, your skills aren’t as critical since making money is easier.  Tough times are when you can show up and stand out.  This is when your networking, training, skills, and company resources are needed the most to help your customers navigate the tough times.
  6. Boldness and curiosity will be your greatest personal strengths:  Don’t wait until you feel like you know it all or have it all figured out.  Be willing to be bold.  Just drive onto that large prospect’s farm.  Turn into the parking lot of that big Ag retailer’s business.  When this subject comes up in a sales training workshop, I like to ask the group, “What’s the worst that can happen?”  Their answers are typically slow to come out.  Rejection is a big one.  Being a nuisance to a prospect is another.  So, then I ask a second question.  “What has been the worst thing that ever happened to you on a cold call?”  Again, there are typically slow responses as they try to think about the worst experience.  One salesperson may say a prospect said he wasn’t interested and slammed the door on him.  I explained to the group that if we added up all the years of selling in the room, it would easily be over 1,000 years!  In one thousand years of selling, the worst thing was a quick “No”.  Nobody was attacked, shot at, or run over by a tractor. Over the last 7 years of training a few thousand salespeople, I have yet to hear anyone come up with a horrifying or even terrible experience.  My advice is to “Be Bold! Bolder than you are now!”  
  7. Don’t worry, be happy:  I know that’s an 80’s song title but it is great advice that I wish I could have followed.  Honestly, I did get this advice from many people including close family members.  All would tell me to relax more.  Everything is going to work out just fine.  However, no one could ever tell me how, nor could I figure out how.  The more sales and success I had, the more I worried that it would all go away someday.  My solution was always to work harder and longer hours.  And, worry more.  To the point, I am convinced that’s just part of a person’s mental profile.  Maybe I’m wrong but people that stress out and worry are built to do so.  Telling them to not worry are wasted words.  But I truly wished I had worried less. (maybe).

So, what would you tell your younger self?  Maybe you have only been out there selling for a short period of time, but I’m sure you have learned a few insightful lessons you wish you knew before starting.  Feel free to send me a message with the advice you would give your younger self.

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