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January has flown by – literally, as I’ve been on 15 airplanes already and head to Virginia today for another company’s sales kickoff meeting. I. Am. Having. A. Blast. and hope you are, too! Before any more of this year gets behind us, I want to ask you to pause to answer this question for yourself:

What is your motivation to prospect for new business? 

Please don’t blowoff this question. I’m serious, and I’m asking for a reason. I have run into several salespeople lately who have been charged to bring in new business but can’t seem to bring themselves to proactively pursue target prospects. They know they need to initiate contact with potential buyers and they agree that sitting on their butts waiting for a lead (or commenting in LinkedIn groups) is not going to create sufficient opportunities to fill their pipeline. Yet, they just can’t get over the hump, and many remain stuck in reactive/passive mode – hoping beyond hope that the Opportunity Fairy will put a lead under their pillow or in their inbox!

Salespeople, please hear me on this: If you truly believe that your job is to improve the prospect/client’s situation and that you have/sell a solution that benefits them and will produce a positive outcome, then it is irresponsible not to make every effort to earn a conversation with potential buyers.

Very early in my sales career, my dad drilled it into me that as long as my motivation for selling was to help my customer win I would be very successful as a salesperson. If I helped the customer win then I would win. That was priceless advice. Think about it. If you truly believe that you can improve your prospect or client’s condition, then not only is your motivation to sell pure and honorable, but you are doing the customer, your own company, and yourself a disservice if you don’t pursue them with all you’ve got. 

So…if your heart isn’t in it, or you’ve been procrastinating, making excuses, or actively finding reasons not to prospect for new business, maybe it’s time for a heart and attitude check. Maybe you’ve been viewing yourself and your job wrong. Instead of seeing yourself as a pest, product-pusher, or pitchman, what if you viewed yourself correctly – as a true professional problem-solver, value-creator, advisor, expert, consultant, ________ ?  What if you embraced the reality that many of your prospective customers are likely living with a suboptimal solution, or are potentially stuck, and you and your company are in a position to help them? I certainly hope that would increase your motivation to pick up the phone and initiate a dialogue.

There’s another bonus to adopting this mindset: if producing a better outcome for your prospect is indeed your motivation for selling, customers will sense your authenticity and be much more receptive to your approach. And my friends, that is just another reason it is imperative that you have a compelling, customer-issue/outcome-focused sales story!

Stop putting off prospecting. There are potential customers out there who need you and your help!

_______________________________________________

Join Us for the 2018 Virtual Sales Kickoff

As mentioned above, it’s Sales Kickoff Season and my friends Jeb Blount, Mark Hunter, Anthony Iannarino and I have been running/flying around the globe like madmen speaking and leading workshops pretty much everyday. Well, a few years ago Anthony got the idea to create a Virtual Sales Kickoff Meeting. It bothered him that only salespeople in large companies who could afford big kickoff meetings and to hire outside sales speakers were benefitting. And he wanted ALL salespeople to have the chance to kickstart the year with a powerful and practical kickoff meeting. So VSK was born and this year the four of us are back for another round. Once again, thanks to our great sponsors ConnectAndSell and DiscoverOrg, it’s FREE to you.

The focus of the 2018 Virtual Sales Kickoff is PRODUCTIVITY. The four of us will tackle how to get more done in less time while improving your outcomes. We will cover topics ranging from time-blocking to creating your model sales week. We’ll dive into strategic targeting of accounts, maximizing prospecting effectiveness to secure meetings faster, share the secrets of increasing pipeline velocity, and much more. And because we want you to receive maximum value, there will be no slides, no pontificating about ethereal sales theories, and no product pitches. Just powerful, practical advice from four guys who love sales and helping salespeople sell more. More than 10,000 people viewed last year’s virtual sales kickoff. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to get ideas you’ll be able to implement immediately! Register here for FREE.

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We made it! 2017 is in the books. Some of us are celebrating great victories and much success; some are licking our wounds thankful to have survived. But all of us, regardless of circumstances, are here on the doorstep of another new year. No, there is nothing magical about turning a calendar page, but I think we all would agree that New Year’s presents a wonderful opportunity for a fresh start and new beginnings. So let’s not waste this opportunity!

