If you’re going to be successful in business, you have to be a salesperson. King of Sales Jeffrey Gitomer gives an account of his journey from selling Encyclopedia Britannica to consulting to writing and to creating a sales training empire. Jeffrey says consulting is a very easy way to begin to make money, but a very difficult way to continue to make money. He decided to stop and dabbled into writing because it’s been said that writing takes you from expert to authority. He developed written sales strategies based on personal experiences from his consulting practice and wrote a column for a business journal. Since then, Jeffrey has written one bestseller hit after another and even started a podcast. Discover some very helpful nuggets and best practices on what it takes to win.
I’m very excited to have Jeffrey Gitomer. Jeffrey, welcome.
Thank you, Michael.
Jeffrey, for the few who don’t know you, take a moment to explain what you do.
I help large companies with their sales training budgets until there’s none left.
I’ve seen you speak on numerous occasions. It’s always a good time. Always have a chuckle and lots to take away from it. I’m excited to have you on here and to share a little of your journey with our audience. Let’s maybe begin where a lot of people will describe you which is that you’ve created this sales training empire. I’d like to go back in time a little bit and have you speak for a moment how do you get into sales in the first place?
How did I get into sales? My family we’re business people and that’s all they did. I naturally progressed towards that. I knew I was going to be a business person like my dad, but I didn’t realize that if you’re going to be successful in business, you have to be a salesperson.
What was your first official sales job?
I sold Encyclopedia Britannica’s door-to-door in high school in the ’60s and I failed miserably. Then I sold baby pictures to mothers where I succeeded. I worked for my dad for a while who manufactured kitchen cabinets and countertops. Then I went into business for myself. I manufactured leisure furniture, beanbag chairs and that was in the late ’60s. I went to New York City and made sales.
At what point did you realize that you want to become a consultant and actually have a sales training company?
I did consulting for a decade from the mid ’70s to the mid ‘80s. I found out that consulting is a very easy way to begin to make money, but a very difficult way to continue to make money.
Tell me more about that. What do you mean?Writing takes you from an expert to an authority. Click To Tweet
You get with a client and you build them either by the hour, by the project but the client thinks the job is never done. If your advice is good, they want more advice from you. Where I drew the line was I was willing to give business advice and sales advice but not personal advice. I feel I was qualified to do that. Finally, I decided to stop doing consulting and I started to write in the early ’90s and that changed everything because writing takes from an expert to an authority. You write something and it appears in print. People are much more likely to read it, to take it seriously and maybe even put it into practice.
When you were consulting, do you remember how you got your first client?
I wrote a column in the paper. I did consulting in textile screen-printing because I had a factory and I left the factory and I would cold call two or three textile screen printers in the city and make either one sale or two sales showing them what I’d done and offering them my expertise and I found out that not only could they not screen print but they didn’t know how to sell. That’s what led me to the selling part of the process.
How did you get the next client from there?
One guy knows another guy and knows another guy and knows another guy. It was pretty easy to do. I realized that I didn’t have a great business. I had a business model that worked but I had to keep selling in order to sustain revenue. Once I began to write and realized that I could make a dollar without having to be in Cleveland, everything changed. I have thirteen bestselling books and I don’t know where they’re going to sell or when they’re going to sell but money arrives.
We’re going to jump ahead a little bit here because we’re talking about writing so much and so let’s get to it. Why did you start writing?
I started writing because I read something that I disagreed with. I called the Charlotte newspaper here The Observer and literally reamed the guy out for writing something stupid that salespeople would read and believe and they came over to my offices and the next Business Monday on paper was about me. I’ve got literally 50 phone calls before noon of people wanting my advice or expertise or who knew me and said, “Way to go.” I started to publish a column in the Charlotte Business Journal. The first day, I’ve got a call and someone paid me money to show up. I realized at that moment that I was going to build a business based on what I wrote, not what I said or cold calls.
When you were writing those in the early days, were you getting paid for the columns?
Not paid in Charlotte but paid everywhere else. It wasn’t a living. I was paid $10 a column, $520 a year, which I collected in advance. I was maybe making $30,000, $40,000 a year doing that. It was leads that people would respond. I was getting paid to get sales leads.
