Gertrude Stein once famously said, "A rose is a rose is a rose."

If in fact Stein was right about roses, she was miles off base when it came to sales. Rather, the truism for every salesperson is "Not every sale is created equal."

While every sale is a good sale, it's the giants--the Sales of the Century--that make your year, blast you into the ionosphere and transition you from the collection of paychecks to the accumulation of wealth. And perhaps most interesting, the bread-and-butter minor sales often take more time and require more angst, frustration and headaches than the big enchiladas.

So how do you land the big ones? Paradoxically, it's often by doing the polar opposite of what your customers think they want and ask you for.

Think of it this way: The size of the sale you make is often correlated to the scope of the change you can make in a business. Time after time, I've identified something about a prospect's business that just didn't make sense, that could be vastly improved or that was simply a legacy process or system from the past that actually detracted from the business. The better you are at pointing to the problem and solving it, the more likely you are to make the sale, because, surprisingly, management often fails to identify these weak points.

You're called in to discuss something entirely different, or you aren't called in at all, and so the ball and chain around the company's operations, productivity and profitability remains locked on.

The truly valuable salespeople--those who elevate the occupation to a profession--make it their business to understand the dynamics of their clients' businesses and, through their insights, identify opportunities for change and innovation that have evaded management's field of vision.

I've made my biggest sales by telling management what they didn't want to hear--by upsetting the apple cart and demonstrating that what was in place was unacceptable because it was mediocre or even damaging.

Once management is over the surprise--and sometimes the annoyance--of what you discovered, it becomes grateful for your finding. You haven't simply laid the groundwork for selling something--you've paved the way for improving the company. You haven't served as an order taker--you've become a consultant and a valued member of the team. You're a giver and not simply a taker.

These are the Sales of the Century--the career makers. They don't materialize by "pushing" products or services. You never earn the stripes of a valued virtual member of the company's team--the position you always want to hold--by pushing anything. Instead, you spend time:

  • studying your prospects' and customers' operations, methodologies, processes and technologies.
  • asking, "Why is this or that done this way?"
  • thinking of superior ways to accomplish key corporate or personal goals.
  • surfacing with a well-thought-out plan for what management doesn't know it wants and needs.

It all boils down to this: The also-ran salesperson waits for customers to bring them opportunities. The top producers--the elite--bring the opportunities to the customers.

It's the latter, proactive approach that produces the Sales of the Century.

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