Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The World of Sales - A FABULOUS Profession

An amazing week. Let me describe the scene Thursday in the waiting room. Surgery was 4 ½ hours. Mom is 79 years old. In the room were almost a dozen family members. Every time the door opened we held our breath with anticipation.

The doctor walked in, breezed past my father-in-law without even looking at him, and talked to a couple of my sisters-in-law. His demeanor was intense, without a smile on his face. His first words were about how difficult the surgery was and how there was so much plaque that they had to spend extra time. We don’t remember all he said: we were just trying to read his body language and tone to prepare ourselves.

We all waited for the bad news. Interestingly, none came. The surgery was a success. After he delivered the message he quickly left the room. We all looked at each other, breathed a sigh of relief, cried a few tears and started hugging each other.

Fast forward 48 hours and I’m sitting in mom’s hospital room watching the TV show “House”. I’d never seen the show but, as you probably know, it is about a brilliant doctor who has a terrible bedside manner and just “tells it like it is”. Mom’s doctor could do well on this show.

Now consider The Office – my favorite sitcom. As I mentioned I watched a couple of episodes on the plane. The scenarios are just the opposite from the doctor/hospital shows. Instead of showcasing competent, hard working professionals, The Office depicts sales people who are basically inept, lazy, and non-functional in their roles.

It is funny but, as I thought about it, it dawned on me what I need to share! Doctors attend an enormous amount of schooling, work horrific hours, and have to compete for positions that create life/death situations for their customers. Many leave college with over $100,000 in student loans. But . . . there is a reverence for the title of “Dr.”.

Sales people, on the other hand, quite often are chosen because of their personality. Education and experience often have little to do with it. Unfortunately, the profession of sales isn’t appreciated in society as highly as the medical profession – even though top sales reps quite often earn a higher income than top physicians. And, more people will graduate from college and have a career in sales than all of the people who will enter the medical field each year!

Let's talk about those sales reps who DO earn a higher income than most physicians. Like good doctors, they study their profession. They understand rejection, know that professionalism is a must, and understand that their “bedside manner” will either earn them the sale or cost them the sale. They have confidence – but not arrogance. They know their product. They know their competition. They know what their prospect is going to say before they even walk in the door. And, like GOOD doctors, they build trust.

I believe sales is the greatest profession in the world. Remember, what you say and how you say it makes all the difference in the world. You’ll need to work hard at your craft and learn how to handle rejection – not the names of every body part and every new drug. What you can/will provide as a professional sales person will, without a doubt, be as honorable and professional as the doctors’ world.

You won’t have to pay malpractice insurance. You, most likely, won’t be in life or death situations. But you will, without a doubt, have to be as committed to your success as any other professional – regardless of how it is viewed in the media world.

I do want the credit without any of the blame” Michael Scott – The Office

Thursday, June 4, 2009

What will people remember about you?

Today I went to my good friend’s funeral. His name was Ken and he was 76 years young and, if memory serves me right, my first baseball coach when I was about 8 – just a short 47 years ago.

About nine months ago Mary Kay and I attended his daughter’s wedding and learned that he had pancreatic cancer. He had surgery for the disease June 3, 2008. Exactly one year later – to the day – he was buried.

He had six children that ranged in age from 56 – 18. Yes, 38 years apart. I went to school with his older children. Later in life he met Karen. I spent time with him as he dated and married this great woman who would give him two more girls and 20+ happy years of marriage.

Karen’s call last week wasn’t a surprise. Ken lived longer than many do with this dreaded disease. As I hung up the phone I thought back on that past five decades. He was more than a friend. He was a mentor.

I stood in line at the visitation for an hour before I reached the casket. I was amazed at the number of people who paid tribute – but not surprised.

Ken owned his own business and was financially very successful. We knew it but Ken never showed it. He was just Ken – this hard working, community-minded individual who, along with my dad, were the founding fathers of Rockford Lutheran High School in the 1960’s. Ken’s oldest son graduated from the school in 1971. Ken’s youngest daughter graduated from that same Rockford Lutheran last Friday.

Ken was an outstanding athlete until he was in his 60’s – playing with guys half his age . . .including his sons. We had a great group of guys who played volleyball together almost 30 years ago. Several of us gathered at the bar after the service to reminisce. In recent years Ken coached his youngest daughter’s volleyball team and traveled with her while she played club ball.

Our Ken stories were fun, full of laughs and tears, and revealed the passion that Ken had for life. The only thing missing was Ken, some liar’s poker dollar bills, and a couple pitchers of beer.

