Sell with Courage

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.”

Winston S. Churchill

It takes remarkable courage to confront large prey and even more to defend your Pride from the pursuit of another lion seeking to overthrow you. This is one of the elements I admire most about the lion – the real courage shown when it matters most.

In the Wizard of Oz, the Cowardly Lion desires to go to the Emerald City in order to ask the Wizard for courage. Throughout their journey to Oz, the challenge with the lion’s timidity appears again and again. But when they arrive in Oz and the lion finally gets to ask for his courage, he finds out that he had it all along. The lion simply needed to reach inside of himself and recognize the courage that was already there.

There are far too many leaders in name only. Instead of exhibiting true courage, they, instead are a lot more like the Cowardly Lion. They make a lot of noise, roaring here and there, but fail to exhibit true leadership, true courage. They hide behind their desks and excuses, failing to do the real work. They begin to act a lot like the hyenas you’ll read about in the next chapter. This is a fact and it makes me both weary and fearful for our future generations. Leaders without courage operate solely out of intimidation and fear but fail to operate with real integrity. They won’t “man up” when it really counts.

While I realize what you are about to read smacks a bit of sexism, but I challenge you to read this as I intend it. Real leadership, whether the leader is male or female, requires critical skills and all too often I find these skills lacking in business leaders, government leaders, as well as in community leaders. Leadership is far more than having great oratory skills and it’s more than just stomping your foot and threatening when you don’t get your way. Real leadership requires courage.

Real sales champions are not just sales professionals; sales champions are leaders. Their leadership exhibits real courage in how they do their job, how they lead customers to make the right decisions, and how they perform under pressure. This is why some of the great leaders I admire rose from the sales ranks. Executives like Carly Fiorina, formerly of HP, Anne Mulcahy, retired CEO of Xerox, Bill McDermott, current CEO of SAP and former sales great, and others are profiles in courage and real leadership.

Learn to Act as If

Every sales champion understands this principle: “Act as if.” This principle challenges the champion to act according to where they want to be, not where they are at the present moment.

Let me explain.

When a sales champion is calling on a business owner or, more intimidating than that, a Chief Executive Officer of a Fortune 500 company, he understands that you have to act the part. If you act as if you don’t belong in the office with this owner or CEO, then you don’t and you won’t, for long. To succeed, however, you must recognize that this owner or CEO is looking for solutions to real problems and you hold the answer. You have the solutions they need and they are looking to you to be bold and assertive in identifying where the challenges and problems are and providing a real solution for them. If you aren’t prepared or willing to do that, you need to simply go home.

It takes real courage to act as if. Not every sales person I’ve met has what it takes to act the part. I understand why. It’s scary and intimidating. It’s not for the faint of heart. That’s why there is a real difference between sales professionals and sales champions. Sales champions are prepared and have the intestinal fortitude to act as if. They have the courage even when they may be a little fearful inside.

When you have the courage to push through your fear and act as if, others recognize the boldness. People respond to those who are courageous enough to put themselves out there and act as if until they become. This is why sales champions get results – real results consistently.

Over-Commit AND Over-Deliver

You’ve heard your boss say this as well as countless others: “Under-promise and over-deliver.” On paper that sounds good. It sounds reasonable that you want to set the bar low and excel far beyond what you promised. But, really? Have we sunk that far that we are unwilling to raise the bar and then strive to exceed those expectations?

Frankly I’m tired of individuals and companies who set the proverbial bar low in an effort to over-achieve and “wow” the customer. When I’m the customer, I want you to really wow me. Don’t give me milk-toast expectations that you know you can do in your sleep. Set the bar of expectation at such a point that there is absolutely no way the competition can really compete.

Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not suggesting you promise something that there is no hope of the customer every actually receiving. That is plain and simple dishonesty. What I’m referring to is simply elevating your game. Choose to do what your competition can’t or won’t do and then do everything in your power to even out perform yourself. This is a delicate and difficult balance but it truly can be achieved.

Annually I raise the bar on my sales teams. Regardless the quota that is established for me as the Director of Sales, my objective is to challenge my teams to over-perform what would normally be expected. I learned long ago that quota is minimal expectation for the job; exceeding quota is what needs to happen. Quota pays the bills; over-achievement puts money in the bank.