I’ve been using this past week to regroup, to plan, prepare, set goals, take stock, and to read. It has been incredibly energizing and empowering. Recently, my friend Joe Tarulli pointed me to Jon Gordon and his book, The Energy Bus. Joe’s suggestion was spot-on because Gordon’s tweets, tips, articles, his book – and his expertise on both energy and positivity – have dovetailed perfectly into some of my personal themes and commitments I am making for 2018.

Because 2017 was such a crazy year for me, I have been thinking a lot about choices. Choices and necessary changes. And the more I ponder and process and unpack my own thoughts and feelings, the more convinced I become that we have more freedom to choose than we realize. Let me say that again, because it is the message I so badly want to drive home in this year-end/new-year post: For the vast majority of us reading this article, we have more power, more authority, more know-how, and more freedom to choose our attitude, our behavior, how we spend/invest/waste our time, and how we approach selling or leading salespeople than we act like we do. 

We are not trains running on a track. We are not victims or prisoners. We are humans living in free countries with free agency (noun-a person who is self-determining). We. Have. Choices.

Here are a few questions/challenges to help sellers and sales leaders consider the bevy of choices before them heading into 2018:

  • Will you choose to take control of your calendar and block time for your highest-value/highest-payoff activities, or will you allow others to dictate how you spend your time? Salespeople will you choose to spend more time selling? Sales managers, will you choose to carve out time for 1:1 accountability meetings, fieldwork, coaching, and prepping and facilitating great sales team meetings?
  • Will you choose to start your day by feeding your heart, your soul, and your mind, or will you check email first thing so that others are now dictating your mood and those all-so-important early morning thoughts?  (for great tips on creating an “early morning routine” check out Michael Hyatt’s podcast on the topic)
  • Will you choose to refine your strategic target account list and commit to proactively pursuing growable existing customers and ideal profile prospects, or will you allow yourself to operate as a glorified customer service agent or account maintainer living in reactive mode simply responding to opportunities that come your way? Managers, will you ensure that your people are laser-focused on the right targets and free up their time and hold them accountable to attack that list?
  • Will you choose to surround yourself with positive people and intentionally hang out with the winners on the sales team, or will you gravitate to the whiners? Will you consider letting others that you trust and have your best interest at heart speak into your life, even if it’s hard truth or tough love, or will you be uncoachable?
  • Will you choose to stop pointing the finger of blame at others or circumstances and take responsibility for your actions and results, or will you play the victim card and throw a pity party for yourself?
  • Will you choose to invest the time and energy to draft a legitimate plan for yourself and commit to executing against that plan, or will you allow yourself to drift aimlessly under the guise of faux-flexibility?
  • Will you choose to exercise the willpower to conquer (or get help for) your addictions and distractions (whether they be social media, politics, food, unhealthy relationships, or other dependencies) that steal your your time, your heart, your energy, and your productivity, or will you allow yourself to continue down a destructive path that damages your life, health, important relationships, and work results?
  • Will you choose to invest in your own professional and personal growth – taking responsibility for developing your most precious asset (yourself), or will you just tread water, stagnate, and drift along with the current? And would you please at least consider the possibility that you spend too much time reading nonsense and comments on social channels, including LinkedIn, pretending that you are working, researching, or learning and instead replace that time with either real sales work or real personal development activity?
  • If you are a salesperson who is supposed to get fed leads from your company’s inbound marketing engine or sales/business development reps, will you choose to take responsibility for creating your own sales opportunities and maintaining the health of your personal pipeline, or will you be content to sit on your butt and wait for leads to be served up on a silver platter?
  • Will you choose to make the effort to sharpen your sales tools, particularly your messaging (“sales story”), your telephone calls, face-to-face discovery/consultative sales calls, and your demos/presentations, or will you keep doing the same ole same ole hoping that results will improve?
  • Will you choose to refocus on the very simple basics of sales or sales management that are proven to improve performance when mastered, or will you keep looking for the magic bullet in search of the perfect sales enablement/account-based-selling/inbound-marketing/used-to-be-called-social-selling-but-that-died-so-now-it’s-called-digital-sales tool/toy/trick that promises to cure all that ails your sales?
  • Will you choose to be positive and grateful?  I love how Jon Gordon puts this. He says that we need to focus on the fact that we “get to” instead of “have to.”  We “get to” work. We “get the opportunity to” fight hard battles. We “get to” sell against tough competitors and lower prices. We “get to…”  What a great way to reframe our mindset and adopt an attitude of gratitude!
  • What do you need to do less of in 2018? Which non-productive, silly, time-consuming, energy-robbing tasks or relationships will you choose to delegate or jettison? And which wonderful, life-giving, energy-creating, results-producing, positive relationships and activities will you choose to expand to fill more of your calendar to have more impact on you as a living, breathing, emoting, and time-constrained human being?

