This month we'll be taking a look at how two CEOs who sell, Jim Amos, CEO of Mail Boxes Etc., and Peter Bell, CEO and co-founder of StorageNetworks, build a sense of mission with their prospects, customers and key team members. What you're about to read may challenge some of your long-lived convictions about sales and leadership.

Passion and Believing in What You Sell
Jim Amos is big on believing in not only his abilities, but also in the value his company delivers and the abilities of his team. Here's some of what Jim had to share about passion and belief:

"Knowledge-based workers own the knowledge we don't. They may obtain information from our systems, but they individually own the knowledge. People run the systems-the systems don't run the people. Knowledge-based workers must be passionate about their purpose, beliefs and mission; they must have and then apply their discretionary energy with all of that in mind.

"My job is simply to keep the dream in front of them-to keep the Mail Boxes Etc. dream in the forefront of their minds at all times. But it doesn't stop there. The sales process is about constant communication. My job is to be popular and 'well known'-someone who constantly shares the dream with customers, with board members, with employees and with franchise owners.

"Basically, I believe that courage is a work ethic. That means that I must respect my people and allow them to retain their own dignity. I lead not with an anvil, but with benchmarks."

Sharing the dream (or, if you prefer, the vision) is, of course, just as important when interacting with our own sales team members as it is when you're meeting with a CEO from another organization. To share the dream, you must, as Jim notes, embody it wherever you go.and broadcast it to every "customer" you meet, whether that customer is internal or external. Jim is a great role model for that kind of passionate commitment to his company's dream-its mission.

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Jim also told me: "My conviction is that unshakable trust, solid core personal values, integrity and honesty pave the way to a successful relationship in all business and personal endeavors."

I can personally attest that Jim lives up to that high standard. I can also attest that he tries not to let anything build unnecessary obstacles between himself and those he connects with. "When I make a mistake," Jim told me, "I show the humor of it; I laugh at myself and allow others to laugh at me, too. And then I move on. Relationships are built in the trenches; that's where the real tests come. Being truthful in how you react to a situation-that's what matters most."

The Power of Purposeful Belief
To learn how to put the power of purposeful belief to work in accomplishing your own mission, you'll need to do what Jim has done and continues to do on a daily basis. You'll need to get in touch with what gives you that power in the first place: you!

In the end, you are your own best ally-or your most formidable competitor-when it comes to harnessing a sense of mission and purpose. This intangible quality, essential to successful interactions with top "C"-level decision-makers and approvers, either arouses your own opinions, beliefs and convictions.or doesn't!

Let's take a quick look now at what Jim emphasized when I asked him about the mission of sales leadership: opinions, beliefs and convictions. (Note: I'm basing what follows on my discussions with Jim and also on my knowledge of how CEOs tend to operate.)

  • Opinions fall short of having the need for positive knowledge. An opinion is a combination of facts and ideas that can be true, or are likely to be proven true.but that may not be. (Many opinions, of course, share a fuzzy border with those disempowering d's, delusion and denial.) It is possible to have one or more opinions on the same topic. It's also acceptable in the business world of a CEO to change an opinion when it becomes necessary (or politically wise) to do so. There are occasions when CEOs have no opinion whatsoever on an important business topic, but they're quite rare!
  • Beliefs are based on specific past experiences, generalizations or conjecture. Once a belief is obtained, it's generally held to be true and is rarely challenged or changed. Sometimes, we are tempted to defend our beliefs to the bitter end, even when there may be no factual basis for the belief.
  • Convictions are certainties of the mind in either of the two previous categories, that is, fully settled opinions or assured beliefs. Once established, convictions defy alteration. In extreme situations, convictions can cause serious financial, social and/or physical setbacks. On the other hand, convictions can also be responsible for total success in every aspect of business and life.

The Constructive Belief Systems of CEOs

During my interview with Peter Bell, the co-founder and CEO of StorageNetworks, he shared with me his very strong belief about his involvement in the sales process:

"I believe strongly that I must routinely 'disrupt' the sales process--from the standpoint of shortening the sales cycle--by doing a 'title-to-title' call or in-person meeting. In all these cases, though, I will still hold my sales team responsible for working the sales process."

Peter believes that involving himself in the sales process has a clear benefit: shortening the amount of time it takes to turn a suspect into a customer. He has amassed so much evidence for this belief, in fact, that it has taken on the form of a conviction.

Could Peter's belief be changed? Perhaps, but I doubt it. Why? Because the emphasis he put on the word "strongly" gave me the sense that he had strongly invested himself in this way of looking at the world, and that employing this vantage point had paid off for him handsomely. Peter has developed a constructive belief system about involving himself in the sales process.

Does that belief, that sense of conviction in what his company has to offer, pay off? Consider the following story.

"For two hours," Peter told me, "a C-level prospect spoke of nothing but what our competition could do for his company. I thanked him for his time and hospitality. I gave the deal a 50/50 chance. Two days later he called me and gave us the business."

