How To Go From Sales Warrior To General

You want to sell on a high level.

It doesn’t work like we’ve all been taught.

No, not at all.

Our warrior-hero-cowboy gunslinger metaphor for salespeople holds us back.

Believe me, I know.  I just got off that train. A year later, my life is radically different.

Look, let’s face something: salespeople aren’t heroes.  We aren’t going to buttonhole someone and convince an Eskimo that ice is truly a great idea for their family. Even if we did, that’s not heroic.

Sure, sure some of that happens.  When we are in the position of “selling,” or “overcoming someone’s resistance” the net result is generally poor.  When you “win” what have you won? Your buyer often comes to feel suspicious of every part of the transaction, and it makes a future, lifelong relationship less likely.

We hear water cooler stories that make us all a bit narcissistic.  The familiar metaphors of the sales person are self aggrandizing and delusional.  Salespeople want to think of themselves as warrior-cowboys. The rugged individual.

“I saved the deal.” “I’m a road warrior.”  “I’m a closer.” “I roped ‘em in”.

On and on, as if their whole company’s fate is linked to their ability to whip out the right Zig Ziglar tactic at the proper time.  These people that hustle up deals say things like “without salespeople, no business happens.”

Oh, brother.

Yes, good salespeople are vital. A bad salesperson is subtraction by addition.

Most salespeople are bad.

And, if you are puffing yourself up with self aggrandizing bullshit, it’s more likely than not that you are in the 97% of people that are adding nothing but drama to their company. (While collecting a good pay check).

Sales is simply “Doing your Job”

You’re not some warrior.  You’re not taking risk.   You get paid on commission in exchange for a bit of upside. That’s it.

Your job is to sell stuff. That’s it. No worries.

Ergo, when you sell stuff you’ve merely discharged your basic obligation to your employer. Nothing more.  No victory lap needed.

[pq]The Coke machine doesn’t call its mom every time it spits out a Coke.[/pq] That’s what its there for. It’s equipment someone purchased and set in the lobby. Just like you, you’re a piece of equipment hired to make sales.  Not to talk about it, gloat, or whatever else. To make sales.

[pq]So often “heroic escapes” are caused by early-stage paperwork snafus or other incompetence early in the deal. [/pq] A deal that may have started with a fireable offense ends with a commission.

Salespeople mostly live like addicts.  Julia Cameron wrote about this.  Much of the problem is that most companies are shit.  Most people are whoring themselves for “just a job.”   They don’t believe in their process or product (or industry).  But because we are all addicts, they are loaded down with a Mortgage-Spouse-Kids-Private School.  So they stick around doing inferior work.  They have to convince themselves that they ‘saved the deal,’ in order to get some satisfaction somewhere.

Even though my company is shit I’m a deal saving sales-person.  Cling to that, if you must, but it’s holding you back.

Believe me, I know.

How To Go From Warrior To General (Or, Mediocre To Great)

To keep with the sales warrior metaphor, nobody’s going to promote you.  The economy needs warriors.  Hustlers.

The mill needs grist, too. You don’t want to be that.

Here are the steps that I tried to follow, some of them came to me, some of them I learned in retrospect. The idea

Either become or create something that’s the very best in the world.

There’s room at the top. People will embrace you. Trust me on this. The closer you get to the top, the more people below cheer and the more people above welcome you.

Either become the best in the world, or make something that is the best in the world. Either way, the journey changes you and upgrades you.  Either way you get better for the effort.  (Book to read: The Dip).  Work for the top people in the industry, make your company into one.  Work on a small team.

If you’re not yet #1, work with someone that is.  Make it easy for them to do more of what makes them special.

This is the most secure job there is. If you can work with a talented person, show aplomb, ability and loyalty, you can win at life.

The people in my company are world class.  My job is to set the table, find the customers, deal with the tedious parts of it (for example, job and family services in different states).    Serving the art staff, the customers, and everyone is a good job for me.

I get to recruit people that do a great job, and make a company that allows them to focus on art and open up the throttle.  I’m not a skilled designer, but I influence design.

This might mean that you have to quit your job or take a paycut.  [pq] Any paycut is only temporary, and it’s the downpayment on becoming great.[/pq] It’s more than worth it.

Do uncompensated favors that help the world.

With no expectation of financial gain, but as a reflection of who you are. When you believe you have abundant time and money, it becomes true.

