Rethinking the Sales Process (Or how a guy named Fred helped me rethink the way I do business)

I am always happy when I read feedback from clients who share with me their stories of how they’ve turned their own sales records around after participating at one of our events. And the best feeling of all is when a client come up to me and says: "you really inspired me." There’s a lot of reward in those words and an insight as well.

You know that I spend a lot of time with clients, and our coaching groups sharing a range of well researched, field-tested approaches to emulating the winning ways of the top 10 percent of achievers. And, I’m also quite frank about my own experiences—the positive ones as well as the ones where things just didn’t turn out so well. It is that mix that, I believe, inspires you best because you identify with my key messages: success in sales doesn’t happen naturally for most of us – It’s something we can learn how to achieve if we find the right teachers.

The right teacher

Fifteen ago, when I formally began my sales career, I was really, really lucky. I found (well actually, for reasons I’ll explain in a moment, I was given) a great teacher, named Fred Carr. He didn’t just help light a fire under my career—he also was instrumental in helping me dig myself out of a rather deep financial hole I had created for myself. I’ll explain right now what happened.

In 1992, I was six months into my sales career selling life insurance, and I was failing miserably. The company had provided me with all kinds of sales techniques—including many that had been given cute names, like the Puppy Dog Close or the Hot Potato or Good Cop-Bad Cop. Because I was new and eager, I followed those selling instructions diligently. And after having invested half a year of my life memorizing the techniques, as well as learning my product and following my leads, I hadn’t sold a thing. Nothing. My sales performance chart was a big empty graph with a zero in the corner.

But wait…this story gets worse!

Since I was paid a draw against commission, I also was $12,000 in debt to that employer. They had been paying me $2,000 a month whether I sold anything or not—the plan being that I would pay them back when I enjoyed some good months of sales. But six months had passed and those good months—even just one—remained out of my reach.

And what’s even worse, I discovered that when you’re financially strapped you develop into an emotional wreck, and an unhappy person. Relationships are squandered as you blame others for your failure. I know because I did just that. I Blamed everyone else, for my failure, including my (now ex) husband. Truth be told, failing at sales, also caused the failure of my first marriage.

Despite this dismal situation, my sales manager refused to give up on me. Granted, he was in a tight spot because he knew that if he fired me, he’d be on the hook for that sizeable draw I had been pulling for so many fruitless months. Thank god, he also saw some potential in me.

That’s when Fred entered the picture. When my sales manager partnered me with Fred, I learned quickly that he was the top performer in the office. That $12,000 debt I had accumulated over six months? Fred was earning that…in a week. And I learned something even more important from him. He taught me how he had become so successful in his work.

Rethinking sales

Fred and I talked a lot about the approaches I was using to sell life insurance. I explained how I had been following all the sales techniques the company had taught me to use. And I also offered my own – and now obvious – opinion: "Fred, I have to admit that I really don’t think these techniques work." He agreed.

Fred taught me to rethink my sales approach—to trust my instincts and to be weary of sales techniques (especially the ones with the cute names). The trouble with most of the techniques that are out there is that they belong to someone else—there’s no room for your personal stamp (although I’ve often wondered if there really is somebody out there who has been wildly successful for all these years, thanks to all these techniques they’ve authored).

Techniques also tend to impose a tightly systematized way of doing things—telling you what to say and when to say it, sometimes in such excruciating detail you’d swear that the author was programming a robot rather than teaching a human being how to sell to others. There’s a real danger in sticking to that approach. If you devote all your energies to following one of these techniques, you can become more preoccupied with adhering to its processes and its steps than with listening to the needs of your prospects and clients. That’s what happened to me when I was striking out month after month before Fred put me on the right track.

Fred’s lesson to me, and it’s one I’ve never forgotten, is that all these old-school sales techniques are a nuisance that keep you from your real job as a sales professional—to build great relationships with prospects and turn them into repeat customers.

Once I started looking at sales in this new light, I was able to rethink what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong. What was missing from my approach were the very things that had the potential of turning me into a great sales person—being a good listener, being a problem solver, being sincerely interested in others. Let me be clear. Those aren’t just qualities that I alone posses—we all have these traits. Rethinking the sales process is all about finding a common-sense approach, building on those strengths, so you can work with, listen to and tend to the needs of your customers.

Whether it’s adapting your approach to suit a buyer’s behavior, working to build reciprocal relationships with prospects and clients, or changing the way you tackle cold calling so that it becomes the start of a conversation that you want to initiate—there’s a lot you can do to develop a winning sales approach that is custom fitted to your needs and your sales targets.

I was lucky to have Fred as a teacher (and to have had a boss whose faith in me was unwavering). I learned a lot (and probably just in the nick of time, too). That’s why I’m always pleased to share these personal experiences with you. Being successful in sales doesn’t hinge on following a process or a technique. It’s all about having the right mindset and persevering.

Success leaves clues. That’s a favorite saying of mind. In 1992 I was dumb enough to make a lot of mistakes that hurt me and others, and at the same time was at least smart enough to recognize that if Fred could do it I could do it too. Always be on the lookout for smart successful people to learn from in your life. They are the best teachers of your own success.