A few decades ago a 27-year-old, shiny, new Xerox sales representative was minted.
Already a sales veteran, it wasn’t his first rodeo. Indeed, he worked his way through college selling on commission.
Commissioned salespeople, like entrepreneurs, work the marketplace high wire. Observing this act, a salaried employee once remarked that commission selling was “living by your wits.” In the vernacular, business-to-business sales professionals know, “You eat what you kill.”
Starting out this salesman received rubber-meets-the-road sales training from the small business owner who gave him his first commissioned sales job. Then there was a six-year stint with Sears, where he first received sophisticated sales training.
But in those days, Xerox Professional Selling Skills was recognized globally across all industries as the sales training gold standard. Consequently, becoming a Xerox salesperson wasn’t easy and, once achieved, was a big deal at that career moment and an invaluable influence for the rest of your life.
Not long out of the Xerox classroom, our young salesman called on the local installation of a national manufacturing firm. His head was packed with product, pricing and strategy. Plus, he was now a fully converted, Kool-Aid-drinking disciple of the world-class Xerox sales fundamentals. And so it was that on this particular day, sitting in the office of Mr. Keener, the plant accountant, any listening skills and probing techniques he had learned were no match for the cargo of content that was determined to be dumped right there on Mr. Keener’s desk.
Mr. K was a tall, stern and stoic journeyman manager whose gray hair was not premature. He suffered no fools – gladly or otherwise – and took no prisoners. But for longer than most would have expected he allowed himself to be the victim of what was no less than a sales assault. Finally, he stood up and stretched his arm toward the Xeroid in front of him as a way to move the proceedings toward the door, whereupon he demonstrated his rapier wit with, “Well, Jim, you’ve certainly given me the business.”
Now you know, I was that sales assaulter. And my memory includes standing outside Mr. Keener’s office with his words detonating in my brain. In a career-defining moment of self-analysis and clarity I turned and knocked on Mr. K’s door again. Assuming my most contrite and chastened countenance I said, “Mr. Keener, I’m sorry about what just happened. May I please start over?”
To which he said, “Hello, Jim – come in and let’s talk about business.”
Those two sentences – one to haul me up short and one to redeem me – are the ones I remember more often than thousands of selling interactions since. By the way, Mr. K and I did business for years afterwards.
Write this on a rock … The gold mining power tool of successful professional salespeople is the ear, not the mouth.