I try and make an introduction every day.  I buy someone a book at least once a week.  Not because I expect to gain from any particular transaction, or put people in my thrall.  But because it’s all a reflection and a gesture towards the world.  It might help some author somewhere, it might help some salesperson, whatever.  It might do absolutely nothing.  It’s just a gesture to the universe that I’m here to help.  Sometimes it works.

I do it because I have to give up the idea that I need to monetize everything.  I do favors because it’s who I have become. It’s shocking what this does, being able to give away what you’ve earned means that you get more of it.  It comes at different times, but you lose the stink of despair when you are generous with time and money – and don’t expect a return from any action.

Work in harmony with the world.

A salesperson’s job isn’t necessarily to beat people into submission.

[pq] A salesperson’s job is to highlight areas where two groups can collaborate and memorialize that collaboration with a written agreement.[/pq] If there’s not a ‘real benefit’ from this thing happening, if it doesn’t make sense.  (And if your company isn’t generally benefiting others, then it doesn’t make any sense).  Stay in harmony.

Stop Picking Fights Like A Drunk.

I used to fight everyone and everything. Many salespeople do.

The “warrior delusion” makes you do that. A random $35 service charge that I wasn’t told about at muffler shop?  I might literally have called the cops if I didn’t get my way on the first pass. All of that is a manifestation of The Resistance. 

That’s addict behavior.  Trust me, it gets you nowhere.  The drunk that needs the drama to keep going.  That stuff kills everything. I usually got my $35 bucks but I was an awful person to get it. Be bigger, tougher.

Focusing on that is the wrong lesson.  Build something big and tough enough so those little blips barely register. Be pleased when things go as planned.

It’s hard to do this when you’re broke, but doing this makes you not broke.

Most salespeople manufacture problems that they can swoop in and solve. Don’t be that guy.

This is hard, at least for me.

Read. A Ton. More Than You Think. More Than Anyone You Know Does, and  Sterner Stuff, Too.

Nothing at all has changed the trajectory of my life than reading a ton.  It’s part of my job, it’s what I do for a living.

Read the hardest stuff you can, not the “Moving My Cheese/Getting Things Done” type stuff.  That has its place, and is good for when you need a break.

Read stuff that’s beyond where you can write and think.  Because you’ll split the difference somewhat and wind up smarter and more able to stretch.

Most weeks I get through at least a book, and i’d guess that I average 8 books most months.  It takes ten hours or so a week. Sometimes a bit more. I generally alternate easy/hard when I can remember.

What that’s done is nothing short of profound for my business and life.  When my mind lets me think I’m a “sales warrior,” or that I’m doing something novel, I think about Frederick Douglass and how he bore the lash as a slave and went on to become a wonderful writer and tender human.  Reading is the closest thing we have to engaging the services of world class mentors.

Manage Projects With Failsafes.

People will fail. It shouldn’t ever take you by surprise when someone is unavailable or pursues their own agenda. Having a sales-process with a single point of failure is really, really dumb. You lose leverage, you lose the ability to get things done.

We have to have a backup plan for everything. If someone doesn’t come through with the report in time for the big presentation, HELLO, it’s your fault for hiring them.

We pick our vendors, teammates. The buck stops with you. You could have gotten it done. [pq]It’s your fault for not having a failover plan. [/pq]

Our egos seek to blame others for what is in our control.  Don’t do that.

This means you need to have a redundant supply of clients, relationships, vendors.

Try Not To React To Slights/Never Sucked Into Nonsense

This would be a minor corollary of “Don’t Pick Fights.”

People will say stupid things for as long as there are people.

They will take useless potshots.  They will be surly and a little mean.  They are fearful of their place in the world.  None of this is a surprise.  They are fearful of lots of different things.  Getting drawn into this gets you off your task, and it does you no good.

Being right and winning are not always compatible.

You have to get work done, and people want to add meaning to their toil by injecting meaning/drama.  Don’t let ‘em.

Pay Attention To Little Signals

Tiny things matter.  Particularly how people respond to you. How you come across, how people respond to you.  Listen for it and accept the feedback.

When you get put on speakerphone, if people initiate contact with you, if marketers approach you, if you get invitations to things.

None of it is necessarily some “a means b” thing, but it’s all a consideration.  If someone likes you they’ll be responsive and pull towards getting a deal done.  If not, they will respond in 3-4 days with a terse sentence.  That’s just how it is. Your job is to iterate yourself.

