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Why I succeeded in sales (and how you can too)

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I never wanted to be in sales. I only went into this field because I had an idea to start a company. The SCORE consultant I met with told me my plan wouldn’t succeed unless I learned how to sell.

Ugh! It was the last thing I wanted to hear. But I listened…and got myself a sales job at Xerox. It was brutal, hard work. Turnover was high. Lots of reps left, feeling like total losers. 

Here’s why I survived — and even thrived — in this challenging profession: I was terrified of failing. Fear is a powerful motivator. 

I had no backup plan. If I failed, I refused to return to teaching (my previous career). If I failed, I couldn’t start my company. I couldn’t fail. 

I gave myself one year to figure it out. Just. One. Year.

Twelve months to sales success

I threw myself into learning sales. With a deadline, you do that. I took advantage of all possible learning opportunities. 

I read every book on sales I could get my hands on. I even convinced my boss to start a library so I wouldn’t have to fund it myself. 

I took a serious look at my colleagues and realized they weren’t geniuses. If they could do it, I certainly could. 

When I was struggling, I kept reminding myself that I just hadn’t figured it out yet. YET. That’s an important word. 

Whatever it took to succeed

I threw my pride out the door. Rather than trying to impress my boss with my smarts, I embraced my ignorance. I proactively asked for help. I wanted to know what how to eliminate problems before they occurred.

I sought feedback on my selling skills. I hated it, but I did it anyway. I listened, made changes and got better. 

I listened to my colleagues’ phone conversations and made joint sales calls with them. I noted where they ran into trouble. I paid attention to what worked well. I asked tons of questions.  

I borrowed other people’s brains when my own was insufficient. When stuck, I’d ask myself, “How would Jim do it?” or “What would Diane suggest?” I got smarter. 

I kept going when other people quit. I learned from my successes and more importantly, when things didn’t go well. 

I redefined all failures as valuable learning experiences. I had to; it was too just too painful to fail so often. 

When I got good at one thing, I moved to the next area of mastery: prospecting, demoing, writing proposals… Slowly, but surely, I figured most of it out. 

Committing was the key to my sales success

At the end of year one, I was 165 percent of quota. By that time, I decided I really liked sales — more than my original entrepreneurial dream. 

It was challenging and ever-changing. It stretched me beyond what I thought was possible and kept me on my toes. 

Over the years, I’ve used this same process a gazillion times. It works when you’re selling new products or selling to new market segments. It works when you take a new sales position and it works when you start your own company. 

It just plain works. Best of all, it’s 100 percent replicable. 

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