Between the laughter and the tears we talked about the passion this man had for everything he was involved with. Pastor Meggers, Ken’s close friend and Pastor, gave a heart-warming eulogy that talked about Ken’s passions in life, which included being a die-hard Cub’s fan! The Pastor’s words were healing. The memories were vivid. The tears were many.

At the funeral I sat next to one of my friends, Mark, who I hadn’t seen for 20 years. It seemed like time stood still as we told stories about our teachers back in the 1960’s at St. Paul Lutheran grade school. Even though Mark was two years older we shared similar memories. Mark’s brother was one of my best friends as a kid and our families were close.

I remember when Mark’s dad died. Mark was in 5th grade. That must have been about 1962. Mark talked about how Ken really became a surrogate father for him when that happened. Ken must have been about 29 or 30 then. Wow. Mark remembered how Ken hit ground balls and “scorching line drives” to him as Ken taught Mark how to play baseball when Mark was just a young kid.

When Mark was in his early 20’s he was working for Ken and found out that he had cancer. Mark explained how Ken gave him all the time he needed away from work for recovery. In fact, a “contribution from the church” came to help Mark and his family each month. Mark knew it was from Ken – but never let on.

The culmination of my day was a discussion I had with Ken’s 45-year old son, Paul, who took me back 10 years when Paul’s wife had a deadly-form of encephalitis. Paul called Ken explaining that his wife needed to get to Johns Hopkins the next day. The cost - $15,000 for the private jet and ambulance.

Ken, already retired, immediately told Paul to make the arrangements. For the next four months Paul stayed near the hospital as his wife was near death. Ken also spent a great deal of those four months with his son as Paul supported his wife. Here was a dad taking “emotional care” of his 35-year old son as Paul tried to keep his life together to support his wife.

She lived. Paul says his dad saved her life. Getting her to John Hopkins that day and getting her the right medical care made the difference.

This got me thinking. What is it that we do today that will be remembered tomorrow?

It has nothing to do with age. Ken was in his 20’s when Mark’s dad died and Ken stepped to the plate with Mark and his siblings . . .in his 40’s as he played volleyball with me . . . in his mid-60’s when he sat at John Hopkins with Paul and in his 70’s when he coached his teen-aged daughter’s volleyball team.

I only hope that everyone who reads this takes a life lesson and remembers what life is really about. Not work. Not money. It is about the memories we leave behind. What a legacy Ken left. What a lesson we all can learn.

I know how I want my kids and my colleagues to remember me – just like we remembered Ken today. Ken Nelson – I salute you . . . who you were and more importantly, who you are teaching the rest of us how to be.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

School is Over – Welcome to the Working World

In a recent blog on a recruiting site I was “dissed” by some professional recruiters because they felt I was being “too nice” to Gen Yers. Yes, it is true that I think yours in the next great generation. I also have espoused the fact that I believe that baby boomers and millennials basically have the same chromosomes. My goal in this blog is to give you some tips that I wish someone would have given me when I was looking for my first real job out of school.

Over the last month Eric Hipps, our 28-year old college recruiter, and I have spoken to 500+ students at the Delta Epsilon Chi convention in Anaheim, nearly 100 sales school students at the Russ Berrie Institute of Professional Sales at William Paterson University and over 100 more at the Pi Sigma Epsilon’s convention in Virginia Beach.

Our “Backpacks to Briefcases” presentation seems to resonate with all who hear it. Eric and I agree that this generation can and will change the world. We also agree, however, that there are a few things that recent college grads MUST do to have that chance to change it.

After the past couple months what I’ve experienced first hand is a whole lot of very talented people who are about to enter the work force. Yea for those of us who are looking to hire!

I spoke to my best friend late this week who is interviewing for sales reps. He is appalled by the lack of follow up and aggressiveness. With that in mind here are 10 quick tips that I hope you heed – regardless of what field you are exploring.

1. Find the right job. is one of the best places to look. Companies who advertise there, like we do at Valpak, know that we want to hire recent college grads.

2. Understand that you are now entering the most competitive job environment in decades. You MUST become competitive. Virtually everything I reads tells how tough it is going to be for many recent college grads to find a good job.

3. If you get a phone call from a recruiter or an employer and they leave a message – return the call as soon as possible. Chances are they are called 10 other people, too.

4. If they want to interview you – find the way to get there. Don’t tell them you are busy this week. They know you might be studying for finals. They are calling you because they have an opening NOW – and maybe not tomorrow.

5. Figure out what you are going to do to set yourself apart from the person who is interviewed before you and the one being interviewed after you. Our recruiting department looked at over 44,000 resumes in the first four months of the year. Experts tell us that each resume is looked at less than 30 seconds.