The same is true with your customers. When you set a high standard of expectation and consistently meet or exceed that high expectation, you are elevating their expectations of anyone else who might desire to compete for their business. It can be a significant blow to the confidence of a competitor when he or she comes to the realization that competing with you is a futile experience.

Leave Your Paw Prints Behind

A lion has massive paws. Imagine being struck by one of them, let alone by the claws within those huge paws! But consider this: Have you ever heard of a lion wiping away its paw prints so the trail can’t be discovered? As ludicrous as that sounds, it bears an important principle for sales champions. Leave a trail of prints behind.

I’ve had those who insist that leaving your business card, a marketing piece or even signing in at the guest registry of an office should never be done. They argue that doing so leaves a signal to your competition that you were there. Essentially they are suggesting that we should never be seen until it’s too late. While I love the element of surprise – my competitor finding out that I captured the account after the fact – I, frankly, don’t give a damn. My competitors will never outwork me nor will they operate with the same tenacity or persistence that I bring to the table. Frankly I would be surprised if they found out I was there in the first place until it was too late.

Like a lion’s paw prints, the trail of prints you leave behind need to strike fear in the hearts and minds of those who intend to compete with you. This requires real courage and, unfortunately too many sales professionals and businesses prefer to not exhibit that type of courage.

There are people and companies alike who say, often with pride, that they want to fly under the radar. While I understand this concept to an extent, it is clearly a wrong and misguided philosophy. Any opportunity you miss to rattle your competition, to strike fear and uneasiness in their heads, is huge. Your missed opportunity is simply another chance for your competition to gain some boldness, some courage, and you simply can’t afford that kind of risk.

What kind of paw prints can you leave behind? Here are a few ideas that I’ve already addressed but they are worth repeating:

  • Eliminate Obscurity — As I shared with you previously, obscurity is one of your major threats. As long as you are not known across the market space, you are not gaining any traction. You must eliminate this as a threat to your future success. Be seen everywhere. Use social media to spread your message. Send regular email communication, such as e-newsletters and business ideas, to every email address you have. Get as active as humanly possible in different volunteer efforts within your community. Simply put: Everywhere your competition looks, as well as current and future customers, they need to see you!
  • Leave Your Mark — Provide usable, relevant items that have your name on them to your current and future customers. If you company is unwilling to do this, you need to do it yourself. Imagine for a moment that your competitor walks into a meeting with one of their current customers and in the customer’s hand is a coffee mug with your name on it. Mind blown! “Where else have you been,” they start thinking. It throws them off their game and distracts them. Send handwritten cards to everyone you speak with. Whether you meet with them in person or speak with them on the phone, follow up the same day with a handwritten card. Because this practice is so rare, many people proudly put the cards on their desk or their wall to be seen. If your logo is proudly printed on the card, especially with your name, your competition will see it. And they will begin to fear you.
  • Take Current and Future Customers to Lunch — This is a great strategy, especially with future customers, to use. Take them to lunch at a place where you will definitely be seen and, trust me, word will get around. I’m not suggesting you manipulate your future customers; this is truly to build the relationship with them and create opportunities to be in front of them. But when it strikes additional fear into your competition, it’s an extra bonus!
  • Over-Commit to Yourself — Just as I explained about over-committing and over-delivering to your customers, start over-committing to yourself. Have the courage to set goals that are truly going to stretch you and force you to go over and beyond normal expectations.

One of the main reasons I write out my goals every day is because this provides extra incentive to me to pursue my goals. I don’t operate from the principle of “out of sight, out of mind” when it comes to my goals; my goals are far too audacious for that. I set them high because I really want achieve at that level, but also because they drive me each and every day to excel beyond “normal expectations.”

Too many people, sales professionals in particular, set impotent goals – goals that give no rise (pun intended) to performance. They fear missing the mark and disappointing themselves, so they set “reasonable” goals. The problem is that this is, frankly, boring. When you set “reasonable” goals and achieve them, then what?

You are far more than you are giving yourself credit for. It’s time to grow a pair and start operating a level much higher than you have been. Until you do, you’ll never experience the kind of life you were created for.  So go for it!

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