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From Lousy To Great At Selling: I Did It. Here’s How.


Back when I first started selling, I was lousy. In fact, I failed at selling life insurance in just 3 months. I then took a job selling Lipton Tea in West Tennessee and thought that calling on grocery store chains and owners would be something I could do. I had a terrific boss (Miles Boyd), who was as good a salesman as I have ever known and one really nice man. I wasn’t as honest with him as I should have been, though, because I never told him how afraid I was to make sales calls.

Put simply, asking someone to buy 100 cases of tea was hard for me.

After 9 months, it had gotten to the point where I would sit in my car for up to an hour, trying to gain the courage to make the sales call. I saw selling then as something I had to do, whether it was right for the customer or not. This was in direct conflict with my introversion in a selling situation and against my own code of ethics.

The First Time I Left Sales

I finally got smart and went back into what I loved: coaching football and teaching English at Staunton Military Academy. My dear friend, Wayne Hepler, who I played football against in high school, called me about an opening for an English teacher and an assistant football coach. I immediately resigned from that sales job; I didn’t learn much from that experience, except I made a lifelong friend with Jimmy Wilson in Tupelo, Mississippi, who remains a close friend to this day in spite of my ineptitude at selling tea. My mindset at the time must have been too naive to learn anything because Miles Boyd was an incredible sales leader. I just learned that too late, after I had let my inexperience rule me.

I went back into teaching and coaching with the hope of landing a graduate assistant opportunity at a college. That way, I could springboard from that to a job as a college coach, which was my dream. I did receive an opportunity for a graduate assistant position, but I had been a poor student in college (bad idea for sure), and they rejected me without hesitation.

That’s when I got into the pharmaceutical business–something I thought was more like public relations, rather than selling.

What I Learned About Myself & Sales

In pharmaceuticals, my hiring manager and world class sales leader, Jim Crutchfield, taught me how to be good at selling by just being myself. This was successful, and for 6 years, I was a good sales rep, but not really consciously competent. There was more for me to learn.

A Reader is a Lifelong Learner

My big break came in 1981, when I realized I could do selling, but I couldn’t teach it.

I then read a book that changed my life. It taught me that a person who won’t read is truly no better off than the person who can’t read. So, I started reading books on selling, management, and leadership. Now, I have read 585 business books total, and I read around 100 book summaries a year (2 a week) through, and 25 business books a year. This lifelong learning mentality has been a huge part of taking me from being a lousy salesman to one of the top sales experts in the world. Nowadays, there are even more resources; I read 4 or 5 blogs per week and listen to podcasts. I actually do my own podcast every 2 weeks, and what I learn from my guests is immeasurable. That brings me to my next learning mechanism.

Learn From The People

Lastly, I learned so much about selling from people who worked for me, who I worked for, and those I’ve met along the way: Don Cutcliff, Jim Crutchfield, Gene Vezina, John Fuqua, Danny Craven, Bonita Crowe, David Snow, Brenda Scott, Pat Kelly, Scott Moldenhauer, Matt Murphy, Cathy Geddes,  Paul Cherry, Jeffrey Gitomer, Jill Konrath, Linda Richardson, Bill Grimes, Ron Willingham…This is an incomplete list of people who have taught me so much.

Without the benefit of their wisdom, I would never have become a world class sales expert. So, in the end, it takes both learning from other people and being a lifelong learner that will keep you from being lousy at selling. Even if you are an introvert or have a long way to go before you get there, you can absolutely excel, regardless of what you are selling.

Sales Fear Remedy

These days, I have no more call reluctance. I don’t sit in front of a prospect’s office, afraid to go in. I realize that I am good at my job, which is simply creating interesting openings and asking great questions that lead both the prospect and myself to the reality that our firm can help solve their urgently and well-defined problem. I also find that I need to be great at explaining our offering as a solution, and, do so with emotion and logic, as well as handle objections and commitments in a professional way. People hate to be sold to but love to buy, and great sales people get customers or prospects to buy in. They don’t sell them.

When I was a lousy salesman, I couldn’t have written any of this. Today, being a lifelong learner with great teachers and others to learn from, I am honored to be recognized as a world class sales expert.

I Was An Introverted Salesman Who Didn’t Know What Selling Was

I am so passionate about this topic because I want people to learn how to be successful in selling without being pushy and aggressive. The reason I failed at selling was because I did not have the right definition of selling.

Once I learned that the objective is to see if what we are representing is a perfect fit for the customer, then I said to myself, “I can do that.” What I can’t do is push my ideas on someone just so I can make a bonus and commission.

The Less You Care About The Sale, The More You Sell

What you have to care about is being great at your job. Get people to want to listen because what you say interests them, and then ask great questions to mutually discover whether or not you are a perfect fit. If you are, they will buy in. If not, then they won’t. Anyone can do that, and it doesn’t matter whether you are an extrovert or an introvert.

Learn the 8 things that really matter in being persuasive in selling and influencing, and you, too, can go from wherever you are to a new level of greatness in selling. This is exactly why I created my virtual training program, Jerry Acuff VT. My estimates are, 90% of people don’t want to be seen as pushy and aggressive. My virtual training can help you learn how to avoid that and still be successful, as well as achieve your authentic success.

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