6. You only have one chance to make a good first impression. Ever. With you resume. With what you wear to the interview. With how you look. With the questions you ask. With anything and everything.

7. Learn as much about the company as you can before you go on the interview. Study their Web site. Google them.

8. Prepare a final question you want to ask the employer based on what you learned from your investigation of them. This should have NOTHING to do with pay, benefits, vacation, hours, etc. It should, instead, be focused on career pathing, having them describing their ideal candidate, etc.

9. At the end of the interview: CLOSE. Ask the hiring manager what you need to do to go to the next step of the process. Remember, this is step one. Close the next step.

10. Send a thank you note. Mail it right after your interview. E-mails are nice. Text messages are not. Thank you cards are magic.

Doing all of these things won’t guarantee that you will find a job. But, it will increase your odds and, with these competitive times, you need every advantage you can get!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Having the Vision of an Eagle

I don’t know when I fell in love with bald eagles. I know it was a long time ago – even before I was bald. Maybe because eagles are America’s symbol of freedom and are found on every dollar bill. Maybe because they are so majestic with a wingspan of up to 90”. Maybe because they mate for life.

My daughter made an eagle statue that sits in our bedroom. On the wall of my office is an original signed picture of an eagle’s head.

Until today I’ve never personally seen an eagle in flight. The only time I really saw an eagle was at the zoo. I was in awe at their size. I am in awe that they can soar at 10,000 feet at over 30 m.p.h. Everybody who really knows me can tell you that I am a magnet to any motivational poster that has an eagle on it.

Mary Kay and I came out of church today. We saw a lot of people with H U G E cameras parked on the side of the road. When we walked over to find out what was happening we found something that was awe-inspiring.

Babies. Two eaglets. There they were in this massive nest. The photographers told us that the nests can weight 1000 pounds. Then we saw the mom and the dad. (Apparently the female is slightly larger than the male – but we couldn’t tell) They were perched in opposite trees watching their young. The eaglets were huge – in six weeks they’ll almost be a large as their parents. I found later that they won’t have the “white bald eagle crest” until they are 4 or 5 years old – when they reach their sexual maturity as well.

Several people had cameras that looked like they were paparazzi cameras. One of the guys grabbed a pair of binoculars out of his truck so Mary Kay and I could get a closer look. Amazing. When one took off in flight everyone watched where he/she landed and took their cameras for a closer look. About 50 feet above us and just across the street perched this magnificent creature that became our national emblem in 1782!

You could see our national bird focus on something that could have been a mile away. According to . . . “The eagle can probably identify a rabbit moving almost a mile away. That means that an eagle flying at an altitude of 1000 feet over open country could spot prey over an area of almost 3 square miles from a fixed position.”

We starred as he/she took focus and then flew majestically to what we thought must have been some prey.

Vision. That was it. That is what always captured my heart – the vision of an eagle. Eagles always represented leadership to me. As Walt Disney said, “If you can dream it . . . you can do it.” Again, the vision of an eagle.

It reminded me of the Habitat for Humanity dedication Mary Kay and I attended yesterday. Valpak always give the new homeowner their first piece of mail – with a $100 check inside. Next month many of us from Valpak will work on a house that Valpak sponsors.

At the dedication the 30-year old mother of three talked about how her Habitat house will now provide a home . . . and stability . . . to her three young girls. One of the girls was so proud to show Mary Kay her new bedroom. After the dedication the mom told us how blessed she was. She said that even if she did lose her job she could work at McDonalds and still be able to provide her three girls a home in their Habitat house.

She has the vision of an eagle.

In two weeks Eric Hipps, our College Recruiter, and I will go to Anaheim for the National Delta Epsilon Chi convention. Over 1500 collegiates will be there. I’ll make sure I talk about vision. I’ll make sure I talk about dreams. I’ll make sure I talk about what Walt Disney said about vision and dreams. I’ll make sure to describe what I saw today.

I’ll encourage them to never give up. Regardless of the economy, regardless of the challenges, regardless what anyone else tells them. Why? Eagles soar with their keen vision trained on their next conquest. Just like all of us should do.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Making yourself MEMORABLE - what a week!

My best friend went on a job interview recently. It made me think of what is happening in the news these days and the staggering number of people who have recently found themselves out of work. As I thought of this I thought of the importance of making yourself memorable. It has been a memorable week.

Bernard Madoff obviously made himself very memorable this week. Memorable as a crook, a scoundrel, a cheat, a liar, a reason that people start to distrust everyone.

