I started my B2B selling career in 1977. I’m not even so sure how good of a salesperson I was but, inside of two years I was the sales manager. From then until 2005, just about my entire career was in management and ownership positions. While I was probably pretty good at management, for the most part I hated it but, it was almost as if you can’t get out of it once you’re in it.
Sometimes I was a selling manager who was asked to secure my own sales in addition to managing my teams. Most often, I lived my selling dreams vicariously through my salespeople by assisting them in closing business. Still, the emphasis was always placed on management.
There were a couple of short periods where I stepped away from management and just into selling. These positions were less than 6 months and then I was back into management. To be honest, during these short stints, I didn’t even do that well with only selling which left me with this nagging question … “Could I actually sell or did I just talk about my ability to sell?”
Trial by fire
I simply had to sell and be successful at doing it. In 2005 I was in a different stage in my life and, while I new that I wanted to sell, I also knew that I did not want to be managed. The only way that this would be practical was to see if I could negotiate a quasi independent contractor arrangement.
This meant straight commission without any sort of a base, draw, reimbursements, leads, or benefits. I would work out of my home at my own expense. I wanted the flexibility to work how I wanted and when I wanted and this was the only arrangement that would be fair to both parties. I was upfront about the condition that they would pay me if I sold something and I expected them to leave me alone if I didn’t.
Some might see this as being a high-pressure environment but, for me it was the exact opposite. I was free to conduct business on my terms and I fully planned to swim rather than sink. Additionally, I have always suffered from having unrealistic expectations of others (bosses, coworkers, and subordinates) so going solo relieved me of most of this stress.
Now, I was very familiar with this business and while it had been some time, I still had appropriate connections to the business community. I quickly decided that power partners, those who would be in the best position to refer me to those who needed my services, would be my meal tickets. Today we call these folks influencers and I was very good at earning their referrals.
I also joined a leads group prior to opening my own. I was always a strong networker and this was well before social media, certainly social selling, was anything more than a fledgling idea, if even that. I never realized it but, my style of selling was about to become more in vogue. I had always been strong in customer education (content) and in setting and managing customer expectations.
I vowed to be proactive, focused, organized, and urgent. These were not always my strong suits. Being able to focus on selling vs. herding cats (management) was a great help in being able to do this. In fact, I became hyper in each of these areas.
Finally, I made a promise to myself that … if I lost a deal it would not be because I had cut corners somewhere during the process. I would give 100% and 100% of the time. I’ve always hated losing even more than I liked winning and I was motivated by the opportunity to leave my competitors disillusioned and disheartened.
I got so good at earning referrals that I never made a true cold call. By the way, not making cold calls does not mean that you can’t sell because you managed to avoid that nasty part of the business. It only means that you are a smart enough salesperson to … avoid that nasty part of the business. My close ratios were never lower than 80%.
I was also very good at defining what deals would yield the most likely, and highest, returns on my investment of time. Today we call this a Target Buyer Persona. For example, my experience has always been that lower priced projects take more time, are more competitive, and they are typically price vs. quality/service driven vs. high volume deals. Simple.
So, could I sell? Yes I could. The nagging question had been put to bed. More importantly, my confidence level in all areas skyrocketed. My dirty little secret was that, despite the successes that I have had in my career, I always lacked self-confidence and felt that I was going through my life in a fake it until I make it mode. No longer.
During this time I simultaneously laid the groundwork for my existing business which became my full-time vocation some eight or nine years ago. Without question, these years have yielded by largest personal growth. This would not have been possible had I not successfully completed my personal best thing.
Ultimately, this is a tale of growth and if you are not pushing yourself past your comfort areas you will never have the opportunity to rise to your full potential. When failure is an option, and you are willing to take that chance, it’s only failure when you fail to grow. Better yet, I’m still running solo.