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How to Really Take Your Sales Career to the Next Level

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When you look around at the world and most of the people you work with — regardless of where you work — chances are you will see an enormous amount of shallowness. Everywhere you turn, there are people who believe, for whatever reason, that they are entitled to high salaries, immediate advancement, and treatment at the hands of superiors that borders on "worship.''

The people who experience the most long-term success in sales (or in any profession, for that matter) do things differently and take an approach that eclipses what their counterparts are doing. The following are the characteristics of the most successful people. If you emulate them, your chances of success will be exceptional in everything you do.

1. The People Who Succeed in Sales Concentrate on the Task at Hand and Not the Result They Think They Will Get.

Most salespeople (and I have met a lot of them) are most concerned about the result they will get and making the sale. This is something that I have seen again and again throughout the world, and it almost always leads to failure, regardless of the salesperson involved. The problem with this sort of thinking is so clear it borders on the obvious.

Let me tell you a little bit about my personal philosophy, where I got some of my ideas, some of the things that drive me, and what I do as a person, all of which will, I hope, explain to some extent what has driven me to start more than 14 companies in the past seven years.

This story stretches back to when I graduated from high school at the age of 19. At that time, my father told me that he wasn't going to give me any money to pay for expenses in college and that if I wanted money for college, I would either have to work during college or during the summer.

He told me fairly early, probably about four or five months before college started, that I would be in this situation, and I thought about it. I was going to a private school attended by wealthy students (of whom I was not one) because my father and grandparents had sacrificed to send me there. There were many wealthy kids in my college who had big plans for the summer and were traveling to Europe, going on Outward Bound excursions, and the like. I, on the other hand, knew that I had to work, but I was happy to do it.

What I decided to do was start a business.

The business that I decided to start involved going out and putting tar on asphalt to seal it. I got a friend of mine to run this business with me.

When I started this business, my goal was to make money, and I think that everybody reading this has been in a situation where he or she needed to make money. I went out and tried my hardest to sell, putting fliers on mailboxes and knocking on doors. That was really the goal I focused on. In terms of business, making money is obviously very, very important. Back in college, I wanted to go out, see movies, and eat out on Saturday nights. In order to do that, I needed money.

To make a long story short, I operated this business for about a month—maybe not even a month. Terrible things happened. I spilled tar on people's lawns. I did a job and it rained, and everything got washed down onto the street. It was just one disaster after another. The work quality wasn't very high, but every time I went out to perform a job, I thought, "Today, I'm going to make $100" or "Today, I'm going to make $200."

This type of work is very hard because the tar gets on your skin and burns it. It is very, very difficult work. I tried my best, but ultimately, after a month, I had written checks out for all sorts of things I couldn't afford to pay for. My partner couldn't handle it either. He wanted his money back—the money he had contributed to help start the company. It was one of the most devastating experiences of my life. Afterward, I went out and tried to obtain the first job that I could find.

The only job I could find was picking up garbage in my hometown of Detroit. Garbage workers pick up trash that people have thrown on the street; bags of trash come apart, and they get garbage all over themselves. That was what I did, and it was not an easy job—I had to start at 4:30 in the morning! I worked very, very hard to be a good garbage man. I felt miserable, yet I took the job seriously.

After a month had gone by, I realized that I had done some asphalt work I wasn't proud of and that I needed to go out and fix it because if I didn't, I could never forgive myself. Even though I made very little money as a garbage man, I decided to take some of the money I had saved from collecting garbage and go back to fix this work.

One evening, after a day of collecting garbage, I was in a hardware store around 7:00 p.m. I was going to buy materials and go out to fix driveways. Obviously this was going to take a lot of time, but I couldn't stop worrying about it. The whole summer, even though I was working as a garbage man, I kept telling myself that it was really important that I did a good job with my asphalt work. Moreover, I felt that if I did a good job, many good opportunities would come up. I really should have thought about the customers, but I was only thinking about myself and how much money I could make.