How sad. How despicable. How revolting that this man DESTROYED so many lives.

I watched some kid on Sports Center make a full-length court basket in a game . . . then do a similar feet a couple days later in practice. Amazing. Nice. Very memorable.

I saw a video about someone whose parents were told when he was a baby would never walk. He is now a young adult and walked all of the every hole of last year’s PGA tour. We cried as we watched it. Extremely memorable.

My fourth grandson, Ethan, was born on the 11th. Marcus flew back from military service in the Sinai Desert just in time as Carrie gave birth. What a memorable event for all of their (and our) lives!

While at the Charlotte airport connecting flights I met Bobby – one of the best servers I’ve ever seen. He just recently graduated from college and is looking for a sales job. I think he found one when he waited on Mary Kay and me. WOW. Without trying to impress us he just exuded confidence and charm. If he has the work ethic to match this charm he will have an amazing sales career. I want to hire you, Bobby!

While flying I reread the book “Live R. I. C. H. (Respect, Integrity, Customer Focus, Having Fun) – How to build success in your company and your life - with a proven Code of Values.” By Dina Dwyer-Owens, Chairwoman of the Dwyer Group. Dina is also Chairwoman of the International Franchise Association this year.

What a book! It is filled with stories about The Dwyer Group’s franchisees in their various brands – Mr. Electric, Mr. Rooter, Aire Serv Heating and Air Conditioning, Mr. Appliance, Glass Doctor, Rainbow International Restoration and Dream Maker Bath and Kitchen. Dina’s entire organization operates on a Code of Values that were originally started by her father when he founded the company in 1981.

Dina talks about her franchisees who made themselves very memorable by adhering to a Code of Value that not only propels their business – but also propels their lives. What Dina wrote will be memorable for generations to come for all of the people she featured in the book.

Here is what else I thought about after reading the book and thinking of how you can/should make yourself memorable.

It is true that the job market is not anything close to it was before. It will come back. These aren't comforting words for those looking for work unfortunately. But, if you are one of the people who is looking for work at this time please take this to heart – you can find a way to achieve your goals if you can find the way to make yourself memorable (in a positive way). Companies are still hiring – but they may be pickier than they were before.

You may be competing against more people than ever before. If this is the case, what are you doing to make sure that you stand head and shoulders above the rest? Think of these areas:

+ Your dress
+ Your enthusiasm
+ Your follow up
+ Your thank you note
+ Your professionalism during the interview

Now is the time to take control and make a difference – not only for the companies you are interviewing with but also for yourself.

That reminds me of something else that happened this week. Eric, our College Recruiter, and I were on a conference call with Steven Rothberg of E V E R Y time I talk to Steven it reminds me of what a professional he is. How he ALWAYS thinks about his customers’ needs. How he epitomizes what a business partner should be. That is one of the reasons Steven stays so memorable.

Make yourself memorable. One of the keys for your future today . . . and your future!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Always Be Coachable – What Airplane Boy didn’t learn at the National Collegiate Sales Competition

One of the coolest events of the year is the National Collegiate Sales Competition at Kennesaw State. 53 schools from around the U.S. brought 106 sales contestants who competed for the past 3 days. The top prize winner got over $2,000 in cash, a $1,000 suit and a laptop. Not bad . . . but the competition is brutal.

Once again Valpak was a sponsor and Mary Kay and I were “judges” and “buyers” for the event while Eric worked the booth. (He is young and the contestants would MUCH RATHER talk to him than me!) In each round, the competitors had a 20 minute sales role-play.

As it worked out I also had a chance to judge the semifinals and the finals. I saw TREMENDOUS sales talent . . . but one person stands out. Let’s just call him Bob. (This really isn’t his name.)

Bob is a great sales person. I know: I judged him three times. Had he made the final four he would have been in the money. There is no doubt that Bob had the raw talent to make it to the final four. Except . . . he chose to use the cheesy prop.

During his presentation, which was always awesome, Bob would ask his prospect to build a model airplane with the materials he provided. He’d say that this represents the prospect soaring over the competition because of Bob’s product. Every time I judged the event there were two professors of sales at other universities and a minimum of three people from industry who were also judging with me.

By the semifinals we started to call Bob “Airplane Boy”. In fact, when he brought out the airplane a couple of started to groan and tell the other judges, “watch this”.

At the awards banquet I approached Bob to tell him that I thought he has tremendous talent but that his airplane prop didn’t work. I told him that this would NEVER go over in the real world but he had wonderful potential. Bob looked at me and said something smug like, “Well, I guess that is your subjective opinion.” Then he pointed to his trophy (for 16th place or something like that) and said, “I guess it didn’t hold me back. I made the semifinals”. I responded that he made the semifinals DESPITE the airplane schtick – not because of it.

