9 Selling Truths I'd Teach My Younger Self

My hair is now gray, and these are the 9 selling truths I’d teach my younger self. Professional selling began for me 26 years ago. I was 24, had a baby on the way and my family figured I’d starve.

Gratefully, I now have lots of wins and losses under my belt, and I’m still in the game. Given the luxury of a time machine, the ideas below are what I’d share with my younger self.

The order is open to debate, and that’s why there are no numbers. My selling truths to pass on, along with a few suggested to read, are:

Prospect Daily

There is no substitute for consistent activity. It doesn’t matter if you call it cold calling, prospecting or whatever; do it every day and the seeds you plant will grow.

Fanatical Prospecting: The Ultimate Guide to Opening Sales Conversations and Filling the Pipeline by Leveraging Social Selling, Telephone, Email, Text, and Cold Calling

In the book, Jeb Blount advocates the “Golden Hour.” Use this whether you are in the field or working in the office smiling and dialing. Protect it, look forward to it and stay focused because it is like mining for gold.

Disqualify More Than You Qualify

A hard selling truth to grasp early in your career is disqualifying. Like many things in life when you’re getting started, any interest fuels excitement. As you gain experience, it becomes clear that time spent gathering information and asking questions save a lot of time later.

When you ask questions, confirm understanding and probe deeply, you will avoid wasting time on tire kickers and price shoppers.

Get to Know a Finance Guy

Every good sales person I know understands the rigor of finance. A lot of average salespeople I know look at the bottom line of their commission statement, pay no attention to the detail and get back to “building relationships.”

Relationships are important, but financially sound deals and offers are better for you, your company and your customer.

For the younger me, the relationship part was easy because I was a bartender in college. Add to that a biochemistry degree, and I had what I needed to do well talking with doctors. What I didn’t have was experience studying schedules and ledgers.

Trust me; your Finance guy can help you with this stuff. Oh, and be kind to Marketing, too.

There is a Time When No Response Means No

We’ve all heard it. “I’ll call you back.” Or, “Leave me some literature, and we’ll be in touch.” When I was younger, I wish I’d have followed up with questions of my own.

Qualifying after a request for information or a call back brush off is a good strategy. Ask the person when they will call you back and what made them request some literature.” Once you have those answers, you’re nudging a little closer.

And if not, and they don’t call back or follow-up within a week or so. Call again. Still the same in a week? Call again. Still? Call one last time. After that, put them on your automated marketing list and wait for something to change.

That doesn’t mean to give up forever. Only for now. Let your marketing team go to work and see if things soften up for you to create a win in the future.

A Bird-In-The-Hand Really Can Be Worth Two-In-The-Bush – Solving the Hunter and Farmer Dilemma

Customer churn is the bane of any rep’s existence. The Hunter or Farmer metaphor is an old saw that needs to be put on the shelf and here’s why.

I started hunting as an adult. I only hunt upland birds, I don’t do it too often, and when I do, it’s fun. When I learned how to hunt pheasants, it was on a farm in South Dakota. I had the opportunity to get to know the farmer who served as our hunting guide, I admired how he respected his land, and all that it provided.

During one ride between hunting fields, he told me about how he traded commodities to hedge his crop harvest. I had tried that once as a speculator and my attempts to corner the coffee bean market were misguided and abject failures. He made it sound easy, did it well and used it for the intended purpose of the financial instrument.

As I visited more farms around South Dakota to hunt, I did not meet a farmer who didn’t hunt. I asked one guy about my observation, and he just shrugged. After a few moments of thought, he said, “I guess we all want to get out of our land as much as we can. And, it’s pretty fun!”

So, I’d advise my younger self to avoid becoming too focused on finding new customers only to neglect the ones you have. The churn treadmill is exhausting. Please trust me; I am still keenly aware of this one.

Passion and Enthusiasm Coupled with Activity Win Deals

Passion and enthusiasm can take you a long way in sales, and they cover a lot of sins. You don’t have to know the most about your product, the customer or the market if your passion is evident and your enthusiasm contagious.

What’s also true is that you may not use it to avoid the crushing effects of a continued lack of activity. So, Younger Self, go out and hit it every day like it’s your only day. The old saying, “There’s no time like the present,” is true in sales.

A former mentor, Brian Reinkensmeyer, used always to ask me when I said I was going to do something, “When are you going to do that, Joel?” No matter what I said, he emphatically replied, “Today!” He was a good teacher, and I still think of that advice often.

Treat Your Territory Like It’s Your Own Business

Another way to think about this is to spend the company’s money only as you would spend your own. A corollary to this is, use your work time as you would if you were paying your salary.

Circling back to the friendly finance guy, pay attention to the metrics indicating the health of your business. Ask your manager what metrics she studies and for her KPI’s. Knowing this will help her look good, and you learn about the health of your company. Also, assist with delinquent accounts to collect payments, and everybody wins.

Because after all, if you own your own business, it’s all about cash flow, baby!

Take Care of Your Body and Your Mind

My commitment to physical fitness was sporadic from 25 – 43. I almost always ran a few miles a day, drank too much and fell prey to the fast food grab after a morning spent selling in the operating room. Before I knew it, I was chubby, lethargic and borderline hypertensive.

In late 2009, I made a commitment to exercise. I began going to a Lifetime Fitness near my house, have rarely missed a day since then and have gotten to know a wonderful group of men. Of all of these, this one is near the top of importance to me.

As far as the mind, Mr. Reinkensmeyer taught me on that one, too. He suggested that I read Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill and I did. It changed my life because I then started buying motivational tape series to listen to while driving. Think and Grow Rich

Younger Self, be kind with how you talk to yourself. Mistakes happen, deals fall through, and people reject you. It’s easy to beat yourself up and I urge you to banish those thoughts quickly!

The important things to strive for are perseverance, integrity, and resilience. Focus on those and all will be well.

Customers Buy Value, Not Friends

The final selling truth, Younger Self, is customers buy value, not friends. There will come a day when the customer you thought was your friend chooses to do business with someone else. There will be many valid reasons that make this happen. When it does, remember, you still must find a way to provide value – friend or not!

I am not suggesting you can’t be friends with customers. You may and you should because it can make your work fun, too. My advice is to have a life outside of your job, hang around with people whose interests and values are similar to yours and enjoy the fruits of your labors.


  1. Jim Witty on March 17, 2017 at 6:48 pm

    Enjoyed the article. Well said.

  2. Andy on March 21, 2017 at 10:53 am

    Wish I knew all this when I was 20!

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