Although my self-belief was not where it needed to be, I felt I was working for the best service provider in the industry. Most important, I worked harder than any other salesperson, and there were more than 100 in the company. I deliberately treasured my selling time and did administrative work, call reports, and everything else that didn't result in a sale, before and after prime-time hours with prospective clients.
I never allowed myself to become deluded about cold calling and the need to consistently build sales pipeline. For every appointment, I would plan to arrive early and canvass neighboring businesses. "Hi, I'm Tony and I'm early for my meeting next door. Could you tell me who the sales manager (or service manager) is here? Could I have their card so I can mail them some information? I always got the card or the name. Sometimes the sales manager would come out and I'd say, "Hi, I can help you respond to leads faster and get more sales with your team in the field; how many salespeople have you got on the road?" I learned very early not to lead with a pitch about our company or products but instead talk about the results I could help them achieve.
Always lead with what you think you can do for them and their business. No one is interested in your product or service, and no one wants a sales pitch. Initially, they are only interested in why talking to you could be of any benefit to them. Always answer the unasked questions: Why should I care, and what's in it for me?
I thanked every customer for their business and asked them who else they thought could benefit from improving sales or service by being contactable anytime and anywhere (that's what radio paging did). I would phone them two weeks later and ask the same question. A referral is the fastest path to revenue, and being introduced to a potential client by someone they trust creates the highest probability of a sale.
Referrals are your most important source of leads, so it is vitally important that you always deliver for your clients and build an extensive, high-quality network.
I was later promoted to a city territory filled with skyscrapers. Awesome! Prospecting will be much easier and more efficient with high-density white-collar businesses, I thought. Confidence—the feeling you have just before you understand the situation. I learned later that this territory was a graveyard for reps, and no one had ever made their target there. Every building had a sign in the lobby and in the elevators: No hawkers or canvassers! That applied to others—nothing was going to stop me. We had at least one customer in most buildings, so, in my mind, I was not canvassing. I was simply visiting a customer and just dropping in since I was early for my meeting.
I did five months in a row above 200 percent of target and moved up into larger enterprise accounts. But I never forgot the importance of continuously building a sales funnel, always and without excuse every day. It's the only way to avoid the roller-coaster of pipeline versus performance. I became the most successful person in the industry and made the largest-ever deal by selling to IBM at 70 percent higher prices than they were paying the incumbent, who had a bigger network and stronger brand. I even had to convince our own CEO not to drop the price! He was focused on the minimum price we would accept rather than walking in the customer's shoes to determine the highest price they would happily pay for quality service and support. Had I lost the IBM deal, I still would have overachieved my annual target. I later moved into the computer industry, and then into software. The rest is history.
Many times over the years, I've lived the bipolar existence that is professional selling, and I've stared into the abyss of what seemed an impossible revenue target. Most companies have periods of insanity where they thrash around and demand relentless growth. In this pursuit, they hire like crazy, reduce the size of territories, increase the targets, fire up the team with a punchy sales kickoff, and then unleash the flamethrower to blast sellers. They exhort salespeople to step up or face the wrath of blowtorch pressure from stack ranking and performance improvement programs (PIPs) to manage out those who fail. The irony is that many good sellers are chewed up and spat out because of management's inability to analyze the data and provide viable territories and positive reference clients; or its failure to deliver the right tools, such as coaching and support, to enable sales; or its lack of intrinsic value without the right product-to-market fit.
In contrast, the best companies know that nothing good happens unless someone sells something, and they respect and value those on the front line who provide this service. Selling can make a person soar, and I've watched sellers excel as they helped their customers achieve success. Intent is important, and so is work ethic. To succeed, you can't be a snoozer, and you can't be hung up about how others perceive you. Selling is a blue-collar trade dressed up in Wall Street clothing. You must put in an honest day's work, day in and day out, and be able to look yourself in the eye and know that you actually deserve success. No matter how well sales are currently going, no matter how much you feel like it or not, no matter if there is time pressure and others are screaming at you to do non-selling activity, you must prospect every day. You must know that the only thing that creates a consistent sales funnel is consistent prospecting activity.
Just as I've seen the best, I've also seen the worst in people, as they tried to manipulate, lie, cheat, or steal their way to the top. Don't do it—your integrity is everything. Selling is not something you do to someone; it's something you do for someone. Your brand and reputation is your most precious asset. We live in an age where any client or employer can peel back the facade. You must be the real deal and be able to look at yourself in the mirror. Take social media seriously, and invest in creating a strong and authentic personal brand.
This excerpt ends on page 14 of the paperback edition.