I was in the hardware store, and there was this man asking the workers questions about the materials—how to use this, how that works, and so forth. I realized that even though he was talking about the details like a professional, the clerk didn't know what he was talking about, so I decided to speak with him. I stood by this guy and talked with him for an hour and 15 minutes about how to buy tar, how to apply a certain amount of tar, which brush to use, what time of day to apply the tar, how to mix it, what weather conditions it had to be applied under, and everything else I needed to know.

Finally, he said, "I was looking to hire someone to do it for this apartment complex. Would you come up and tell me how much to pay for this?"

I said, "Sure, I would be happy to help." I told him about how to fix it, and he was very excited about the work. This was a project he had taken on—a parking lot needed to be covered. It was a huge lot. I had never measured a huge parking lot before, so I started measuring it by walking along the perimeter.

The next day, after I had finished picking up garbage, I called him up to talk to him about his project. We probably talked for 20 to 30 minutes. I told him exactly how the estimate would come in and all the other relevant information. I felt good about it. I felt good that I was able to tell him what to do.

I used to drive a motor scooter because I didn't have a car. I rode that motor scooter home for lunch because I didn't want to spend $2 or $3 to buy a sandwich for lunch. I thought that if I went home and made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, it would still cost less than a dollar.

I raced home on my motor scooter every day for lunch, and one day when I got home, the phone rang. I was afraid to answer the phone because when I did a bad job, people would always call me back, and it would just be a nightmare. There was nothing I could do because I didn't have the money to fix it. When tar doesn't get 12 hours to dry and it rains, it washes right out onto the street. Even to this day, I sometimes wake up in a cold sweat when it rains because I'm worried someone's driveway is washing out.

The phone rang, and my mom grabbed it. It was the man I met at the hardware store, so I got on the phone because I thought he had some more questions. Instead, he said that he wanted me to do the work for the price I had quoted him. Do you have any idea how much I made as a garbage man in Detroit? Around $3 per hour.

The guy said, "I want you to do the job." It was a very large job, and it was the greatest phone call I had ever received.

I asked, "Why me?"

He said, "I know that you care about the work you do, and that's a very rare thing. As much as you care about it, you are going to do a good job."

He said something about how I was coming out in the right direction. Earlier, I had never thought about it that way. But to make a long story short, I went and did this job for the man. I think I might have made $1,200 to $1,500, and it took me approximately two or three days.

The work turned out perfectly even though the whole time I was doing it I was really, really concerned about the quality and the outcome. By the end of the following year, I had gone back into the asphalt business. I did that all the way through college and law school—and even for a while after law school.

I have brought up this story because it's a very common business story. So many businesses are about the people who are doing the work and not about the customer or client. In my opinion, this was the turning point of my life because, once I learned how important it was to really care about the other person and the job at hand, I tried to bring that to everything I did.

Once you step outside yourself and start thinking about what you can accomplish for other people, you will achieve much more. It's really pretty remarkable. I think that all of my current companies are based upon doing good and helping people. There are lots of ways to help people. There is more fun in helping other people, and that is what we have been doing. This is, in turn, helping people to work.

2. The People Who Succeed in Sales Concentrate on the Positive and Not the Negative; Negativity Flows Right Through Them.

One of the most amazing things about the most successful salespeople is that they tend to concentrate almost exclusively on the positive rather than the negative. In fact, the negative hardly influences them at all.

You need to see the world and the people in it as happy, prosperous, and good. Like attracts like. If you look for the negative, that is what you will see. If you look for the positive, that is what you will see.

I had an interesting discussion recently with Dr. Surendra Pokharna, an Indian physicist, while we toured some Jain temples in India. Dr. Pokharna discussed the fact that most people busy themselves with responding to the negative energy of others and said he believed that this was quite prevalent in the United States. (He was correct.) Many people also spend a lot of their time sending out negative energy.

Using an example from physics, Dr. Pokharna explained that every force of energy has an equal and opposite reaction. Therefore, if you put out negativity to others, that energy is likely to come back from others in the form of their negative reactions to you. Similarly, if you receive negative energy from someone, you will likely look for a means to put that negative energy back on him or her.

One of the things that always amazed me when I was an attorney was what happened in employment cases. Almost 99% of the time, the person who had been fired had done something that merited his or her firing and was also generally incompetent. Notwithstanding, after being fired, this person had filed a suit of some sort.

What both sides were doing was exchanging negative energy. The employers were angry about their workers' performances and fired them. The workers were angry about getting fired and fired back with lawsuits. These were simply cases of negative energy being exchanged and manifesting itself as more negativity—equal and opposite reactions.

I have noticed in my own experience that when people are hired after being fired from their previous employers, they typically lash out against their new employers and quit within a year or two. Again, equal and opposite reactions occur.

According to Dr. Pokharna, the best response to negative energy is to simply allow it to flow through you and go elsewhere. Do not react to the negative energy at all. This is the strongest reaction you can possibly have. By not reacting on a conscious—or even unconscious—level, you are not acknowledging the negativity.

Dr. Pokharna also stated that in the field of biophysics, there have been studies done that show that people who think angry and negative thoughts actually alter the neuron paths and constructions of their brains, and this might even occur at a genetic level.

In the sales field, you face rejection after rejection day after day. In order to be successful and to reach your maximum potential, the best thing you can do is allow the negativity of others and these rejections to simply flow right through you. If you do not react, their negativity might actually come back to them and get them to purchase from you.

We often try to meet negative energy with additional negative energy. You should instead concentrate on maintaining a clear mind at all times and looking for the positive in each interaction you engage in with someone. Your ability to keep your mind focused on the positive will have far-reaching implications for your sales career.

3. People Who Excel at Sales Look for Commonalities Rather Than Differences Between Themselves and Their Prospects.

In the highest forms of spirituality in most religions, everything is one and there are no differences. God is one, and everything is one with God.

According to Dr. Pokharna, the Darwinist view of the earth typically looks for and emphasizes the differences between people, places, and things. In much of Indian philosophy, the similarities between things are emphasized. For example, the cow has a spirit just like a man and therefore wanders the street, even in the most developed of places. All animals have spirits and are, therefore, not eaten. People are viewed as spiritual beings, and the similarities among people are emphasized.

This way of looking at the world (while somewhat idealized here) is not valued in many cultures—or by many salespeople. One example from my own experience that illustrates this is an incident that occurred when I walked into a very expensive clothing store with a good friend of mine when I was about 25 years old.

Tragically, my friend had just lost his mother to cancer. He had been left more than $10 million in his mother's will. We were dressed like people our age typically dressed and did not look that impressive. While we were looking at some clothes, a salesperson walked up to us and very rudely remarked that we should probably be looking for clothing at a discount warehouse.

Had this salesperson been looking for similarities rather than differences, he probably could have sold my friend $10,000 worth of suits. My friend was about to start an important job with an investment bank in just a few days.

Your ability to find and concentrate on similarities between yourself and your prospects is also something that is likely to get you massive results in the sales arena. Find similarities rather than differences between yourself and your prospects.


By concentrating on the task at hand, finding the positive rather than the negative in each interaction, and looking for commonalities rather than differences, you will vastly improve your sales abilities.

About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is the founder of EmploymentCrossing and an internationally recognized expert in employment search and placement. Harrison is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of employment placement. Harrison’s writings about careers and placement attract millions of reads each year. EmploymentCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.
About EmploymentCrossing
EmploymentCrossing has received tens of thousands of professionals jobs and has been the leading job board in the United States for almost two decades. EmploymentCrossing helps professionals dramatically improve their careers by locating every job opening in the market. Unlike other job sites, EmploymentCrossing consolidates every job in the market and posts jobs regardless of whether or not an employer is paying. EmploymentCrossing takes your career seriously and understands the job market. For more information, please visit

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