Friends, I have written this post as much for myself as for those who read it. I’m convinced we all have more choices and more control than we act like we do. Heading into 2018, I am committed to making smarter, better choices that will move me toward my stated goals and help create the business and life I envision and desire. My hope is that by sharing these thoughts and the challenge questions above, you’ll choose to join me on this journey. Here’s to a fantastic year ahead, all the energy and positivity you can muster, tons of success, and of course, many many New Sales!

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There are just a handful of must-read new books each year that I pass along to you. I just finished an advance copy of one that should be your first read of 2018!

For almost 20 years, I have been fans of legendary leadership experts and authors, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner. One of my mentors introduced me to The Leadership Challenge and Kouzes and Posner’s Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership. Those powerful principles have stuck in my mind and have been incredibly useful as a leader and consultant.

And I have known sales expert, Deb Calvert, for six years. I love Deb’s view of sales, her first book (Discover Questions), her articles, and I highly respect her character and competence. So much so that she’s one of the very few people to whom I refer clients when I don’t have availability to help them. She is also one of the invited sales experts leading a training track at the OutBound Conference being put on my Jeb Blount, Mark Hunter, Anthony Iannarino, and me next April. That’s how highly I regard Deb Calvert!

So…imagine my excitement when learning that Deb teamed-up with Kouzes and Posner to write Stop Selling and Start Leading: How to Make Extraordinary Sales Happen. This important new book is the blueprint for seller behaviors based on both buyer research and seller success stories. It covers the Five Practices of Exemplary Leaders and offer examples from sellers and research from buyers for each. In addition, the authors describe the differences between “traditional” selling and what it looks like when professional sellers lead well. The contrast is striking! If you want to up you or your team’s sales game, pre-order your copy now, particularly because Amazon is offering special pre-order pricing!

I was fortunate enough to get an advance copy for early reading. Not sure I can make the case for you to grab your copy now any better than I did is this endorsement:

“I’m a long-time fan of Kouzes and Posner’s leadership expertise and Calvert’s perspective on what it takes to succeed in sales. What a thrill to see them apply these proven leadership principles to professional selling! Stop Selling and Start Leading offers a powerful perspective on why sellers who lead well will thrive and then provides clear, practical guidance on how to gain credibility and respect that will move buyers to act. Read. This. Now. to set yourself apart from the typical, ineffective salesperson who gets perceived as nothing more than a vendor/supplier.”

Order one now for yourself and one as a holiday gift for someone in sales or sales leadership.

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I love Thanksgiving.

Family. Friends. Football. FOOD. A chance to exhale and rest after sprinting through the Fall Selling Season. All the fun of a giant holiday without the shopping and gift-giving and gift-receiving stress.

Like many of you reading this, I ran hard this year – as hard as I’ve ever run. More work. More hours. More travel. More speaking. More everything. It’s good to stop. Actually, it’s better than good; it’s great to come to a hard stop. 

Not sure I’ve ever been more thankful or grateful. Some of that is probably due to age and perspective. Some is certainly circumstantial. And some is simply due to greater awareness of the many blessings in my life, both big and small.

It’s a great time of year to pause and reflect, as good a time as ever – especially for those of us in the U.S. celebrating this holiday – to count our blessings, adopt an attitude of gratitude, and take a posture of overt thankfulness.

This Thanksgiving, I am particularly and specifically thankful for

…You – those who read, use, and share my content. Writing is a lot more fun when you know someone is reading and putting into practice what you write!

