The Final Factor: The Secret To Sales Excellence (Or A Student Loan Repayment Plan)
I got my first job at ten years old selling subscriptions to the San Francisco Chronicle, (door-to-door) a publication of unknown importance (to me, at the time) and an institution owned by the very same company I am privileged to work for today. So began a life in sales and marketing.
The adult version of that life began with an advertising sales position just out of college with roles in leadership to follow.
In that time, I’ve had the opportunity to work with hundreds of sales professionals, observing closely the link between intelligence, behavior and activity to success…or failure.
Which brings me to the point of this post. Today, as the world shrinks and competition grows (along with student loans) and startups pepper (dominate?) the landscape, it occurs to me that an additional factor, grit, though rarely discussed, has only increased in importance.
WHAT IS GRIT?
Growing up, the value of hard work and commitment was constantly on display. My father provided the most immediate example as a single dad to four children who built a solid middle class life within extraordinarily challenging circumstances. I can’t recall the man ever calling in sick and his consistent encouragement to strive for excellence and simultaneously, humility, still echoes within me today.
Then there was my grandfather, owner of numerous San Francisco bars and restaurants who built his fortune from a High School Diploma and a job tending-bar.
As a child, we would visit his home in Northern California and walk among the grapes of his vineyard and watch the adults drink the family wine and afterward, he would say things to me like, “Jeramiah, count the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves” or “train yourself to sleep for no more than four hours per day… you’ll have a twenty-five percent advantage over everyone else” or “people complain when things aren’t fair because they are too lazy to figure out a solution”.
I doubt he ever really considered the word itself, but he was talking to me about grit.
Grit is a thing that skirts the edges of being truly definable because it is, essentially, an attitude. But it’s more than just optimism or visualization. Grit is a sense of focused, calculated determination that is applicable to every effort. But even more than determination, it is the ability to maneuver through the world as if it were a mathematical maze in which the statistical formula may not be entirely understood but within which advantages can be won and effort can be quantified based on those advantages.
Of course, all of this makes grit sound academic in a way that it is not. It’s more instinctual than that. It is an understanding that intelligence, behavior and activity are not enough. It is the INTENT behind the activity that is critical. This, in addition to an eagerness to experience and challenge failure to identify new pathways.
The most successful sales professionals don’t merely play a numbers game, executing against activity expectations as defined by a sales manager, but rather, they execute with INTENT. They are highly active, yes, but they look for advantages. They comb through their effort in search of efficiencies. And when an avenue within the maze is discovered, they travel it with urgency and consistency. There are not good days and bad days for people with grit. There is only progress and an unwillingness to allow any twenty-four hour period to pass without it.
CAN GRIT BE LEARNED?
Steve Jobs famously once said that you cannot connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking back. To that end, I can look at my grandfather’s life and easily connect the dots of his success to the decisions he made and the grit that informed them; these lessons of which he sought to teach his grandson.
But then, there is my own time, as a 10-year-old boy, knocking on door after door, three days per week after school, some doors slammed in my face, others gently closed, slowly developing a sure-fire pitch that allowed me to close fifteen to twenty new customers each night at a cool two bucks per signature.
Was this grit? Or was it merely adolescent obliviousness? To that end, is there something that can be learned from the impossible thick-skin of a 10 year old boy? I’m not sure. Through the encouragement of my dad and the words and example of my grandfather, I was given a direction, for sure. But then, the process of learning commenced, even if the education was an unconscious one.
All of which suggests to me that grit is a thing that can be, if nothing else, aggressively practiced. And if we allow that train of thought to continue down the mathematical maze, perhaps Jobs was wrong. Perhaps we can connect the dots moving forward by taking step after step with a refusal to allow any single day to pass us without laying one down.
This may be the final advantage…beyond education or experience, or even intelligence. None of which may be fair to those of us who will pay monthly installments against that education for the rest of our lives. But then, as my grandfather would have said…