In Sales it’s Never Maybe. Lessons from an Executive Turned Salesman

Published by the Nashville Business Journal

In sales “no” is way better than maybe. I learned this lesson quickly when, after 40 years in management and executive roles at two retail companies, I became a salesman for my own executive training program through the Scarlett Leadership Institute at Belmont University.

After meeting with small groups of CEOs and listening to what skills they wanted their upcoming leaders to have, we created the Signature Executive Program. Our mission was to influence the quality of business leadership in Middle Tennessee by building the skills of high-potential, upwardly mobile business leaders. An easy sell, right?

At first it was. With a built-in customer base of 35 CEOs who helped shape the initial program it wasn’t difficult to get the first class off the ground. However we soon realized that growth requires a strong, sustained sales effort — and thick skin.

Despite knowing our target audience, easily connecting with the right people and understanding the salesperson’s proven success model — fulfilling every customer’s needs accurately, quickly and with a smile — I quickly realized that the buyer still has all the power.

In my previous job I was in the pole position. I led people, built teams, set direction and held my direct reports accountable — typical executive responsibilities. Now, as a salesperson, I was on the other side.

Response earns respect
My transition from executive to part-time salesman was interesting, enlightening and often frustrating. I worked diligently to fill classes, making scores of calls and then waiting for decisions and return calls. Sometimes I would hear back, and other times there was simply no response at all.

My biggest lesson in this new role was a simple but profound one: What salespeople most need is a clear response. So my request, advice, recommendation (plea if you will) on behalf of salespeople everywhere is, quite simply, to respond to us. Don’t ignore us. Return calls. Even a straightforward “no” is better than nothing at all.

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