" Surviving is winning, because if you are the last man standing, as they say, then you are the last man standing."
- Richard Parsons, former chairman and CEO, Time Warner, Inc.
Success Magazine asks all of its new employees to share their definition of success. In a feature article about these responses, each new employee, from twentysomething to fiftysomething, offered a unique viewpoint. Victoria Conte, president and publisher, said "At the end of the day, success is knowing that I helped better someone's life."
I believe that professional success should be balanced with personal success. When some people become wealthy or famous, they find that it's not enough. Those who work and live for success should consider whether they'll be happy when they get the success they seek.
To be successful, one must keep in mind the principles that guide one's work and life - without them, it's easy to get sidetracked. If you have these principles clearly in mind and act consistently with them, you will avoid second-guessing your decisions.
In the movie Citizen Kane, the main character takes over as publisher of a newspaper. He publishes what he calls a "Declaration of Principles" on the front page of the paper that states that the paper will present the news honestly. If someone were to ask you what the principles are that you or your company operate by, how would you respond?
" So every leader, and every employee, needs to be clear about their identity - their values, their beliefs - which provides an anchor in rough waters. Let me conclude by mentioning a few of these anchors, each of them essential for a leader to succeed and for a company to step up to its social responsibility.
"The first is integrity, which is non-negotiable. Integrity is the foundation for trust, without which a leader isn't going to lead anybody anywhere. Second is personal accountability - another non-negotiable. Third is a concern for people - treating your employees and public alike with candor and respect. The fourth, and last, is leading by example."
- Kenneth Chenault, former chairman and CEO, American Express Company, from his keynote address at NYU Stern's Graduate Precommencement Ceremony
There are three principles I suggest as universal in application and of fundamental importance to long-term success: integrity, stability, and purpose.
The first quality that a successful sales leader must possess to be successful in the long term is integrity. Integrity means doing the right thing, even when doing something less than the right thing would be expedient.
Why is integrity so important? It exemplifies trust. If someone loses trust in you, that trust is difficult to reclaim. There are prominent instances of companies whose salespeople were pushed to fulfill ever-increasing sales quotas to meet ever-increasing Wall Street expectations. Unfortunately, deals were made that sacrificed future profits for present sales and the sales had to keep getting larger to fuel the disappearing profits until, like a pyramid scheme, the financial structure collapsed. At that point, the future survival of what had been a highly valued and respected company was thrown into question.
In one sales workshop I facilitated, the salespeople for a company that was a leader in the health care field were asking how they could compete against salespeople from another company who gave away extravagant gifts to customers. Their company did not permit such excessive gifts. I asked the salespeople to write down what they enjoyed most about their jobs and what they believed in. They cited the following as what they enjoyed most:
The look on a patient's face after treatment
Improving human quality of life
Working with people
The recognition that comes from working with the number-one company in the field
They said they believed that they had the product line that most effectively helps people enjoy their lives again.
These responses mirrored their company's mission. When salespeople are this closely aligned with their company's mission, they know they are making valued contributions, and it allows them to sell consistent with their beliefs.
When speaking with a doctor who might look for expensive gifts, this company's salespeople can set themselves apart by providing a copy of their mission and explaining what they believe in (helping people achieve quality of life, for example). They plant a question in the doctor's mind about a company that feels compelled to use lavish gifts to win customer loyalty rather than the quality of their products.
This company's products and services stand on their own. This is positioning. It means placing your company and yourself in customers' minds as people who believe in what they are doing, believe in the quality and benefits of the products and services they offer, and believe in working with customers in the most ethical manner. The salesperson can even use a statement such as, "If that sounds like the way you like to work, we can work together to help your patients and your practice." If the customer says yes, this is the kind of customer the salesperson would want to work with. If the answer is not an unqualified yes, the salesperson should go on to the next customer. This approach is, in effect, a way of testing whether you have a common set of values with customers and whether they would be a good fit with you and your company.
Avoid any possibility of your integrity being questioned. The consequences of a loss of integrity can be severe, such as loss of business or loss of an account, and it can take an incredible amount of resources to try to recover. It was reported that Enron's board suspended their code of ethics for a short time to allow the company to complete certain financial transactions that otherwise would have been in conflict with their policy. The board's unusual action in and of itself threw suspicion onto other business policies, hampering the company's ability to continue to function normally.
Most of the sales leaders I've had the opportunity to work with are not the types who act in haste. They tend to find out the facts, look at options, and then act in a considered manner. Their composure leads others to feel a similar level of confidence. They don't overreact. They don't underreact. They tend not to fly off the handle, saying things that they know they would come to regret or that could seriously undermine their credibility with customers.
Different people react differently to the same problem, depending on what they think or feel about it. Most of the sales leaders I've met exemplified the best of all possible attitudes: unafraid of challenges, not put off by circumstances they didn't like, and respectful of their customers. Sales leaders must unhesitatingly demonstrate the attitude they expect from others on their team. They thrive on crises because they are opportunities to model the right attitude.
Sales leaders strive to rise to the occasion. They know that when times are at their worst, they have to be their best. Stability helps them be their best. While they may be composed and in control, they are not without emotions. Those emotions can galvanize them into action and help them persuade others to follow suit.
