The bookstores and the internet are chock-full of easy ways to change your life. 7 steps to eternal happiness; how to be rich quickly; lose 30 pounds by next week. Unfortunately, this illusion seems to have infected the brains of many of the students in my sales and speaking classes. They think that a couple days of training will unlock the secrets of excellence. Once they punch the appropriate training ticket they now know how to do it.
Here’s a dirty little secret about my training, or anyone else’s training: You will not be an excellent speaker or salesperson just because you took my course. (Please don’t spread that around—it’s bad for business.)
Don’t get me wrong— training in both fundamental and advanced skills can quickly take you from average to pretty good. And sometimes pretty good is good enough, depending on your competition. But to reach excellence, which I define very loosely as having a rare level of skill that makes your presentations eagerly anticipated and long-remembered, takes much more than a training session.
In Part 3 of this series, we saw that there are many different ways to express the value of our offering beyond simply reducing our customers’ costs. In other words, our solutions generally solve a wider range of problems than we give them credit for. In this case, problems are a good thing, because they also expand the range of potential beneficiaries of our solutions.
Every business problem impacts someone in the organization; the people most impacted are the problem owners. This is an important definition. The problem charged with solving the problem is not the owner—it’s the one who suffers if the problem is not solved. For example, the VP of Sales may be concerned about decreasing margins, so she asks the Director of Training to find a course that will teach salespeople to better sell value. The Training Director may be asked to solve the problem by recommending or choosing a course, but in the end the VP of Sales feels the pain of decreasing margins and owns the business results to be generated from the purchasing decision.
I didn’t start my career wanting to be a salesperson, or to be in the business of persuasion at all. In fact, I wanted to have as little to do with selling as possible, so I got a degree in finance and went to work for a commercial bank in south Florida where I could happily crunch numbers without having to have much to do with people. At that time the banking industry was very heavily regulated, so we didn’t have to compete too hard for customers. In fact, we joked that banking was subject to the “3-6-2” rule—pay 3% on deposits, lend it out at 6%, and hit the golf course every day at 2.
In an unfortunate masterpiece of poor timing, I entered the industry just before Congress passed a whole new set of laws deregulating the financial industry, which soon forced clueless hotshots like myself to go out into the real world and try to bring in customers. I had to figure out how to sell, and quickly. I had no formal sales training and no way to differentiate my product (what’s more of a commodity than money?). But, because I like to eat and have a roof over my head, I went out and gave it a go. I’m sure I made every mistake in the book but gradually I got better at it, although with no method or systematic approach.
One day this all changed.