Saturday, November 10, 2007

Wisdom from 25 Years in Sales

by Michelle Nichols (BusinessWeek)

BusinessWeek Editor's Note: In her farewell column, longtime contributor Michelle Nichols offers advice you can apply to selling and to life in general.

A few months ago, my gut started screaming at me to stop writing this column. At the time, that seemed as crazy as not breathing. I'd been writing Savvy Selling for six years and I still had plenty of interesting sales topics left to explore. However, I respect my intuition because it represents 40-plus years of life experience. I've learned that whenever I ignore its guidance, I have regrets.
I'm not one to casually walk away from a great relationship. Through my columns, I was able reach more folks around the world in a month than I could speak to in a lifetime. Helping readers sell more and building friendships in the process (I made friends in over 50 countries) have been my favorite parts of the process.
Six years of biweekly columns adds up to around 150 columns. At about 800 to 1,000 words each, that's enough to fill two or three books. Here are some parting insights from my 25 years in the sales business, six of them writing Savvy Selling, which I'd like to share with you.
1. Life is short. Make yours count. Reach for the low-hanging fruit first. Identify those people you can present or complete the sale to, or help today. Call them right away. Then work on your long-term sales prospects.
2. Be real. To start, find out who you are so you can be real to yourself. What are you good at? What do you like? What's important to you? For instance, I found that my favorite part of public speaking was giving workshops and helping individuals, not giving keynotes from the podium, where I was expected to pontificate on three points and worry about my arm gestures.
Next, be real with others and encourage them to be real with you. I've found that by doing so with my customers, they feel safe enough to share who they really are with me. Only then can they tell me what's truly important to them, which allows me to sell them the right solutions in the right way at the right time. As a result, everyone wins and selling is easy.
3. Be bold. Create big doorways of opportunity and then walk through them. BusinessWeek created this column for me after I sent a letter to the site's editor. They asked if they could print it, I said yes, and inquired if they wanted a sales columnist. They said yes—and we struck a deal that day.
A similar process led me to my podcast series. The president of an Internet company mentioned podcasts to me, so I asked BusinessWeek if I could record some for them, even though I had no idea what podcasts were. Four months later when I got the green light, I jumped in and booked Zig Ziglar, the famous master motivator, as my first guest a few weeks before his 80th birthday. Ziglar was a delight and I had a ball interviewing him and the 44 guests that followed.
4. Have fun. The old saying, "If Momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy," applies to sales, too. If the salesperson isn't having fun, nobody's having fun. Don't be dry; sell in a way that brings a smile to your customers and makes them look forward to seeing you.
My office is filled with funny things to help me lighten up. I have a Rodney Dangerfield doll that says in Rodney's voice, "I don't get no respect," and a sign my kids bought me that reads, "Beware of Attack Salesman." I collect humorous mugs and silly books, too.
5. Balance your family and work. Six years ago, I asked BusinessWeek if I could write a column about the death of my son, Mark, and the lessons I've learned from that terrible experience. That column (, 7/19/02) generated over 100 e-mails from around the world. Every following year in late July, I wrote a column about balancing family, work, and life. Your letters in response have been a great source of healing and encouragement to me. This is an example of the payoff I've received from being real and bold.
6. Love all, always. I know this is a sales column, but it applies to our customers, employees, and families, too. Life really is short; sometimes it ends abruptly. Everyone you meet is fighting a tougher battle than you know, so be gentle. The best we can hope for is to live a full, happy life and leave behind a handful of people who love and respect us.
As the classic breakup line goes, "It's not you, it's me." I am bidding you farewell so I can spend my time boldly tackling whatever it is I'm supposed to do next. Please feel free to keep in touch—and happy selling!

No comments: