When I was 18 years old, I got a summer job working for a company then called Jewel Tea, whose business was selling groceries, housewares and kids clothing to housewives on a route.  I was hired to work the routes for the vacationing sales people who owned the route.

At age 18, I had no sales experience and little personal presence or confidence, but I consistently outsold the older, more experienced people who owned the route, and was recognized by the company as the “outstanding college student” summer employee.

I was astonished.  I had no idea why I was successful.  It really wasn’t that hard. I just did what my boss told me to do, in the way he told me to do it.  Didn’t everybody do it this way?

Over my career as a sales person, I sold a variety of products in a variety of selling situations.  From suits and sport coats in a retail men’s store, to capital equipment to schools, to surgical staplers to surgeons in the operating room, to 70,000 line items for a wholesale distributor.  I always did well, and was the number one sales person in the nation for two different companies and two distinctly different selling situations.

I was always a bit perplexed by my success.  I always worked hard; always tried to do well; listened to my boss and did what he told me to do; and constantly sought out ways to improve my skills.  I bought the books, went to the seminars, listened to the audios, etc.

For almost my entire selling career, I could never understand why I was more successful than others in my company.  Didn’t everybody do it this way?

It wasn’t until I formed my sales consulting/sales training practice and began to work with sales people and sales forces that I discovered the answer to the question.  “No, not everyone did it like this.  In fact, very few do.”

What did I do that I now realize very few sales people do?  These are the three cornerstone characteristics that I just took for granted, but which I have since discovered are the rare building blocks upon which sales success is built.

  1. Work hard, every day. I can’t believe I’m actually telling people to work hard.  That ‘work ethic’ was just instilled in me by my parents.  I was raised in a family of six boys, and we all had paper routes and part-time jobs as soon as we were able.  We were expected to work hard.  I never questioned the wisdom of it.

Of course there were times when I took that afternoon off, or those special long weekends.  Every employer, though, got at least 45 – 50 hours from me every week.

In my practice, however, I run into sales people seemingly every week who have no problem with routinely leaving the house at nine and being done for the day at three.  As one of my clients verbalized recently:  “So many people in the work force today have an entitlement mentality, a short attention span, and inordinate hubris.”  If he’s right, that’s too bad.  Those are not qualities upon which success is built.

  1. Try to do well. Again, I find it incredible that I have to mention this. Doesn’t everyone strive to do well?  Actually, no.  The vast majority of people, sales people included, just want to do a job and forget about it at the end of the day.  Only a small fraction – somewhere between 5 percent and 20 percent in my experience – actually strive, day in and day out, to do well. The reason why most sales people are not highly successful is that they don’t want to be successful.

Let me be really clear.  Everyone wants the results of doing well – the extra income, the higher degree of respect from bosses and colleagues, the feeling of accomplishment and the extra confidence that comes as a result of sales success. But very few are willing to pay the price for it.

I remember reading a quote from a famous coach, whose name escapes me at the moment.  It went something like this:  “Every athletic has the will to win, but only the winners have the will to practice.”  There is a price to pay to be successful.  You have to want to be successful, and you have to want to be successful badly enough that you will invest time, money, ego, energy and emotions in it.

  1. Constantly improve. Believe it or not, you are not as good as you can be.  Ever.  If you are going to be successful at sales, you have to become more competent than you are now.

Sales is a proactive profession.  In other words, the customers don’t send you a purchase order, and then you go see them.  No, you must see them first, and influence them successfully.  Your actions get reactions.  If you act well, they will react accordingly, and you’ll eventually get enough of the deals to become successful.  If you don’t act well, they will react accordingly, and you’ll forever be relegated to mediocrity.

So, if you want to be successful, you must continually improve your skills, your habits, your attitudes and your mindsets.  That’s something that only a handful of sales people actually understand.

There are two things to do to continually improve:

  1. Constantly reflect on your performance and your actions and identify things to improve. That means, reflect and evaluate after every sales call.
  2. Expose yourself to the best practice of the profession. That means read the books, go to the seminars, listen to the audios, read the Ezines, etc.

Now, here is why it is so easy to succeed at sales.  Sales is the only profession where most of the practitioners don’t practice the three simple habits above.  In every other profession, there is the expectation that serious practitioners will continually improve.  That’s why doctors go to conferences, nurses have in-service training, lawyers read case studies, executives attend roundtables, minister listen to webinars, etc.  Every other profession in the world expects its members to constantly improve, and the vast majority of them do.

In the profession of sales, there is no expectation for constant improvement.  So, most sales people don’t bother.  The reason it’s so easy to be successful in sales is that your competition, other sales people, don’t really want to be successful!