When my dad died at the young age of 56, I lost not only a funny, loving and wonderful father but also a beloved, wise and inspiring mentor. He taught me a lot about life and, as odd as it might seem for an accountant, a lot about sales. In fact, it was dad who started me on my career in sales, coaching and leadership.
As we have just passed the 35th anniversary of his death, I thought I would share some of the priceless wisdom that he passed on to me.
Dedicated to Lee “L.B.” Weiss, 1925 – 1982.
1. “Don’t dig a 10 cent hole for a $10 tree.”
As a kid, I was always trying to find shortcuts for finishing tasks (in other words, doing the bare minimum and hoping it worked out). Well, dad usually caught me and made me do the task right. My son calls this process “taking the long cut.”
As an adult, I focus a lot on how to make my “$10 tree” survive and prosper. I try to take a stewardship approach to my business, that is, make choices that are caring and responsible for its well-being. I see my business as something bigger than me, something that can be a vehicle for my success and happiness over the long term. I want my business to help me thrive financially, emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually. In that environment, 10 cent holes and 10 cent efforts just don’t cut it.
Lesson: Don’t bury your career in a 10 cent hole. Build long-term value and sales success by taking pride in always putting forth your best effort for your customers.
2. "There are more horses’ asses in this world than there are horses."
This saying works for me on many levels, especially in work relationships. If I’m dealing with someone who is acting badly, being rude or inconsiderate, I try not to stay around them. Following my dad's advice, I give myself permission to only deal with people I like and respect.
This saying also reminds me not to be a horse's ass myself. A client I adore recently cancelled a seminar on the day it was scheduled to run. He had a number of good reasons for canceling; however, our agreement clearly stated that he was to pay me the full fee in this situation. As I was making out the invoice, I felt uncomfortable, and my father's saying popped into my head. I could have rightly charged the full fee and felt like an ass for being petty when this client had given me so much business. Or I could do something different. I didn’t charge him.
Lesson: Treat your customers and prospects with honesty, respect and understanding, and you’re more likely to get the same in return. And avoid spending your valuable time on horses’ asses.
3. "Different is easy. Good is hard."
Dad had great instincts. He had an uncanny sense about new products that wouldn't fly: a process that was too complicated; people who were a little too full of themselves; a wheel that didn't need reinventing.
He was a stickler for quality and competence. My father was a corporate accountant who always had a business on the side. One was a Baskin-Robbins ice cream parlor. He was constantly hiring and training teenagers to scoop ice cream that was exactly two ounces, to treat customers well, to not rip him off, to be able to count back change and to work hard. At the dinner table he regularly talked about what constituted good work and what incompetence looked like.
Lesson: There are no short cuts to delivering a quality product, service or solution for your customers; the only route to good work is through repeated practice, persistence and hard work.
4. "I wish she had the courtesy to treat me like a stranger."
My father would say this about his problematic mother-in-law. Apparently, my grandmother wasn't always so nice to him.
This principle is so amazingly simple. It says: "If you don't like me you can be indifferent to me, but mean is unacceptable." I notice a fair amount of meanness in the workplace that takes the form of passive aggression – gossip, withholding or not fully sharing information, criticizing management and not supporting colleagues. We wouldn't treat strangers like this.
Lesson: In sales, as in life, all relationships are sacred. Treat everyone you meet with respect and consideration because you never know where or in what capacity you’ll encounter them tomorrow.
5. “When she got the urge to exercise, she lay down ‘til the urge went away.”
My father said this tongue-in-cheek about my mother. He was always up for action; my mother was often reluctant (although after his death, she became a jock and an adventurer – go figure).
The obvious lesson here is the importance of staying fit. However, I think my father was really telling me (and my mother) to listen to our gut instincts and act on them, not to lie down on the job. He always told me to “carpe diem” – seize the moment. I take this to heart when I’m nervous about cold calling but have an idea I want to explore with a client or prospect. I try not to let the urge go away when I want to experiment with a new marketing idea. And so on.
Lesson: Pay attention to your “gut” and respect your intuition. If you have what you feel is a great idea for a customer or prospect, even if it seems a little bit “out there”, go for it!
6. "The best things in life aren't things."
This saying taught me to keep the value of “things” in perspective. It taught me to value my relationships above everything else, to depend on myself, to be accountable to others, to be decent and to have fun.
I was taught from a very young age to believe that the world doesn't owe me a living. I was given a serious work ethic that I will always carry with me. If I want something, I go after it, but I won't step on people, cheat or steal to get it.
Lesson: The most important sales skills are the “soft” ones – integrity, honesty, teamwork, communication, caring about the customer’s success and hard work. They are the foundation on which you can build success.
7. "The last chapter hasn't been written on Nicki."
As I was misspending my youth (dropping out of university, living in a teepee on one of British Columbia’s most beautiful Gulf Islands, picking apples and oysters), my father continuously reassured my mother that I would turn out OK.
I’m grateful for my father's confidence in me. He was able to see my potential when others couldn't, and his assurance that I could do anything I wanted to and be successful still stays with me.
My father was a coach in the truest sense of the word. He saw his children, and our friends, bigger than we saw ourselves. He could clearly see a path for us, and told us what he saw. He saw that my kind sister, who was good with her hands, could be a wonderful occupational therapist, and that my brilliant sister-in-law could be an ace accountant. He told me to go into sales.
I was completely offended. Sales? He suggested that when I was 20 years old. At the time, I thought sales was anti-intellectual, manipulative and boring. Dad saw it differently. He told me I was a hard worker, smart, a good generalist, persuasive, talented with people, had others’ best interests at heart and liked variety. He told me that I would be wildly successful. After university (yes, I went back and finished), I remembered what he had said. I got my first sales job, and loved it.
Lesson: Every team member, every leader, every customer and every prospect has strengths, talents and value. Help them to realize their full value and potential and you will both be successful.
I hope you see some value in my dad's teachings and sayings, and that when you work, sell, manage, coach and lead, you are a good example to those around you.
My dad lived with a spring in his step, integrity in his heart and his own brand of humour. Your living example will be what ultimately makes you great as a sales manager/coach/leader.