This is the final edition of "The Drift."
But let me be clear. You see, I'm going to write the column for a long time to come, God willing. It's just that I decided to write the final one now, while I'm still relatively young and lucid. I mean, who wants to try to come up with something strong ten or fifteen years from now? Besides, I'm writing this on board one of those rickety propeller planes and if that doesn't bring at least a fleeting consideration of mortality, nothing will. (If you're reading this, I landed OK. Dell hasn't released a black-box, flight recorder model laptop yet.)
In this, my farewell column, I want to leave something special to all those terrific interactive sales professionals I've worked with over the years. So in the time I've got left before all portable electronic devices need to be powered down, here it is: The Truth about your life in sales.
1. THE OPPOSITE OF YES ISN'T NO. The opposite of yes is anything except yes. Buyers just don't say no. To quote Guy Kawasaki, "there's just no upside to communicating a negative decision." If you haven't heard yes; if you haven't gotten true commitment - and you're always sure when you do - then you've been turned down and you've got more work to do. Save hope for things like Middle East peace. It has no place in your forecasting.
2. FAST IS GOOD, BUT GOOD IS BETTER. All your digital appliances and constant connectivity are conspiring to make you look stupid. Just because you can respond instantly to every collection of bits that hit your e-mail or crackberry doesn't mean you should. Some of the smartest things I ever said are things I never said. A minute or one extra reading can make all the difference in the outcome of a deal, the survival of a relationship, your career.
3. STOP ASKING "GREAT QUESTIONS" AND START BEING INTERESTED. A sales meeting isn't the invasion of Normandy. Stop overthinking and overplanning the conversation. Human beings want to be heard and understood. They want to be appreciated and to feel interesting and wise. The very best salespeople are those who bring a warm curiosity to the meeting. They delight in learning and they listen to understand.
4. WHEREEVER YOU ARE, BE THERE. Sales is a great job, but it can be pretty consuming. When you're doing it, give it your all. But when you're not supposed to be doing it - like, say, when you're with your kids or visiting your aging parents - then let it alone. You don't lose the spouse and kids because you travel or work long hours; you lose them because even when you're there you're not really there. We look back at the 1960s and bemoan a generation of executives who lived at work. Are we the generation who never unplugged?
5. CLIENTS AREN'T MONOGAMOUS. They don't even get married. If you're waiting for a moment when you'll achieve permanence in a customer relationship, you're baying at the moon. Your life is going to be more like the one Adam Sandler experienced in "50 First Dates." Assume you've got to keep proving yourself and making them fall in love with you all over again, every single day.
6. IF YOU'RE NOT DIFFERENT, YOU'RE DONE. Never forget that every customer has seen hundreds of predictable salespeople and thousands of lame PowerPoint slides before you walk in the door. If you can be only one thing, for God's sake be unique. Think about the things that a "salesperson" would ordinarily do at a given moment... and then do just the opposite. If you're not unique, it won't matter how good you are because you'll never really be heard anyway.
7. TRAJECTORY IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN MASS. All those statistics you've collected about the size of your audience and your share of the market don't mean much. Nobody wants to know how much the car weighs; they want to know where it's going. This is where real vision and leadership matter in a sales organization. If you can't tell a good story about where your company is going, ask your leadership. If they don't know, then you've got bigger problems than your next sale.
8. ACHIEVEMENT IS TERRIFIC, BUT JOY IS LASTING. Sure, make your numbers. But don't think that numerical success alone will sustain you. Look at the ten most "successful" people you know and you'll find that they're all constantly finding little sources of joy. A great business friendship. A terrific meeting. Mentoring somebody. When your kids grow up they may not know or remember much about the details of your career. But they'll remember whether you loved your work or not.
9. STOP FIXING YOUR WEAKNESSES. Bad management is like bad education. It's all about bringing up that "C" on the report card. If you hate getting up in front of a room of 20 people and think you suck at it, you probably do. Build on your strengths instead. Help your manager understand the things that you're really good at and ask her to help you plan your success based on them. That's what great managers do. And don't you deserve a great manager?
10. THERE IS NO NUMBER 10. When you've said enough, stop. Quit while you're ahead.
It's been great writing for you. And it will be again.
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