Never Brag-  ‘Humble’ Or Otherwise (Even To Yourself)

Nobody is fooled, it’s not interesting.

It is hard not to brag especially when things are “improving” from a previous state.  Let it wash over you and move onto the next thing.  That tension of shutting up about it moves you to the next thing.

You can always update your peers on your success and what you’re doing.  But do it tastefully and in context.

You can bring people along when there’s a good time to.  But what you’ve done – start a company with no money, close a fortune 500 account, get an event staged –  all of that has been done before and will be done again.

Bragging about it – even to yourself – will blunt your edge.  It’ll lead to complacency, delusion and rationalization.   Just let it be.

Never Try To “Teach That Guy a Lesson”

A lot of people want to get that dig in or give someone a piece of your mind.  To what end?  Do we believe for a moment that we will get someone to lie prostrate and say “you have changed me, I was wrong, have mercy?”

It’s not going to happen, and it’s a waste of energy.

You can lead by example, note it and move on.  But that’s it.

Learn To Work With People You Dislike (and who dislike you)

There are jerks in the world.  Some of them have a good job, and some of them are in the way of your goals.

Indulging thoughts of “this asshole is lucky to work with me,” doesn’t get you anywhere at all.  It hurts your business for the most part.

I count a half dozen or so people as fierce allies and lifelong friends that had a poor first impression of me. My business partner thought I was impulsive and

There are people that are repeat customers that don’t like me but they respect our ability to get things done.

If I limited my business just to the people that I got on with, I’d have a limited business indeed.

(Do you think Steve Jobs liked or respected all of his customers/clients/verticals?  Absolutely no he did not).

Cultivate Indifference & Avoid Delusion

This springs from “learning not to brag.”   The idea is that events will happen.  Good ones.  Big paydays, and clients that fire you.

We have to be indifferent to the good and the bad.  Deal with what comes in a matter-of-fact way.  It won’t matter when we die.  So little of what we do will matter beyond our lives.

Being dependent on approbation from a single source – even a trusted mentor – makes you weaker and less able to cope with life.  Cultivate indifference towards as much as you can.

It’s an event.  You can be somewhat pleased.  Nothing is a big deal, it’s just noise as you shape the world how you want to.

When everything is just a thing, you don’t obsess and aren’t given over to justification, which leads to delusion.

Reframe Failure as Iteration.

Over the last 12 months I’ve gotten a bunch of high-profile people in my network.

I’ve also created resistance and looked dumb in front of some of the same types of people.

I sent out roughly 400 or so pitch emails to about 150 high profile people.

The breakdown here isn’t particularly exact, but it’s close:

75-80 people still don’t know me.  I mean nothing.  I may have gotten a passing response, but I’m nobody. It’s as if it never happened .  I can start again if I like.

45 or so people think I was utterly daft for my pitch.  If they know me at all, they have a poor impression of me.

35 or so people are legit connections I didn’t have and am comfortable asking to promote stuff for me or my friends and connections.

What’s the net here? Did I win or lose? I won. Because I have great connections, and haven’t done anything unrecoverable.  (Note: my business partner thought I was unsafe when we met, time changed that.  Others did, too).

Take The Help That Comes Your Way.  Ask The Right People.

I’ve had favors done for me.  Huge ones that have helped me at pivotal times.  Things that, looking back, are pivotal in my life’s journey.

You have too.  There’s loads of people willing to help the helpful.

The keys (and I’ll probably post on this) are that you can’t be testy and you can’t pitch.  Phrases like “it seems to me,” and “I was wondering if this aligns” go a long way in establishing credibility (and respect).  In a year, I’ve build a network of A-list contracts because I’ve done this.

It takes time, and you’ll screw it up sometimes, but it’s all recoverable over time.  (This is a great post about someone that got funding after blowing a pitch).

I’m still working on this Stuff.

I’m presenting myself as the “philosopher-king of sales and reason.”  A lot of this stuff takes constant reminders.  I put it here to remind myself, right?

I’m writing this as advice to myself first and foremost.  I feel like I’m a beat or two away from a couple of important lessons that will accelerate what I’ve been doing for the last year even faster.  The tools I love don’t matter nearly as much as the ethos for using them.

Your milage may vary, but you can do whatever the hell you want with your life.