Rebirth Of A Salesman

Losing your edge? Take an honest look at yourself before making your next sales call.
Magazine Contributor
8 min read

This story appears in the January 1999 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

A million books have been written about effective sales techniques. So why should you be sold on reading If You're Not Out Selling, You're Being Outsold (John Wiley & Sons) by Michael St. Lawrence and Steve Johnson? The answer has propelled it onto the bestseller lists. St. Lawrence and Johnson run Outsell, a Manhattan Beach, California, sales training and consulting firm, and they draw on 23 years of combined experience on the front lines--and the wisdom of those they know who are at the top of their sales games.

In the book, St. Lawrence and Johnson discuss the fundamental business skills, persuasion techniques, living habits and personality traits that underlie success and with which you'll inevitably boost your company's sales. "There is a tremendous tendency today to seek out new ideas, new approaches and new strategies at such a dizzying pace that we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to master the essential attitudes and skills that can transform our results," say the authors.

This is one of those rare books you'll not only want to underline passages in and keep within reach, but whose suggestions you can implement with minimum angst. We spoke with St. Lawrence and Johnson recently to learn more about their ideas.

Entrepreneur: Where should business owners start when trying to improve sales?

Steve Johnson: You have to be smarter and know your field better than anyone else around you. When you play at a higher level, opportunities begin to open up. We've found that most people put very little time into consciously improving themselves at every level.

Entrepreneur: You say the first step in becoming successful is to know yourself, but can you really be objective about yourself?

Michael St. Lawrence: By working on yourself physically, mentally and spiritually, you can create a higher sense of objectivity. The stronger you are, the greater your vitality and the more clearly you'll be able to see opportunities for your business.

One thing that contributes to objectivity is being a good listener, learning how others think and feel. You also need some time by yourself each day to think about things quietly. I meditate, and Steve does it when he exercises in the morning.

Entrepreneur: How can we increase our energy levels?

Johnson: Sales takes a lot of energy, so this gets to the core of the matter. [Running a business] wears people out, so they're mainly interested in tension relief at the end of the day. But they need those off-hours to build a better person. The average American adult watches more than three hours of television daily, and even college graduates, on average, don't read one book a year. That makes for a boring life, and if you aren't excited about life, you'll lack the mental vitality you need to succeed.

Your energy will improve if you eat a balanced diet, drink a lot of water, cut down on sugars and coffee, and keep alcohol intake down. You also have to increase your physical fitness. Too many salespeople aren't disciplined about it--and bad habits catch up with you.

St. Lawrence: You have to learn to master things to become enthusiastic. Whether it's in your business or your personal life, you can't get discouraged; you have to stick with it. Once you get good at something, it becomes not work but play.

Entrepreneur: How can business owners overcome their perpetual lack of time in order to drum up sales for their businesses?

Johnson: A lack of time often indicates that you need to improve your skills. The less competent you are, the more time it takes to do tasks right. You also have to prioritize; try to do less but at a higher level. Don't put things off unless you calendar them and follow through; otherwise, things build up and become overwhelming.

Entrepreneur: When sales are down, stress and pressure rise. How can entrepreneurs avoid succumbing to these negative forces?

Johnson: You have to see these as opportunities to upgrade your abilities. When you're involved in fire prevention instead of firefighting, there's less stress. Implement a self-renewal program, and you'll be able to handle more pressure.

St. Lawrence: The people who deal with stress best are those who confront issues. Leaving things unresolved creates unnecessary anxiety.

Entrepreneur: How can we change our attitude toward problems?

Johnson: These are also chances to build a better self. Challenges build character, which is really the biggest payoff. People who can deal with problems move up to even bigger [challenges]--and bigger profits.

St. Lawrence: Write down your vision of what you want to achieve over the next few years. The minute you lose sight of the big picture, you start avoiding the difficult tasks.

Entrepreneur: One of the basic skills business owners need to have in order to create sales is the ability to communicate well. How can they achieve that?

St. Lawrence: The first thing you need is a command of the language. As America becomes more diverse, this is especially crucial. Everyone can benefit from building their vocabulary.

The second foundation is to read great novels and literature by the great thinkers so you're exposed to bigger and better ideas. If you need technical help, take a communications or acting class; do anything that forces you to express yourself more freely. You have to learn how to tell stories--look up quotes; write down some good jokes.

You also need to get down a two-minute summary of what your business is, what makes your company special and why customers should use your product or service. It should ring with the tone of a Shakespearean monologue! It should be clear, vivid, alive, sparkling and compelling.

Too many salespeople don't work hard at being good communicators because they think they can sell anything to anyone. Record your phone calls and listen to them; you'll probably be embarrassed into doing something about your communication skills.

Johnson: The most difficult part is becoming a good listener. You have to ask questions that put the other person into a more animated mode, then restate what you understand [his or her answer to be], not only so that you're sure you get it, but also to let the other person know you do. Then you're smarter about what the person wants. If you just tolerate the other person talking, waiting to interrupt as soon as you can, then you'll retain little. Many people who complain of poor memory really are simply not paying attention.

Entrepreneur: How can salespeople establish rapport with potential customers without being as insincere as the stereotype portrays them?

Johnson: Customers can detect your passion and moral fiber--whether you really care about them or are just out to make a quick buck. If you have the right character but fumble the technique, they'll still want to do business with you because they trust you.

St. Lawrence: In an interview I once read, Mother Teresa, who [routinely visited] the worst areas in the world, was asked, "How can you stomach it?" She responded, "I try to see God in each person." I try to tell myself that every person I meet has something positive I can learn from. If we can just stop looking for what's wrong with the person and being so critical, we can learn to appreciate others.

Entrepreneur: How can business owners inspire their sales teams?

Johnson: You need to have a clearly articulated vision of where you're going and what everyone's role is in getting there. Don't be overly critical. Be truthful, in a constructive way, with your salespeople. You also have to celebrate their successes. Some of the most successful companies give their reps more authority in developing their business and deciding how to deal with clients. Then customers come to see the person as more of a problem-solver than a product rep.

Entrepreneur: How can we meet successful people we'd like to network with as potential coaches or customers?

Johnson: People like to help people by becoming mentors and sharing their stories. Often, if you just ask them out to lunch, they'll be happy to share their experiences. Get to know them beyond the business level, and they may benefit you in other ways. You may build a bond that leads to business, but be happy with the payoff that comes from learning something.

St. Lawrence: Often the people you can learn the most from are right around you. Offer to help others, and you will attract people who can help you. The most successful people are givers.

Scott S. Smith writes full time from his Los Angeles home, covering business, health and animal topics.

Contact Source

Outsell, (310) 372-1348,

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