What My Second Sales Manager Taught Me About Self Discipline and Sales

Meet the New Boss

Very early in my career in sales, I had a sales manager who, without meaning to, taught me a lot about sales. After I was hired, she marched into my office with one of her minions, and she dropped to small stacks of paper on my desk. The first stack was her “client list,” the second stack was the minion’s “client list.” Each list contained about 600 company names.

The company was a small company, and since it was my family’s business, I was pretty sure that we went serving 1,200 clients. I was new in my role, and knowing that in a family business the special treatment you receive is higher expectations and longer work hours, I was not going to rock the boat.

The number seemed shockingly high to me. Could we really being doing so well? I asked: “Wow! We have 1,200 clients?” My new sales manager said: “No. These aren’t our clients. These are the companies that we are calling on.”

Looking at the list, it was very clear that they had cherry-picked every major, known prospect in the territory and hand wrote a list. I was young and I didn’t know any better, so I asked: “You mean you have made sales calls on all of these prospects? That is amazing!” My new boss responded in a tone that assured me that I wasn’t either winning friends or influencing people. She said: “No. We haven’t called on all of them, but we are going to.”

Leaving the office, she informed me that I was simply to check the lists to ensure that I never called on any of the prospects (which she optimistically called “clients”) on either list. I was young, I was new in my role, and I wasn’t about to make waves. I took a look at the long lists, believing that the best prospective clients had already been taken, and decided I would have to find another way.

Two Attributes That Ensure Success

Fortunately, I possessed two attributes that help to ensure success in sales (or anything else): I was ridiculously naïve, and I was even more ridiculously self-disciplined.

I found a tiny, poorly ventilated office where I could shut the door. I opened the white pages to the business section. I started dialing the first company beginning at the letter A. I skipped churches and I skipped gas stations, but I called everyone who might have even a remote need for our service. I stated dialing at 8:00AM and I only stopped at 12:00 noon for lunch. When I returned to the office from lunch at 1:00PM, I called again until 5:00PM.

Almost every call I made was a complete waste of time. I wasn’t good at telemarketing, and the people I spent my time calling didn’t buy what I sold. Mostly. In between hundreds of worthless calls, an occasional gem would appear. I would sometimes find someone who used a service like ours, and I would schedule an appointment.

When I drove to the location of the prospective client to call on them, I recorded all of the company names on the streets I took to get there and to get back. When I got back to the office, I checked them against the list. Each week, I found new prospective clients that weren’t as well known as the ones on the list I had been given. As it turns out, there were dozens of prospects that were off the beaten path (not visible from the freeways and not known to everyone) who used our services and who weren’t being called on by every one of our competitors.

A few months in, on a street that was hidden and one in which you would have very little reason to ever travel (unless you were calling on everybody!), I found two enormous prospects and won both of them.

Long story short, within 6 months my production matched my sales manager’s. Within 12 months it matched my sales manager’s and her minion’s combined. Within 18 months they both left, discouraged.

I was still in the White Pages and just getting to the letter M when they left.

Without meaning to, my second sales manager taught me a lot of great lessons about succeeding in sales.

Three Lessons

The Value of Self-Discipline: I have personally done it. I have seen it done by others. A salesperson with the iron self-discipline to focus their efforts on tasks that others find unpleasant almost invariably produce better results than a salesperson with greater skills who avoids these same tasks. I know that it is out of fashion, but self-discipline, not technology, is the key to outworking and outselling your competition.

It’s Not the Land, It’s the Man (or Woman): It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that someone else’s territory is better. But the reality is that you gain nothing by wishing you had a better territory. Instead, develop a plan to systematically call on every prospect in your territory to develop it for all it is worth. More likely than not, there are hidden gems in your territory, but getting to them requires that you dig.

Prospecting Is Job One: To grow your sales, you need to first produce opportunities. These opportunities come to you as the direct result of your prospecting efforts. Unless you are making a sales call or handling an existing client issue, your time is best spent prospecting.

Conclusion

It is easy to believe that you with a better territory you can produce better sales results. Much of the time, the territory is far better than you imagine, but discovering that fact means spending your time prospecting. Self-discipline is the master key to success in sales; it provides the ability to make the calls and to undertake the tasks that other find unpleasant, but that ultimately produce results.

Questions

  1. How much better results could you produce simply by improving your self-discipline and your focus?

  2. Have you systematically identified and developed all of the opportunities in your existing territory?

  3. Are you willing to outwork your competitors who, more than likely, avoid cold calling and prospecting?

  4. Are you always prospecting, capturing the names and locations of companies in your territory as you go from appointment to appointment?




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