Their emotions may relate to the work at hand (getting the best quality or meeting a deadline, for example) or the people involved in the situation (being empathetic and supportive, for example). Stability helps a ship stay afloat when buffeted by high winds and seas. Effective leaders call on a similar strength.
" When I have to make an important decision, I've learned to ask myself two questions: ‘What is in my best interests?' and ‘What is in the best interests of my family?'"
- Stuart Rosenstein, Ph.D.
Frank Digioia is the president of FORT Productions, a multimillion-dollar video production company. His company has grown dramatically. When I asked him what he's learned about success over the decade that he has had his company, he said, "One important thing I've learned about success is that when you think you've arrived and you think it's going to get easier, you're going to work just as hard to maintain it. It's just that the work is different. It might be customer service; it might be team issues."
I also asked him what advice he would give to people who would like to increase their sales by a quantum leap. He said, "They can't expect it to happen overnight. It happens from a series of fundamentals executed over time. I constantly see new salespeople who go into sales and see the money someone made but don't see what the person did to get there. Salespeople need to overcome the ‘biorhythms of sales.' The winners plough through the slump. When they are at the top of their game, they are out working with the customers. When they are not at the top of their game, they are getting ready to be."
It is most important to maintain your composure. People are looking to you as the role model. Despite whatever concerns you might have, you need to remain calm. People will use your tone of voice and your body language to assess how composed you are. Give them reasons to be confident.
Communicate with people firsthand, whether that entails group or individual meetings. Candidly answer questions, but don't convey a sense of panic. Instead, work to convey assurance. Assess the situation. Ask others for their assessment and recommendations. Avoid knee-jerk reactions. Be measured in your responses. Work with your team to develop a plan. Look at options and assumptions.
Don't procrastinate making a decision if one is needed. Move ahead and then, if necessary, revise your strategy as more information becomes known. Decide whether the situation calls for a unilateral decision on your part or for a consensus approach. You may need to move between both types of decisions - for example, by unilaterally deciding to ask a team to use a consensus approach in arriving at a decision.
Be empathetic. If you don't feel the same concern that others do, at least try to understand in your own way what they are feeling and let them know that their feelings are valid. It's human to have emotions, and you can show them in an appropriate way.
How are you successful as a sales leader? You probably care a great deal about what you do and why you do it. Sure, you probably like to make money. But if you could make all the money you could ever want but felt unfulfilled and bored, how long do you think it would be before you would decide to do something else that made you feel challenged and significant? Exceptional sales leaders have a personal mission and a purpose for what they do that rises above the ordinary. Their goals are aligned with that mission.
A purpose is a constant in the midst of ever-changing objectives. If you remain focused on it, you will achieve meaningful objectives. Purpose is like an engine, providing power and propulsion. Goals and objectives provide direction and a destination. We need both.
What do you care about? To what lengths would you go to demonstrate it? Are you doing what you care about?
It is hard to imagine anything great being accomplished without someone caring a great deal about accomplishing it. The depth of your devotion to a goal or purpose will determine how energetically you tackle problems. It will determine your enthusiasm and that of others you want to influence to join you in your effort. It will determine your ability to persevere when you face setbacks.
For example, when you care about something, you won't easily settle for no as an answer, whether that is winning a tough sale or leading a challenging project. You become creative, looking for solutions instead of looking for excuses. You get others excited. You accomplish the impossible. Think about what you care about. What have you always enjoyed doing? What do you dream about? What gets you excited? If you don't know, make it your goal to find out. Read, talk to others, follow your curiosity, and trust your instincts.
In a popular movie, one of the lead actors says toward the end, "The Greeks didn't write obituaries. They just asked, ‘Did he have passion?'" That struck me as meaningful, regardless of whether the Greeks actually wrote obituaries or not. Living without passion is like living without life. There isn't much excitement, there isn't much sparkle, and there isn't much to look forward to. So why wouldn't it be a good idea to assess the sum of our lives by assessing how much passion we had about what we did, who we were, or what we lived for? From time to time I see newspaper stories about people who were outstanding in their lives, people who did things that made them memorable. Their acts might have set records or simply have modeled unselfishness. In each case, there is usually an element of greatness about how they lived and who they were.
Movies entertain, but they often communicate a message. I especially like the ones that are based on true stories or are inspirational, and I've seen some that are particularly applicable for people who want to be sales leaders. The movie Music of the Heart offers a good example of what a difference passion can make. It is based on the true story of a woman whose passion for music helped her to achieve not only her immediate goal of landing a job, but to inspire students to find greatness in themselves and parents to creatively work together to save a school music program. Another is Mr. Holland's Opus. One more movie to see is Rudy, based on a true story about a boy who dreams of going to Notre Dame and playing on their football team, which seems like an impossible dream because everyone says he is too small to play. These movies inspire because they're about people who accomplished a great deal because they cared a great deal.
"If I were to see myself the way you see me, I would have to retire."
- Steven Spielberg
Sustain your success by always acting with integrity, maintaining stability, and acting consistently with the values that best serve your company and your customers.