How did you even get the columns?
You call people up on the phone. You don’t submit something blind. You call editors who you call publishers and you give them examples of what you write and you have a conversation with them. People that would submit things blind. You picked up the phone and keep in mind that was before the internet. You can have a blog or you can have a LinkedIn group where you can have a YouTube channel and you can be more popular than I am if your content’s great.
Jeffrey, fear of rejection, fear of hearing that the two-letter word, no, holds many people back from taking more action to grow their business. I think the example of the year sharing is a very good one of you having the balls, but a lot of people hold back. Did you always have that or was this something that you developed?
No, I grew up in a household of business people that had to be forward-thinking and forward-moving. I assumed everybody did it. I didn’t realize there were some people that did and some people that didn’t. I will tell you this, if you’re confident in your content and you know how to write, you have to know how to write. I write like I talk predominantly. I don’t use adverbs unless I absolutely have to. Buy The Little Green Book of Getting Your Way and you’ll uncover all of my writing secrets. You have to be printable. If the editor reads it and likes it, they’ll put it in the paper or the magazine or the blog or anything else, an online newsletter. They’ll post it somewhere but you can post it yourself. You can join any LinkedIn group and post your column of the week. I wake up in the morning and I write. Most people wake up in the morning and watch television.
A lot of people know deep down inside that they should write or they should create more content.
They’re not good writers.
Is that they’re not good writers or is it that something else inside in terms of their mindset or fear is holding them back?
I think if you have ideas and you have strategies and you have content that can hold water, then you write it and if you don’t, if you’re not confident in your own ideas, go get a job.
A lot of people write their first book or their or their second book and that’s it. You don’t see much more come from them after that. You’ve written thirteen books. It seems like your books are everywhere. Why do you keep doing it?
I have something to say. I think I have valuable information that people can use based on my real-world experiences of either speaking to a bunch of groups or sitting in a board room or making a sales call or something because the world has evolved tremendously over the course of the last decade. It’s not going to change. It’s not going to go back. Some sales jobs will go away, some businesses will go away. If you know anything about what’s happening in the lower 48, you realize that Amazon is going to close 2,000 department stores this year. It stores that had been open for 100 years. Not all of them but a lot of them that had been opened 145 years and it’s changing the way we as consumers buy and get delivered.
That’s a microcosm of what’s happening in the world and how much that’s changing things. The internet has made everyone more intellectual about whatever it is that they’re seeking to learn about or buy and many salespeople don’t have the understanding that the customer of olds. If you’re going to be doing something about it, that’s something to write about. I love reading about the new customer. I love writing about the new sale. I spend an hour a day working on my next book. The title is withheld because it’s a secret.
Some suspends curiosity. You write because you have to say, Jeffrey.
I love writing. Besides being a dad and a granddad, I think I’d rather write than do anything.
A lot of people also have something to say. They write and they put out books, they publish books or they’re self-published or through a traditional trade publisher and they don’t sell many books. It doesn’t necessarily help their business to grow. They have the book out there. Take me through for a moment, what do you do to ensure that your books are read by many and actually help your business grow? Maybe take me back to the early days or what you do now, but in terms of best practices, for someone who wants to leverage a book, to get the most out of out of it. To reach more people and see a positive impact on their business, what should they be keeping in mind?
The first thing is you’ve got to send the book to your potential customers at your expense. When I finish a book, I’ll send out to 500 people and say, “Here’s my latest and I’ll literally sign the book. I’ve invested in myself to be able to get my stuff known and some people will buy it for the whole company. I’m going to create sales. I can’t wait for a publisher to make sales because all they’re going to do is put the book in a bookstore. That world has changed. It’s now Amazon’s world. We live in it. You have to look at it from the perspective of do you have a platform? Do you have something where you can send out messages, post columns, post excerpts, posts chapters so that people will get it, read it, like it and buy it?
