Not that long ago, when my dear brother was announcing my ascension into the rarefied air of corporate executives, somebody commented that he or she would appreciate some perspective on the sales profession. Our commenter said, “I just don’t know if I’d do a good job at sales or like sales.”
I have been in sales in one form or another since I was 13 years old. In a tale that I’m pretty sure has been told here or somewhere else, Jack and I ran a mail order BMX shop out of our mother’s home for much, much longer than anybody had a right to—especially when those two someones are 19 and 13, respectively. It’s one of those things that made a lot of sense at the time, but seems downright impossible now that it actually happened.
Our mom would answer our home phone with the name of our shop when I was in school, write down whatever somebody requested, and then she would send a page to my Motorola Gold Flex with the details of the order. I would come home and then call the various distributor networks and place the order. Somehow, none of our customers thought this was weird. And we actually even made a little money!
Unfortunately, we had made an arrangement with a local bike shop to share some of the financial burden, and the owner was an unscrupulous Brooklynite who had somehow made it to Hilliard, Ohio. I don’t remember exactly all of what happened, but the long and the short of it was that our partnership was discontinued, and thus, so was our mail order shop.
That small taste of money and the thrill of the hunt led me to working at a musical instrument store after school in high school, and then another one when I was in college. I’ve been in some form of a sales role ever since, whether it was in front line sales, sales management, sales coaching and training, sales leadership, leading a national sales force, and now, as the VP of Sales for the largest privately held media company in the world.
Never have I not been the top performer in an organization. I made $135,000 working in the mall part time for Verizon when I was 22 years old. I started a brand new, 20-location wireless franchise when I was 23. I took three separate stores to either number one or two in the country for T-Mobile—out of 1250+ locations. I led the top market in the country for Cricket for two years. I took a failing newspaper media sales division and led them to $45M in growth in 3 years. I led sales trainings for Fortune 500 execs.
I should also mention, at this point, that I’m a college dropout who majored in music.
But you can read all of that on LinkedIn. I tell you my life story in sales because it’s important to know that it’s the one field where you can make literally millions of dollars without an advanced degree, or a brilliant mind, or even a great idea. But what do you actually need?
It would be simplistic to say that it comes down to hustle. Actually, it would be downright false. My brother has, on more than one occasion, called me, “the laziest man in the world.” There’s a lot of truth to that. I have seen people have above average sales careers based on being grinders. I respect it. But it’s not me.
I will tell you this one, simple truth about sales: in order to succeed, you must be emotionally brilliant.
Do you know what single event pushed people headfirst into buying cellular phones en masse? Do you know the very instant that changed people’s perceptions of cell phones from “luxury” to “utility?” That one moment in history pushed cell phone adoption from about 30% to over 80%.
It was September 11, 2001. In one moment, everybody in the world wanted to know if their loved ones were safe. They wanted to be able to tell their loved ones that they were safe. And almost every cell phone network crashed, nationwide, except one: Verizon. And that’s how I made $135,000 working part time at the mall.
Why does that matter? It’s because people never buy rationally. They buy emotionally. The logic center of the brain is dormant when buying decisions are made. You can lie to yourself all you want about how you “made a spreadsheet” and “weighed all the options.”
No, you didn’t. You used that logic to justify the buying decision you had already made in your mind. If you want proof of this, think about the last time your friend asked you what car he should buy. Then, think about what car he actually bought. I wrote a car buying advice column for over two years. Twice a week for 104 weeks, people wrote to me and asked for my opinions. Approximately three people took my advice. The other 205 bought the car they were going to buy anyway.
Sales is never about logic. It’s rarely about data. Data is a nice-to-have. But it’s mainly there to prevent buyer’s remorse.
No, sales is about emotion. Sales is about desire. Sales is about knowing that your customer wants one or more of these four things: Safety, Love, Vision, or Information. And then, after you figure that part out, you give it to him. It’s that simple.
I’ve seen salespeople come armed with presentations, and binders, and flip charts, and god knows what else into a meeting. I walk in with my notepad and two ears. And I always, always win. You have to be able to look into the eyes of your customer and know, perhaps even better than he does, what he wants more than anything in the world. And you have to make him believe that buying whatever you have to sell him will satisfy that need.
And that, my friends, is taxing. It’s difficult. It wears on you like you wouldn’t believe. You’re acting as therapist, bartender, hairdresser, and best friend all at once, and you’re doing it all the time. You have to reassure your customer that he’s making an amazing decision, and you have to congratulate him for doing it. You have to make him feel like he’s the most important person in the world, and then you have to do it again for the very next up.
It doesn’t matter if you’re selling a cell phone, or if you’re selling a $40M advertising spend. It’s exactly the same. You’ll buy from me because I have made you feel so completely safe, or inspired, or informed, or cared about, that you won’t even care what you’ve bought. At the end of our transaction, yeah, you’ll have bought something you didn’t have before. And that thing, well, it will be ephemeral. It might bring you joy for a while. But not too long after, it will just become something else you own.
But you’ll never forget how you felt in the moment you began to own it.
That’s my job. If you think you can do that too, then go for it.