…The most incredible and eclectic group of clients who entrust me to help their sales leaders, sales teams, and salespeople. And they not only give me the pleasure of using my gifts and experience to serve them, but they pay me, too, so I can provide for my family and live well!

…Likeminded friends in the sales improvement industry who energize, challenge, influence, and help me – and who promote and endorse the content I create so it reaches more people with more credibility.

…The United States of America. As broken as our federal government appears to be, I remain a proud patriot and could not be more thankful for the freedom we enjoy, those who have sacrificed to keep us safe and free, and the unlimited opportunities available to those who call this great nation home.

…Significant international travel to new and different places that provided unique experiences, a valuable education, and new perspectives.

…Safe, reliable air transportation. Anyone who gets on as many airplanes as I do doesn’t take for granted how incredibly well-designed, well-maintained, and well-piloted these amazing aircraft are.

…The beauty of nature I experienced this past year, whether as dramatic as the Oregon coast or as simple as Des Peres Park down the street where I go for walks and solace.

…Audible – an easy way to digest great books that have opened my mind and enriched my life.

…A talented and passionate team that allows me to do what I do. I’ll share more about them in the very near future as we launch some major new initiatives. BIG. Things. Coming. But for now, I just want to say thank you, especially to Mary, without whom I would have been lost, or worse, this year.

…Friends, mentors, pastors, and advisors who are “for me,” and who speak the truth in love, offering wisdom, affirmation, and correction, and who help point me the right direction and remind me what’s truly important.

…My parents, all three of them :-), whose unconditional love has never been more appreciated. And other family who choose to love, not judge, and who always share a smile, hug or kind word.

…Three healthy, wonderful, talented, confident children who bring their mother and me more joy than we can express. And a shout out to Westminster Christian Academy, Butler University, and Kansas State University for which we so appreciate the experience and education being afforded to our kids.

…The world’s greatest wife, best friend, most supportive life and business partner. There are not enough or appropriate words to describe this incredible woman’s greatness!

…And last and most, I am thankful for a God who loves and accepts a knucklehead like me –  not on the basis of my goodness, or what I do or accomplish, but because of his goodness and grace, and what He has done and accomplished for me.

Yes, I have much for which to be thankful. And I know that, regardless of how you feel right now or your current circumstance, you do, too. Take some time to reflect on the blessings in your life. You’ll be thankful you did.

I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving, many blessings, and a grateful heart.

With a sincere THANK YOU for your readership,

Mike

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It is surprising how few sales organizations ask their people to draft annual sales (business) plans. For fifteen years I I’ve witnessed the power of having every member of the sales team write, and when possible, present, business plans to sales management, senior execs, or even better, to the members of sales team.

Why Individual Business Plans?

  1. People who write down their goals are significantly more successful than those who don’t. We all know there is a ton of data to support this claim. I won’t even begin to cite sources.
  2. Writing a plan causes the rep to take ownership of his/her business (territory, book, etc.).
  3. The process drives big-picture creative thinking.
  4. Forces the salesperson to examine what has worked and what hasn’t. (Remember the definition of “insanity”?)
  5. Presenting the plan to the team is a powerful way of sharing best practices and allows everyone to learn from each other.
  6. We learn a ton about reps when they present their plans: who can sell, who can think, who brings passion and fresh ideas to the job, who can present well, who “gets it” and who doesn’t.
  7. The business plan serves as a powerful and automatic accountability tool.  The very act of presenting the plan publicly and articulating what you are going to do to achieve your goals creates energy, competition and accountability!
  8. The plan serves as a valuable roadmap to help keep the salesperson on track throughout the year.
  9. The plans is a gift to the sales manager! How easy it is to grab the rep’s plan before a phone call, coaching meeting, monthly 1:1 accountability meeting, or day in the field with them? “Sarah, let’s take a look at your plan together to see if YOU are DOING what YOU SAID YOU NEEDED TO DO in order to be successful.”

There is too much benefit derived from this process not to do it. Customize the template offered below. Or even better, salespeople can use the expanded template along with the coaching provided in Chapter 14 of New Sales. Simplified., while sales leaders can get that info better tailored to their needs in Chapter 26 of Sales Management. Simplified.  Provide the template to each member of the sales team and ask them to write and prepare to present their own plan to the team (or just to senior management). I’ve found it works well to give the team a few weeks to go through the exercise and to be very specific about how long they will have to present their plans. Typically, I’ve observed 20-30 minutes to present and ten minutes for Q & A usually works nicely.

