Sales Lessons from Mom
I have long believed that managing sales people is a lot like parenting children. There are expectations and repercussions. There are rewards and disappointments. And in both cases, there is accountability.
Two out of three of my parents' offspring became salespeople. Mom and dad are 87 and 88 years old now. I think of them as more than parents. I think of them as my first sales managers.
As I look ahead to Mother's Day and think back on what she has taught me, it occurs to me that she contributed a great deal to my sales career and that many of her parental lessons translate well to the sales world. Here, see what I mean:
- Adapt—Mom is one of those "Make lemonade out of lemons", go-with-the-flow people. Three years ago I took her to a James Taylor concert out at Tanglewood in Lenox, Mass. The plan was to picnic on the lawn and sing-along with each of his familiar tunes. When it started to rain mom simply pulled her chair under the nearest tree, never complained, never missed a note, and kept singing. Sales lesson: Things are not always going to work out as planned. You can let disappointment stop you or stay focused on the goal and persevere. And keep singing.
- Improve Your Skills—It was my mother who first gave me a copy of Dale Carnegie's masterpiece, How to Win Friends and Influence People. She wanted me to learn how to listen more and I wanted to meet girls. Both skills were mastered. Wink, wink. Sales lesson: The number one reason why someone buys from you is your ability to understand the customer's needs and then meet them with your solution. So seek first to understand and then to be understood. And always be completely present when speaking to a woman.
- Patience, My Son—Farquharsons are known for their short fuses. After I had spouted off one too many times as a teenager, I remember my mom telling me that anger is a waste of energy. Worry, too. I hear myself passing these lessons along to my girls though I'm certain with far less eloquence: We spend a lot of time upset and troubled and when things work out we look back and wish we hadn't gotten so worked up. Sales lesson: There is a lot of frustration in this job. Have faith that your efforts will pay off and remain focused on the activities. Don't waste time worrying. Believe in yourself!
- Try New Things—I can remember sitting opposite my mom at a restaurant in Sydney. She was eating something nasty and I sat there in amazement wondering if the waiter was just around the corner laughing at the tourist who took him up on his suggestion to try something local. I was still gun shy after a disappointing Vegemite tasting that same morning but she finished everything on her plate even though she didn't really enjoy it that much. Sales lesson: In the words of my friend Kelly Mallozzi, "If you keep doing what you're doing, you'll keep getting what you're getting." Voicemail, for example, is one of several ways to reach a prospective customer. There are others. Try something new.
- Enjoy the Journey—I've never met someone more focused on the here and now than my mother. While the rest of the world wants results and finds happiness only when they come, she is perfectly content walking along the road that gets there. The rest of us fret about yesterday and lament over tomorrow. Mom just strolls along and enjoys every minute of every day. Sales lesson: Yes, the details are important, and yes, this is work, but that doesn't mean you can't have fun. Be yourself. Be engaging. It's okay to laugh and fail and fall down. Be human. What a shame it would be if you look back on your sales career 40 years from now and said to yourself, "I wish I had enjoyed it all more."
- Oh, and One From Dad—To this day, I don't think my father fully understands what I do for a living. It's simply too out of the box for him. One time, years ago, I tried to explain the direction I was taking my career and in doing so I used the word, "Consultant." A few days later a note arrived with a quote from Reader's Digest. It read, "A consultant is a man who knows 47 ways to make love but doesn't know any women." Thanks, Dad.
So, there you go. Five sales lessons that have helped me immeasurably are now yours ... as is a great quote the next time you meet a consultant. If you need more and decide to swing by their place in Boston, make certain that you lock your car doors. It's not that the neighborhood is unsafe but rather if you don't, when you get back to your car the backseat will be full of fruit and vegetables courtesy of my Dad.