I was driving and listening to the radio (KLOVE) when a song by Mercy Me started. It gripped me from the opening line. "Dear younger me, where do I start?..."The song itself is powerful and it made a lasting impression on me because it made me think. I'm 30 years out of high school and 26 out of college now. What would I say to my younger self if I could write a letter back in time to me?
As I thought about this question and my sales career, I started taking notes. Not that my advice will apply directly to you, but here are five things I'd want to tell myself when I began my professional sales career.
Perfection is a direction, not a destination.
Making decisions early in my career I wanted to prove myself. The best way I thought to do that was to never be wrong. I wanted every decision to be the right decision. But that also meant, I didn't make decisions until I had done all my homework. With research to back it up, I'd make sure I knew everything about everything before making a decision.
When I was overlooked 3 times for a promotion and my peers were given promotions, I was shocked at first. "How can they promote those guys when they don't even do their homework before making decisions like I do!"
Then it became clear... Peter Drucker was right when he said, "You'll never have 100% of the information before you make a decision."I was waiting too long to make my decisions. I wanted the information to be perfect so there would be zero chance of being wrong. But that's not where sales leaders live.
Lesson: Be prepared to make decisions even when you don't have 100% of the information.
Nothing improves until something changes.
About 10 years after graduating college my sales career was being put to the test. I was being asked to chase bigger and more complex deals. That's when I found the sales book, Hope is Not a Strategy: The 6 Keys to Winning the Complex Sale by Rick Page. The book was good, but the title was even better!
This book prompted me to learn more and improve my professional selling skills. I began by asking our Sales Manager for a list of the biggest deals closed by our company over the past 12 months. Then I contacted each of the Business Development Managers who won those deals. I asked them a simple question, "What was the key to success for you in winning that deal?"
If I didn't change my approach to selling, I knew I'd continue to find the same small deals instead of winning the larger, more complex sales. I had to be humble myself and admit I don't know nearly as much as these other sales reps. I needed to learn from them!
Lesson: When you want your situation to improve, find something to change.
Positive thinking doesn't work.
If it did, none of us would still be looking for answers! If all it took was positive thinking, then most of the troubles in your life would be gone. We've all tried it and yet we still fail. Now don't get me wrong. I firmly believe what Zig said when he told us positive thinking is always better than negative thinking. But, I've come to realize, positive thinking alone doesn't get you there.
According to research by Russ Harris, author of The Confidence Gap: A guide to overcoming fear and self-doubt, hanging on to positive thoughts doesn't magically improve your situation. In fact, it could end up hurting you in the long run. But, the good news is that neither will negative thinking. The best way to manage our thoughts is to recognize all our thoughts (good and bad) as just that... thoughts! Then, release them and let them drift away. Don't allow either to become your identity! Zig has words of wisdom on this too.
Lesson: When you fail, seek to understand why you lost. When you win, find out why you won. Either way, you gain knowledge. Success or failure are events, not people!
It will never get easier...
But you'll get STRONGER!I love this one. You've probably heard that if you practice enough, eventually it'll get easier... not exactly! You actually become stronger. The task hasn't changed one bit. It is still the exact same task. What haschanged is your ability to deal with the situation.
The first time I delivered a professional presentation was the summer of 1991 and it did not go well. I realized then I had to do something to improve my public speaking or my professional career would not be a very successful one. Since that day, I've been a student of communication. I read, study, and observe as much as I can about communication.
Now I'm blessed with opportunities to speak to large and small audiences all around the world. (As I write this... next week for me is... Korea!)The challenge of presenting to audiences hasn't gotten any easier, and in some cases, the challenge is even more difficult. But, I can honestly say, I'm not the same person I was back in 1991. I've gotten stronger.
Lesson: Once you decide to make changes to improve, don't expect the task to get easier. But, you canexpect your abilities to get stronger!
Success is easy to define.
Stop comparing yourself to others. That's not how you measure success. The tricky part about success is that you need a measuring stick. Success has to be compared to a standard. How can you call something a success unless you can compare it to the standard and measure against it? In sales, we call it your quota. Easiest way to measure the success of a sales professional... did you exceed quota?
Comparing yourself to others is a dangerous game and the enemy loves to use it. Why is comparison such an attractive tool for the enemy to use? Because, there is always someone else with more. Achieving goals (like your quota, KPIs, objectives, etc.) is a requirement in business and we should all work hard to achieve them.
But, I've learned to be careful with associating my identity as a success or a failure based on an arbitrary number (i.e. quota) handed down to me by the corporate sales office. My belief on personal success is measured against core values. If you live your life in alignment with your core values, you're living a successful life... but don't let that be an excuse NOT to hit your quota... now go crush it!
Lesson: Strive to achieve your goals, but your true success can only be found in living out your core values daily.
If you could write a letter to your younger self... what would you say?
Share your thoughts with everyone!
Books / Authors / Artists Mentioned in this Post:
The Confidence Gap: A Guide to Overcoming Fear and Self Doubt, by Russ Harris
Dear Younger Me, by Mercy Me
Corporate Ovations: Your Roadmap To More Effective Presentations, by Kevin Karschnik and Russ Peterson Jr.
iSpeak teaches workshops on Professional Selling to help sales leaders gather the most important data and then use that information to create the right message. Are your sales presentations closing eyelids or deals?
Russ Peterson Jr. is the co-founder and Managing Director of iSpeak, Inc. - An award-winning professional development training company. Russ is a speaker, international trainer, and published authoron Professional Sales Communication and Business Communication. He delivers workshops, keynotes, and personal communication coaching services to business professionals in the US and around the world. His leadership blog assists leaders in giving voice to their vision. You can connect with Russ directly through Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.