Leader.co.za - Management, Training and Career Advice for Business Leaders

04 OCTOBER 2021
Life-defining moments

by Steve W. Martin: Founder of the Heavy Hitter sales training program & author of the Heavy Hitter series of books on the human nature of complex sales. Teaches sales strategy at the USC Marshall School of Business.

While I’ve been in sales for over three decades, there is one day that completely changed my life. One early September morning, a hundred other airplane passengers and I were waiting on the runway for an unusually long period after our plane’s scheduled takeoff time. The travelers were mainly businesspeople, and we were all in a hurry to reach our destination and make critical meetings that lay ahead. As a veteran road warrior who has flown millions of miles, I prepared myself for the worst and thought the delay might be caused by mechanical or weather problems.

Forty-five minutes later, the plane started to turn back to the boarding gate, to the groans of everyone on board. Then the captain interrupted our complaints to inform us of the horrendous acts of terrorism that had caused the nation’s entire air space to be shut down for the first time in aviation history on that day, September 11, 2001.

All the passengers were stunned and stared at each other in momentary disbelief. As the vice president of sales, I grabbed my cell phone and tried to find out where our salespeople were. I was very worried about our teams in New York, Boston, and Washington, DC.

Life-changing decision

Later that day, after the unbelievable events had unfolded, I made a very important decision that would change my life. I decided I would quit my job in order to concentrate on writing my first book. This was a terrifying and exhilarating decision because I had never really written anything before (nor would I know where my next paycheque would come from). Moreover, I couldn’t really explain to my friends and colleagues why I was doing it. Most everyone thought it was a foolish idea and were skeptical it would ever amount to anything. But, I knew it was something I just had to do. Ultimately, nine months of non-stop writing produced a 400-page book on how successful salespeople use language and sales intuition to persuade customers to buy.

What has happened since 9/11

Fast forward twenty years from the fateful day and I have now written seven books and countless articles including thirty-five published by the Harvard Business Review. I’ve had the privilege to work with more than three-hundred and fifty sales organisations ranging from exciting tech start-ups to the world’s most respected companies. I’ve helped over 150,000 salespeople and traveled all over the world. My sales research is recognised among the industry’s best and I have taught at the MBA programmes at two of the most respected universities.

Thinking back, here’s a few things I learned along the way.

Time is a precious commodity - No one knows how much time they have been given on this planet. Time is a precious resource that must be conserved, respected, and above all, used to your advantage. Your most valuable asset is your time. Spend it wisely.

Many people don’t have a “life philosophy” - While I think people are more introspective because of the COVID pandemic, it seems for the most part they are just too busy, are too worried, or don’t care to think more philosophically about their own life. My life’s philosophy can be summed up in a pretty simple mantra: Always Turn Bad into Good. Whenever something bad happens, I reflexively try to find a way to turn the negative into something positive. That’s what happened to me twenty years ago. What’s your life philosophy? If you can’t articulate your life philosophy, it most likely doesn’t exist.

Too few people fulfill their true destiny - I should explain this somewhat harsh statement. First, lots of people are actually fulfilling their destiny but they just don’t know it because it can be hard to recognise. Instead, they daydream about a greener pasture far off in the distance instead of becoming absolutely enamored with what they are doing today. Second, some people don’t have the wherewithal to fulfill their true destiny. For example, I’m continually approached by people who excitedly tell me they are writing a book. The first question I always ask them is how long they’ve been working on it and the answer is usually five or more years. I don’t want to be a killjoy but that’s not going to work. It’s very difficult to fulfill your destiny when you don’t approach it with conviction, sometimes bordering on obsession.

Success comes in all sizes - There’s so much fixation on Google and Tesla type of mega business success or becoming the next YouTube star that it seems the meaning of personal success has been somewhat diminished. I think you have to “chunk” your way to success one day at a time. I still take great pride in simple accomplishments… If I had said I was going to write a half-dozen books twenty years ago I would have failed miserably.

Pessimism is good… optimism is better - While a pessimistic nature forces you to plan for all the things that can go wrong, it is the spark of optimism that keeps a dream alive. Consider yourself lucky if have an optimistic friend or two who truly believe in you.

Defend your intuition - Your intuition is smarter than you think. You have to defend your intuition because the ideas it creates are subject too many forms of inward self-doubt and public ridicule (which hurts an awful lot).
Useful resources:

Steve W. Martin
Steve W. Martin is the foremost expert on "Sales Linguistics," the study of how customers use language during the complex decision-making process. Visit our InfoCentre or website.

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