Take Control of Your Own Beliefs and Convictions
It's virtually impossible to understate the importance of beliefs when it comes to harnessing the power of a CEO who sells. Once you take total responsibility for your own empowering beliefs and convictions, you will, by definition, be thinking, acting and selling like a CEO.

Perhaps it's time to examine some of your own beliefs. Here are some examples of what I call self-limiting "killer beliefs":

  • CEOs would never take time out of their busy day to see me. (After having met with hundreds of CEOs, I can attest--this one doesn't withstand the test of experience.)
  • I have nothing to offer this person.
  • I'll never make "salesperson of the year"; my territory isn't good enough.
  • CEOs make me nervous.
  • I choke under pressure.
  • CEOs are difficult people to talk with.
  • My parents ruined me for life! (I think we should all get rid of that one.)

Each of the negative beliefs has a corresponding positive counterpart. (For instance: "I can add significant value to the day of the highest-positioned person in any organization.") Take a moment now to write positive, empowering beliefs on a separate sheet of paper; make sure to compose one for each negative belief you feel you may now be harboring.

Change Your Own Beliefs . and Sell Like a CEO on a Mission!
It's not always easy, but beliefs can be changed. It's a matter of applying the right stimuli and taking advice from the top. Let's start by focusing on the three conditions necessary for our mind to change or adopt a new belief or strengthen an existing one. When we're done, we'll take a look at a list of core empowering beliefs that the most effective CEOs have--the beliefs that make their sales meetings less like presentations and more like divinely ordained missions.

What have you got to do to change a belief?

  • 1. Gather or create new information. The more supportive information you add, the stronger your belief will become, until it eventually develops into a conviction. Because convictions tend to stick around forever, the ones we embrace have a huge impact on the quality of our lives and the success of our business endeavors. The right convictions can mean prosperity, optimism and happiness. Latching on to the wrong convictions, on the other hand, can literally kill you. So focus on the right stuff. (Note: You've already taken a huge step in that direction by reading this column every month, because you are gathering new, positive, empowering information that will help you begin to change your beliefs about selling.)
  • 2. Add emotion. Once you gather your new information, you'll need to apply your emotions to the process. The greater the emotions, the greater the speed at which the new positive belief will move toward the level of a conviction--a "way of life." The greater the emotional experience we connect with a belief, the stronger the belief tends to become. (Example: At the conclusion of my interview with Jim Amos, he gave me a bear hug! Let me tell you what that did for my beliefs and convictions about this man, his mission and purpose. I am now ferociously proud to be one of Jim's allies, and I know I'm not the only one who feels that way about working with him.)
  • 3. Gather social proof. If Siskel and Ebert give a film "two thumbs up," millions of people are likely to attend that film with the expectation that they will enjoy it--which certainly doesn't hurt the odds that they actually will enjoy it. This illustrates the power of social proof as a reinforcer of beliefs, positive or negative. So choose the experts you decide to "tune into" carefully. (How's this for an example of social proof: From the moment you drive into the parking lot of Mail Boxes Etc., you can see the recognition that is paid to the management and top producers. Covered parking is provided for all key employees and top producers, with their names and titles proudly displayed. As soon as you enter the lobby, you can clearly see all the recognition plaques hanging on a "wall of honor." Constructive social proof is everywhere you look!)

Six Questions

When you want to rid yourself of any beliefs that aren't serving you well at this point in your life, ask yourself the following six questions. Take 20 minutes or so to write the answers down. Be sure the answers you write are scrupulously honest.

  1. Where did I get this belief?
  2. How long ago did I adopt this belief?
  3. Have I ever compromised this belief? If so, how many times? How long ago? Why?
  4. What have been the consequences, if any, of compromising this belief?
  5. What have been the consequences, if any, of maintaining this belief?
  6. What would happen to my health, finances, and personal and professional life if I eliminated this belief?

Principles for Sales Leadership
Over the past twenty-eight years, I've worked with a good many CEOs and top- producing salespeople. I challenge you to put their principles of sales leadership to work during the next situation in your professional life that requires positive change.

  • They're accountable. They live by a code: "If it's to be, it's up to me."
  • They're confident. They have a strong belief and faith in themselves, and they constantly reinforce that belief.
  • They want to find out more. They're in constant search mode; they want to find ways to improve themselves, develop their strengths and understand their weaknesses.
  • They're generous. They're always trying to find ways to help others grow and develop.
  • They embrace new situations and actively look for new challenges. They look at change as an opportunity to benefit by using each of the above strengths, making them even stronger and more resilient.

Anthony Parinello is the author of the bestselling book Selling to VITO, the Very Important Top Officer. For additional information on his speeches, Sales Success Kits and newest book, CEOs who Sell, call (800) 777-VITO or visit www.sellingtovito.com.