Essential Components of the Plan

I think there is a lot of room for flexibility as far as what goes into the template. Every business and sales role is different and that is why each company needs a customized plan. Having said that, there are five categories or sections that I believe are essential:

  • Goals – What are you going to achieve? We always start with the end in mind!  Possible bullets in this section include total revenue or gross margin goals for the year, # of new accounts or new pieces of business acquired, $ from existing accounts and $ from new accounts, specific product-mix goals, and even asking the rep to “name and claim” the monster account or dream client they will nail this year.
  • Strategies – How are you going to do it? Where is it going to come from? In this section I like to ask questions about market focus, target account lists, major cross-sell opportunities, most growable or most at-risk accounts, what new approaches will the rep take to get in front of new prospects, how will they better penetrate current customers, where will they concentrate their efforts and so on.
  • Actions – What are you going to do? In this section I want to hear about activity and metrics. What’s “The Math?” How many calls, initial face-to-face meetings? What type of commitment to time-blocking? To what activity goals and metrics will you/the rep be accountable?
  • Obstacles – What’s in the way? I don’t believe in excuses. And I do believe that almost every salesperson could tell you on day one what is likely to get in the way of achieving their goals for the year. So I like to ask for a list of known obstacles right up front so we can address and help remove them. Failure is not an option; let’s figure out how to overcome those obstacles or how we need to help that salesperson now! Obstacles take many forms: personal health, distractions, lack of training or knowledge, family issues, travel  budgets, old technology, the anti-sales department. Just ask. Believe, they’ll have a list.
  • Personal Development, Growth & Motivation – How do you want to grow this year? If we are not growing then we are dying. Salespeople need to invest in themselves. Ask how they will do that. Courses, training, peer-mentoring, outside coaching, sales books, blogs?  Are there certain areas where they/you need to develop professionally in order to get to the next level? I also like to ask the salesperson to share some of their personal philosophies about sales and what they do to keep themselves motivated throughout the year. You get some really fun answers and can learn a lot about what drives your people.
Sales Leader:  Does your sales team have anything like this in place? If not, why not?
I’ll just say this: I have never had a bad experience implementing individual business plans in sales organizations. You’d be amazed at the benefits. And thankful for the clarity it produces.
Salesperson: Whether you are asked for a business plan or not from your employer, shouldn’t you write one of these for yourself anyway?
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I hope your Fall 2017 Selling Season is off to powerful start. Like you, I am running hard to maximize impact during this critical time of year and I’m sure that many of you fellow road warriors can relate. I’ve been on so many planes and in so many hotels recently that it’s been difficult remembering where I parked at the airport or which hotel room I’m in. Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve posted anything.

In the past two weeks I’ve led meetings for three very different companies in three very different locations with three very different businesses: in Munich for an executive team meeting of a high-tech global company; on the west coast of the U.S. with a large business development team for a company that I’m prohibited from sharing anything more about; and in heart of the industrial midwest for an old-economy manufacturing company. The three meeting locations, the three company cultures, the three company histories, the backgrounds of the sales teams, the style of executives, and the nature of what they sold Could. Not. Have. Been. More. Different. Said differently, there was nothing similar and nothing in common about any of these organizations. Except…

Except that each of these companies was experiencing almost identical sales issues, caused (in my opinion), by the same challenges.

1.  The sales team was not focused on a finite strategic list of target accounts (including both growable existing customers and ideal profile prospects) that they were absolutely committed to proactively pursuing.

2.  Their messaging (“sales story”) was focused much more on their products and services rather than the issues they addressed for customers (problems solved, pains removed, opportunities captured, improved results)…the outcomes they achieved.

3.  The salespeople spent a pathetically low percentage of their time actually selling compared to the amount of time they were either babysitting/over-servicing accounts, putting out fires, or doing administrative and internal corporate work.