My goal was simply to be a mentor who has hired and worked with hundreds, maybe thousands, of sales reps. I believe I can spot talent and wanted him to know that he has great potential but what it will take to succeed in sales in the real world.

He shook my hand, said “thanks for the input” and smugly walked away like I had the plague.

As Mary Kay and I were leaving the event I saw Airplane Boy with one of his professors. He pointed to me and told his professor, “There is the guy who didn’t like my airplane bit.” The professor said to me, “I’m sure what you thought didn’t hold him back.” My response was, “It did. I was one of the final judges.”

So what is the point about all of this???????????

Here’s a simple rule – remember your ABC’s – Always Be Coachable. Just ask Tiger Woods. He made $100,000,000 last year, yet he relies on his coach to make him better.

I appreciated Airplane Boy’s talent more than anyone else at the competition. I thought he had a tremendous future in sales. Now I don’t think he has a sniff at being successful at this profession. No chance whatsoever. He isn’t coachable.

Too bad. Had he simply asked why it didn’t work he could have gotten even better. Not because I am that good at sales – but because I learned many years ago that I need to listen to people who have walked the road and cared enough to offer their advice.

The National Collegiate Sales Competition. One of the coolest events on earth – especially for those who really want to get better and have a tremendous career in sales.

Oh, by the way, I would bet that Airplane Boy is shining up his 16th place plaque instead of planning how he could get the laptop, $1,000 suit and $2,000 next year.

It’s a shame.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Academy Awards, the IFA Convention & Slumdog Millionaire

The Academy Awards are over and, once again, I didn’t see any of the movies. Mary Kay wanted to see “Slumdog Millionaire” but I kept saying, “How good can that be?” As I watched the Awards last night I listened to the message many of the movie stars kept saying. I’ll get back to the recurring message I heard.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been on the road and attended the International Franchise Association Convention in San Diego. Another amazing event with over 2300 people in attendance. The numbers are staggering. 1 in 7 people in America now have a job due to franchising.

Former President Clinton was the keynote speaker who opened the event. I have to admit, sitting about 25 feet from the former leader of the free world was cool. Dina Dwyer-Owens became the Chairwoman of the IFA for the next year. Dina became President of the Dwyer Group, representing over 1400 franchisees in 13 countries in six franchise systems, at the age of 35 in 1999. Now she represents all 1350+ franchisors who are part of IFA. If you get a chance get her book, “Live RICH (Respect, Integrity, Customer Focus, Having Fun) – How to build success in your company and your life – with a proven Code of Values.”

Carly Fiorina, former Hewlett-Packard Chairwoman and CEO, also spoke. She recounted that she started her career as a secretary. When she was ousted at HP her reported severance package was just over $21 million. Whew.

I sat at a roundtable session with Margaret McEntire, founder of Candy Bouquet. 20 years ago she started this company in her garage. Now, she has 800 stores in over 35 countries.

As always Fred DeLuca of Subway was there. He started at age 17 with a $1,000 loan. I’m not sure but I think he almost has 30,000 franchise stores now. He is always most gracious and willing to help new franchisors. Each year someone who is winning a major IFA award cites Fred’s kindness and willing to help attitude as a key to the award winner’s success.

Tariq Farid, founder of Edible Arrangements, received IFA’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award. His career started at age 17 when he used a $5,000 cash advance from his parents to purchase a flower shop in East Haven, CT. He opened his first Edible’s store in 1999 and now has over 800 locations throughout the world.

Mary Kay and I spent a lot of time with Jennifer Kushell. This early-30’s dynamo is the global expert on Gen Y. Make sure you go to her site and register at and learn more about Jen and the amazing stuff she is doing throughout the world.

OK. Now back to the Academy Awards. What I kept hearing last night was actors and actresses saying “keep believing in your dreams”. They thanked the people who had faith in them and helped them get through the tough times. They said it wasn’t easy.

It was no different than what Dina, Tariq, or Margaret said, or what happened for Fred or what Jen learned from her dad when he was the IFA Chairman in 1977. Each of these people is tremendously successful and able to really give back to others.

Success is believing in yourself and keeping the faith and focus – especially when the naysayers tell you how hard it is. Your passion will propel you. You might win an Academy Award. It you don’t, you will be able to look back with great pride and be an inspiration for someone else – just like all the people I talked with at the IFA convention.

I think I better go see Slumdog Millionaire with Mary Kay. Right after I finish Dina’s book!