MISPLACED CONFIDENCE AND MY JOURNEY INTO SALES
Everyone sells and needs to make a living, but you desperately also want to make a difference. Leadership and politics are simply sales and negotiation in a social context. No one can succeed as a leader unless they can positively influence or—put another way—unless they can sell. But few do this masterfully, and even fewer drive the necessary levels of intelligent activity to fill their opportunity pipeline.
This is the true story about confidence and how I landed in a sales career 30 years ago. I had been living in Los Angeles for 18 months, after selling my previous company in Australia, which had dominated the local market. I was confident about my new international business venture and convinced that I was going to be a gazillionaire by the time I was 30.
In hindsight, I should have remembered my flying instructor Peter's words when he sent me solo in a Cessna three years earlier. He asked what I thought being confident meant. I said something about skills and experience. He shook his head soberly, "No. Confidence is the feeling you have...just before you understand the real situation. Most dead pilots were wrongly confident. Don't be one of them." He went on to describe the combinations of things that conspire against all pilots. Wasps in instrument tubes, water in fuel, weather, haste, miscommunication—the list was extensive. His advice later saved my life.
Throughout my flying career, I followed his advice and always flew looking for somewhere I could glide to in the event of an engine failure. When I lost my engine above a pine forest in my aerobatic biplane, I had already identified my landing zone, and that enabled me to walk away alive.
Two years after the plane crash, I was living in Los Angeles. Starting a business from scratch in a foreign country was tough, but I was determined...and very naive. It was my 25th birthday when the phone rang. It was my stepdad, and I jumped in, "Thanks for calling to wish me happy birthday!" Silence, then choked words, "I'm sorry mate, your mum is in a bad way. It's liver cancer—there's nothing they can do."
Some believe that bad things come in threes; others may tell you that things can't get any worse. They're dead wrong. My mother died seven weeks later at age 42 in our family home in Sydney. I had returned home to be with her up until the end. Within a week of her death, my sister's relationship with our stepfather, already fractured, broke completely and they would never speak again. Grief-struck and shattered, she imploded and was hospitalized. Our dog was run over and killed. My car was stolen. Then my stepfather went out on his first social outing and got into a fight over something trivial with, of all people, a man who had been at my mother's funeral. They argued, went outside, and as they grappled and fell to the ground my stepfather put him in a headlock and squeezed too hard and for too long. Anger simmers within raw grief, as Johnny Cash knew. My stepdad came home and woke me saying he'd done something bad. The police arrived two hours later and took him away to be interviewed. He was eventually charged with murder. I later testified in court...relationship over.
In the weeks that followed, our biggest customer in the United States went bankrupt. Then we discovered a large multinational corporation, a trusted partner, had stolen our designs and was manufacturing a copy of our product in a country where we had no patent protection. They fired their manager who had signed a letter of intent with us and introduced their team of in-house lawyers—17 of them! To cap it off, our joint-venture manufacturer in California filed for bankruptcy protection.
I'd already gone icy cold to cope with my grief and the knocks that followed. My business and family had disintegrated, and my wife decided she'd also had enough. She left me...marriage over. I didn't even resist; there was just numbness. My final card to play was my conclusion that God was not worth following—not a good state of mind when you still believe He exists. I was no Job from the Old Testament who steadfastly held to his beliefs, but I was never able to be an atheist like my dad.
With the failure of my U.S. business and the fact that I needed to stay in Sydney to be there for my sister and stepfather, I considered my options for generating an income. The 12-year royalty contract I had signed when we sold the Australian business meant that I could not compete in the same industry during that period, so I needed to do something different. One of the big lessons I learned in America was that you personally had to be able to sell if you wanted to make it as an entrepreneur or businessperson. I confronted the realization that I was not very good. Time for a reboot.
It was in this depressed state that I decided to learn how to sell. WTF! Yes, Wow That's Fantastic! I knew I needed to develop my sales skills if I was to go to the next level as an aspiring entrepreneur, so I secured a job selling radio paging in the mid 80s. Think Twitter on a device the size of a deck of playing cards before cellular phones were available. This was just before the first Wall Street movie with Michael Douglas, and you had to phone a call center for someone to type your message into a mainframe. That sounds crazy today, but it was revolutionary at the time.
I'm really not sure why they hired me because I had no real sales experience. Two colleagues bet money on how long it would be before I was fired. I wasn't very good, but I worked harder than anyone else and I had a sales manager who believed in me. Keith rode with me one day a week and resisted the urge to save a sale that I was screwing up with my uncertain language, closed questions, and lack of belief in myself and the value of what we offered. But I improved quickly because I was coachable, reading every book and listening to every recording I could lay my hands on. My only nonnegotiable in pursuing success was my integrity: I promised myself that I'd never sell anyone something that was not in their own best interest.
***** TABLE OF CONTENTS *****
INTRODUCTION: Fight Club and Knockout Commitments
1. Awful Truths That Can Set You Free
2. Earning the Right to Win
3. Building Your Platform
4. Executing Your COMBO Strategy
5. The Act of Personal Sales Leadership