Today I toss out two questions:
- If you landed the biggest deal in the history of your company, how would it change your life and career?
- If you applied what you learned with discipline and respect and rose to a position of senior leadership in a Fortune 500 company, how much value would you place on what you learned that got you there?
These are fun questions today for a simple reason. In each of the past two weeks I have received emails of thanks from American and British clients who were willing to learn. Their industries are unrelated and they followed separate paths to excellent but their motivation, willingness, and desire to improve are identical.
On both sides of the Atlantic I have echoed my fundamental trust in the profession of selling: If you honor the profession, the profession will honor you.
Both these folks proved it. More importantly, they now get to reap their earned rewards. In both cases I coached these people to a higher level of professionalism. Neither success is an accident — both are byproducts of orchestrated behaviors.
Managing vs. Coaching
Managers, of which we have to many, tell people what to do while inspecting or micromanage activities. They don’t add much to a person’s professional development.
Coaches, of which there are too few, teach. It is for this reason I detest the words sales training, opining that, “You train dogs, you train seals. I develop talent. There is a massive difference.”
Since I was hired to coach these sales professionals, their successes pays me back with infinite joy.
There is a tightrope here I tiptoe, straddling the chasm between arrogance and pride. When you do what I do for a living — gap-closing where a salesman or saleswoman is and where he or she is capable of going — the rewards are not always financial.
I am a coach and quite proud to be one but the journey was an evolution. When I walked away from Xerox at the height of my career to carve my own trail — and fill the gaps I saw in corporate sales talent development — I did so envisioning results like these dancing in the distance.
When you help people grow, they change. They become more powerful and climb higher mountains. Their lives and careers morph into ones of greater significant achievement.
Raise the level of what we expect of ourselves and we raise our idea of what becomes possible. We become leaders instead of followers, leaders by example and inspiration, and motivate others to do the same.
Different challenges, big success
In the case of the big sale, our work involved breaking down ingrained, reflexive tactical gambits into a full, rich strategy. Once the strategy was clearly defined, we worked on what to say and how to say it. The goal was maximizing impact on a diverse audience of stakeholders — who together would make the decision. Suffice it to say there were many pieces in play, but my client company believed theirs was a better solution. The output of our session was crafting the most impactful way to package and present it.
We needed to convert fear, worry, and intimidation into organization, relevant content, and confidence. The coaching stuck, worked, and paid off. Their success is mine, which is thrilling. When you help transform an organization that tries hard to do the right thing, and creates jobs by succeeding, dollars and cents are secondary rewards.
This, to me, illustrates the true power of professional selling. Coaching helps win deals we might not otherwise win.
In the second success case, the earned elevation to expansive leadership, what I’m proudest of is the man who pulled it off. When I first began working with him he was a cocky sole contributor — the second best salesman I ever worked with.
His transformation into powerful leader has been fun to watch because he quickly realized that what made him great at selling would not transfer to organization leadership. What is easy for him is hard for most, so telling them to do his way was a highway to failure. He needed to adapt and learn new skills — leadership skills — and did so. He paid the price to reinvent himself and blossomed into what the man and leader he was capable of becoming.
The move from hotshot salesman to role model leader is not easy — only one in five make it. Most star salespeople aren’t good leaders, get frustrated, and fail. They bail out and revert back to selling, preferring to be accountable only for themselves.
This is fine if being a sole contributor matches your ambition. But if you aspire to lead, you must learn how — and learning how requires parking enough of your ego and embracing coaching from someone skilled enough to diagnose and communicate no nonsense enablers.
My body of work has been compiled throughout a long career, cemented by an unyielding love for the profession. But it only matters when it matters, and it matters most when given the chance to work with good people willing to learn who aspire to bigger things — people who want to “be somebody” some day.
In both of these cases, I take great pride watching these fine, motivated talents prove me right.
All I ask in return, which both will do, is that they pass on what they learned that made a difference. Excellence can be contagious in a sales culture, and watching it spread is inspiring.
Thanks, guys, for honoring the profession. You have honored me while doing so.
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