If you post your chapters are you post your content and people don’t like it or don’t buy it, it’s because it wasn’t that good. You have to go back. I read the first stuff I ever wrote, it was crappy. I wouldn’t write it the same way now. I’ve revised a bunch of things based on my skill level, but I wake up every day and I write and most people don’t. I write, I get ready for my day. Sometimes it’s for a seminar, sometimes it’s for a podcast interview, but whatever it is, I wake up and I get ready and I read, but I read old things. I don’t usually read new things. I read things that are 100 years old.
I’ve actually heard that from many smart people and so there’s certainly something to that.
Go to MacLeod Bookstores, you’ve got it right in your city.
Jeffrey, every time I’ve seen you, you always come across as being very upbeat and that may be what I’m seeing from the outside. I know that many of us run into obstacles and challenges as we’re building our business. Some of it can feel like it happens every day, other times or riding high for a while then something happens in life and in business that smacks us down, but we all have to keep going. What is one experience that you remember as being a very hard at that time for you in terms of your business?
I don’t look at it in terms of my business, I look at it in terms of myself. There are two hard days that every growing up adult will experience and that is the death of your mother, the death of your father. Those are inevitabilities. There are other tragedies that can occur along the way, illness or other deaths, but those are the two life-changing days because life is never the same after that happens. That teaches you not only to honor what they have done to help you get to where you are, but it also teaches you resilience and how you get over it. If something happens in your business and you lose a big customer or you lose an order, you have to go back and look at how you fought for something that meant something to you at some point in your life.Be ready for whatever happens. Be ready for whatever the economy throws at you. Click To Tweet
I don’t fight for politics but I fight for myself and I fight for my family and of course I fight for my business. I’m ready for whatever happens. I’m ready for whatever the economy throws at me. I’m ready for any inevitability that things don’t exactly go my way because I’ve already experienced the worst days, which are the death days. I look at that and I move forward. To help somebody else who’s maybe has a passed mother or father, I write down everything that I learned from them and all the stories that I can remember right away and that helps me not only grieve, but it also helps me remind myself of the lessons on a permanent basis.
When you said that you prepare yourself for anything that the world might throw at you, is that physical preparation or is that you’re talking about to and referring to your mindset is prepared for anything?
It’s the mindset for me. At my age, I have come to the realization that running doesn’t help you live longer, it just seems longer. I exercise a little bit, I walk a lot, but I’m predominantly a writer. I have the overweight status to prove it is not that bad overweight. I’m hell-bent this year on getting prettier.
There’s a saying in Japanese that when you get married, the husband is often referred to as shiawase butori, which translates into being happy and fat. If you’re a little overweight it is a symbol of happiness. I’ve always liked that one. If you were starting a new consulting business in a new location where you didn’t have a big network or connections, what steps will you take to build a pipeline of business?
I would join everything and I would subscribe to things that could get me clients. Then I would try to show up where people who could use me would show up and I would ask some questions about, “What’s bugging their business?” I don’t want to say, “What’s your biggest problem?” I try to keep the vernacular on a friendly level. Then I would go to civic groups or organizations and speak for free so that people could hear what it is that I had to say and if they liked me, they’ll approach me. It’s not a commercial, rather it’s a message. When I started to speak in Charlotte, I gave about 30 or 40 speeches on what we can from our children. I talked about blind faith, I talked about unconditional love and I talked about persistence and all of the seven or eight qualities that kids have that most adults have lost. Sure enough, every time I gave a speech, somebody would ask me to give this speech at their company every single time.
It has nothing to do with sales. It has nothing to do with your core business.
I don’t want to give away that part, that’s the part I make money from. If they like me as a person, they’re definitely going to listen to my next piece of advice which would be about sales and selling.
You speak a lot, you write a lot. You have multiple products and services. You mentioned writing as being one part of your daily routine, but what else do you do to stay productive, focused and at the top of your game?
To stay at the top of my game I talk to my customers. I have dialogue on a daily basis I’ve been in the studio four hours already. I’m sure the guys here are sick of me, but I think that there’s an ability for everybody to decide what it is that they’re trying to learn from the day. What it is that you’re trying to achieve from the day, and then set out to do it. It’s easier for me now because I’ve got the books and somebody is going to sit there and go, “I don’t have thirteen books.” Neither did I. I started out with one column in the paper, but I worked at it every day for 25 years. Most people don’t work or most people put something off or most people don’t have the consistency to be able to make it happen.Get a life and some ambition; that's the first thing you have to do. Click To Tweet
Jeffrey, some people will then say, “I don’t have the column in the paper.”