The bad news? These are VERY common sales challenges that have VERY BAD consequences. When individual sellers or sales teams aren’t proactively working strategic target customers, they either miss opportunities, or end up arriving late to the party to encounter prospects who are already shopping and often having their buying criteria shaped by the competitor’s more proactive salesperson who wasn’t waiting around for a warm lead. This is one of the most deadly and most common sales issues today. Worst case is that we completely miss out on an opportunity. Not too far behind is the second-worst case where we end up coming across as nothing more than a vendor quoting a price (column fodder) who gets commoditized because it’s really really really hard to be perceived as the expert/consultant/value-creator when you’re last to the table.

Compound that first challenge with issue #2 above where the salesperson is not only late to the opportunity, but when they get there, instead of their messaging/story being focused on the customer’s issues/needs/desires, they make their product/service the focus of their lame, self-focused pitch which further relegates them to nothing more than vendor/product-pitcher status.

And do I even need to expound upon issue #3 above? I didn’t think so. I’m continually amused that I get brought into companies to help identify sales issues and train the sales team to be more effective at developing new business only to find that very often The. Single. Biggest. Issue. preventing salespeople from acquiring more new business is that they spend a shockingly low percentage of their time working to develop new business. Yes, I just wrote that. And, yes, I actually get paid to point that very deep and complex observation out to sales managers and senior executives.

The good news? The fixes for these sales challenges don’t require a new corporate strategy or a massive reorganization, or someone with a PhD. To fill the pipeline with fresh sales opportunities  and begin to execute a successful new business development-focused sales attack, you (or your salespeople) need:

  • A strategic, workable, finite list of growable accounts and/or ideal profile prospects that you/they are 100% committed to proactively working – Chapters 4 & 5 in New Sales. Simplified.
  • A higher percentage of the calendar dedicated to actually selling. (In case that came across as so simplistic that it didn’t sink in, please re-read it. To sell more it really helps to spend more time selling. Feel free to quote me on that one!) – Chapter 14 in New Sales. Simplified.
  • A compelling, succinct, customer-issue (outcome)-focused, differentiating “sales story” (message) – Chapters 7 & 8 in New Sales. Simplified.

Please stop believing that your sales challenges are so unique. I promise you with 95% certainty that they are not. I have the most eclectic group of clients that range from a just a few million dollars in sales to many, many billions. These companies are in completely unrelated industries with very different offerings, sales cycles, pricing schemes and salespeople. Some sell to governments, some sell to printers, some sell to CIOs of Fortune 100 companies. Some call on shop floor maintenance managers, some on procurement, other on engineers and others on CFOs. Let’s stop looking for magic bullets or highly complex solutions to what are typically relatively simple challenges. Sales is simple and people who tell us how complicated it is are either confused themselves or using that complexity as a smokescreen to hide their lame effort or excuse their poor results.

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Every once in a while I see or hear something completely unrelated to sales that I feel compelled to share with you. This is one of those times.

29 years ago at The University at Albany, I met Chris Edom as he was was rushing the business fraternity when I was rush chairman. We’ve been dear friends since. I love this man and after hearing his story and his heart, I promise that you will, too.

I don’t want to steal his thunder or even attempt to do justice what he covers in this meaningful, heart-wrenching and heart-inspiring conversation with All Chapped Up podcast host Chris Chappel. But this much I will share:  After graduating with honors and a business degree, Chris chose teaching – Kindergarten of all things – as his profession of choice. And in the first few minutes of this podcast, you’ll understand why – and why he also went to great lengths to become a contestant on the Fox reality show, American Grit. If you, or someone in your life, has faced bullying, or any number of conditions/disorders (like ADHD, OCD, PTSD), I would just encourage you to give a listen. Hear Chris’ story, how he’s facing his demons and experiencing victory, and how his transparency is impacting others and changing lives.

No, this isn’t specifically about sales. And, no, I’m definitely not a reality-TV guy, but there are some powerful lessons in here for all of us, whether we sell, lead people, have any of these issues in our lives, or don’t. And as popular and trendy as the topic of “Grit” has become, I think you’ll be moved hearing how my long-time friend found his. You can play the podcast below or jump over to Soundcloud and listen from there.

PS – Big props to Dave Chappel, military veteran and current truck driver, for launching this new podcast, and the great job he’s doing as host. He’s asked me to join him for a future a episode and I look forward to it.

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