From the June 2000 issue of Entrepreneur

Ask 10 people, and you'll get 10 different definitions of success. No matter what it means to you, however, true success can never be stagnant-you don't just achieve it once and then keep it for life. To remain successful, you must continue climbing.

In sales, there are two parallel ladders of success, one internal and one external. The first involves regular improvement-learning as much as possible about your profession and product. The second one concerns service-using what you've learned to enhance your ability to serve your customers.


Success From The Inside Out

Successful selling requires more than a desire to make money. It results from a combination of product knowledge, professional expertise and personal confidence, all of which are developed through perpetual learning. What are you doing every day to improve your skill levels in selling, communicating, building relationships and networking? How much do you know about your product?

Don't forget that you're a product, too. It's you that customers are actually buying. You can improve that product by finding mentors, observing what successful people do and applying some of their methods to your own creative style. (After all, you are what's most unique about what you sell.)

Your knowledge and commitment to learning will produce enough enthusiasm to sell with passion. The more you learn, the clearer your picture of what it takes to succeed and the more excited you get about taking the necessary actions.

Success From The Outside In

The more excited we are, the more we apply the things we learn and the better we become at them. The better we are, the greater the service we can provide our customers (which is our fundamental goal). Here are three ways to keep that process growing:

1. Keep others' interests at heart. This is the best way to earn a customer's business. The dictionary defines "earn" as "to get or deserve as a result of something one has done." So, you earn a customer's respect (and make a sale) when he sees you making the effort to learn his business and solve his problems. Selling is always about creating win-win situations. It doesn't matter to a customer how excited you are about a new product or project unless your customer knows what it means to him or her. The situation has to be exciting for the customer.

2. Increase your depth of knowledge. Learn as much as you possibly can about the customer's business and goals. How can your product, and the knowledge you have about that product, help your customer's business grow? Your depth of knowledge brings you greater credibility, as well as the ability to come up with the best possible ideas for your customers.

3. Create appropriate solutions. A solution doesn't have to be an amazing event that's going to turn your customer's company around. It could be a small thing that makes someone's job easier-like how your product can help decrease his or her work load. We'd all like to come up with a "big" solution, but often the little ones are more impressive. They're solid and consistent, and those are the things that keep customers coming back. Over the years, I've worked with highly successful people from sports, science, business, education and entertainment. A common sentiment I've heard from all of them is that at the end of their careers, they'd want to look back and ask "How much did I learn, and how much did I serve others?"

Constant learning and constant action-both are equal, and both are necessary. We learn from our actions, and we act from our learning. One without the other suffers. Together they provide invincible truth.