I don’t buy what people are lamenting. I would rather talk to somebody that tells me what they’re trying to do and maybe tweak that versus someone that will, “What do I do? I don’t know anything.” Get a life. That’s the first thing you have to do and get some ambition. Call people, talk to people, meet people, go to networking events, join the chamber, go to a business meeting, go to a seminar. All the people in the seminar want to learn and there are things that people could do, Michael. They overlook the obvious.
Jeffrey, are you suggesting that people actually pick up the phone and make a cold-call? Is that acceptable anymore?
There’s another way of looking at it. The other way is connect with them on LinkedIn by creating something of value to give to them and ask them if they would mind a phone call. I have made thousands of cold calls in my life, literally thousands. Is it the best way to make a sale? No, it is not. It’s probably the worst way to make a sale but it’s a great place to learn how to sell. If you repeat it enough, eventually you get good in your acumen kicks in and your ability to dialog with someone kicks in and your ability to establish rapport with someone kicks in and then you start to win. If you’re going to take ten rejections and say, “This doesn’t work,” it works, you’re not working it.
As your business has grown and because especially your business is very connected to you as the brand, what have you found most important that has allowed you to create more leverage in your business and to be able to scale it to the higher levels of growth and income?
At the moment, my scalability is interdependent with my social status. I tweet daily, I post daily and I write daily. We do a couple of Facebook Lives every week, maybe three or four. I stay current with technology and expose my stuff through technology so people can get it in and hook up with it.
How about systems, processes, internal, how do you manage?
Michael, I’m not a good guy to talk about systems.
You’re not the systems guy?
No. I have a Macintosh and that’s all I need
Do you have people that manage the systems for you? I know you have people.
Yes, I do. Even when I didn’t, I still had no system. I had more organization obviously than I have. In my business, I focus on what I am best at and leave the things that I’m not best at to someone who is best at it.
Jeffrey, what’s the biggest mistake that you see consultants and others in professional services making when it comes to sales and selling?
They get in front of a potential client and they start to sell themselves instead of asking the customer what’s their deal. I don’t need to know how great you are. I can Google you in two seconds and find out if you’re full of shit or not. I’m going to LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, see if you’ve got a blog and see if you’ve got a podcast. I’m going to find that all the things about you in two seconds and you can’t stop me. If you’re going to be a consultant and go to somebody else’s place of business, you better have an idea and you better have a set of questions that you can ask that makes the other person respect you. Don’t give me that, “What keeps you up at night?” bullshit. That’s over.
You have to ask people pointing questions that make them stop and think, consider new information and respond in terms of you. That’s the main thing. CEOs, the people that are going to hire you as their consultant, they don’t care about what is it you sell, they want to know how to make more profit. They want to know how to keep their customers loyal. They want to know how to make more sales. They want to have great morale inside their company and they want to keep their employees loyal. Everything else is a bunch of crap.
I really want to thank you for coming on here and sharing with all of us here. For those who somehow cannot figure out how to find you, which I think would be highly improbable and likely impossible, what’s the best way for people to learn more about your work and to connect with you?
The best free way is to come to our podcast, Sell or Die. You can download it on your any machine, the software we’re using, Overcast. If you download it, subscribe to us and rate it. We also teach people how to podcast. If you’re a consultant out there and you want to know how you can reach your audience and how you can affect your community the same way I’m doing with you, Michael, and you’re doing with me, this is the new way to communicate. People listen to podcasts all day long. My question to other people is, “Why aren’t they listening to yours? Why are you listening and not making?” You can also find me at Gitomer.com and you can find my learning academy, my online learning academy at GitomerLearningAcademy.com. Those are the three best ways to find us.
Jeffrey, thank you so much for coming on. We really do appreciate it.
It’s a pleasure, Michael.
- Jeffrey Gitomer
- The Observer
- The Little Green Book of Getting Your Way
- Sell or Die
- Sell or Die on Overcast