At the last NTSAA 403(b) Summit in Las Vegas, one of the speakers put me on the spot. When I couldn’t come up with the answer he was looking for, he jokingly told me not to go into sales.
“I’m sorry,” he apologized afterward, “I was just messing with you.”
No apologies necessary. He was right. The last time I tried sales was a summer job in college with a coffee service company. Their marketing approach was to have a rep go into a workplace and set up the system for two days free, then have the same rep come in and close the sale.
I was great at giving away free coffee; not so much at the other part.
As irony would have it, I’ve spent a good part of my career editing and writing for publications aimed at salespeople. And during that time I was constantly encountering a philosophy that can be summed up as something like, “No” isn’t a rejection; it’s simply a deferred “yes.”
That never made any sense to me. Whenever I heard “no,” I always heard, “Sorry, pal, not gonna happen. Whatever you’re selling, I’m not buying. Not now, not ever. Adios.”
But then, probably sometime between that NTSAA speaker’s rejection of me and his apology, I had a revelation. An epiphany. Basically, it goes like this: Optimists can sell; pessimists can’t. When optimists hear “no,” they think: “Okay, maybe not this time. Maybe not you. But sooner or later, either you’ll say yes, or some other guy will. It’s just a matter of time and effort.”
So that explained it. The reason I suck at sales is that I’m just a glass-half-empty kind of guy.
Phillip Broughton, author of The Art of the Sale: Learning From the Masters About the Business of Life (Penguin Group, USA, 2012), likens successful sales people to baseball players, who spend most of their professional time striking out. And yet they keep stepping up to the plate.
“That’s why you’ve got to be really optimistic and tenacious,” Broughton told NPR’s Scott Simon recently. “It’s a career in which you’re rejected many more times than you’re accepted. Lots of really good salesmen thrive on that. At some point there’s going to be a triumph, and that triumph validates everything they do.”
None of this will come as news to 403(b) advisors. What might come as news, however, is that, according to Broughton, you can get an MBA at Harvard Business School and never even get near a course in selling or salesmanship. “Many supposedly well-educated people in the business world,” he says, “are clueless about one of its most vital functions, the means by which you actually generate revenue.”
I’m not sure where most of the successful sales people who attended that NTSAA Summit learned their trade. Maybe it was all on-the-job-training. Maybe it was swapping ideas and war stories with colleagues. Maybe (I hope) some of it came from reading magazines like 403(b) Advisor. Wherever they learned it, they couldn’t learn the basic outlook that makes their glass always half full. I think you have to be born with that.
Steve Sullivan is editor of 403(b) Advisor magazine. He lives in Baltimore, Md.
Category: Member Focus