Sales Lessons from the U.S. Armed Forces (Part 3)

In this three series post I will look at the positive impact that members of the U.S. Armed Forces have had on my sales career and how their leadership shaped my approach in the marketplace.  (Check out the series in order: Post 1    Post 2)

 Part 3

Brad Lanich, USS Mipillion, U.S. Navy

American Eagle with Flag

American Eagle with Flag

Me: How was your weekend?
Brad: My weekend was great. I drank beer in my boat all weekend long.
Me: That sounds like a lot of fun, but didn’t it rain all weekend long?
Brad: Yep.
Me: So you didn’t take your boat out?
Brad: Nope, I stayed in my garage inside my boat drinking beer all weekend long.
(We both let out a huge laugh. Who needs water when you have a boat and beer?)

The all hands on deck manager meeting had been intense. The business needed us to continue selling our core offering and start cross selling with products to increase our percentage of our customers’ wallet share. This was the start of solution selling and bundling in our industry. The buzzwords within the market were consultative selling and total practice solutions. The market was changing and our customers were demanding more from vendors. Seeing this change happening, companies trained their reps to sell across solutions lines within their product portfolio so customers could maximize their return on investment for working with one vendor.

Walking back to my office with my marching orders, I sent a quick email with the subject line, “Team Huddle In My Office at 10:30A.M.” (EOM). The team packed into my small office like sardines. The tallest people on our team were leaning outside the door hinges. I delivered the message that all managers give to pump up their reps (they sound like this)…”we must do more. Be better at…and we will deliver because it’s our job to show the others that it can be done.”  Brad was the last one to leave my office when the team filed out.  He then came back in and said, “I need to talk to you about this.” Brad was a member of the original telephonic sales team hired 25 years ago.  He had sold our solution at every stage of evolution, pre and post internet. Selling the core product wasn’t an issue with Brad.  He had earned our most prestigious sales award (some companies call it President’s Club. We call it Circle of Excellence) several times in his career.  What was troubling Brad was learning how to message and sell a product that seemed vaguely tied to our core solution.  Make no mistake, this solution was beneficial to our customers, and data from our market research showed customers were receptive to this sales process.  To make the example clear, the cross sell we were doing in theory would be like cable/internet providers offering security systems to their customers – which is happening now. While it makes sense because the technology exist to offer this service to clients, I can assure you that even the most experienced reps will initially struggle wrapping their hands around this.  The only way to handle this type of transition is through coaching and highlighting best practices from reps that are finding success with the new sales process.

There was Brad and I, both figuring this out together. We talked for 30 minutes. He needed help creating an opening statement and probes that he could say because the scripts we had were not working for him mechanically.  At the end of our meeting, Brad stood up and said, “Don’t you count me out. I will get this!” Brad was determined to succeed and he wasn’t going to let this stop him.  In the end, Brad figured it out and he was one of the best reps on the floor cross selling.

Here are some of the things Brad taught me:

Brad Lanich, U.S. Navy

Brad Lanich, U.S. Navy

Own your script.  If the script given to you doesn’t sound like something you would say out of your mouth, change it!  Rework the script and make it your own.  Brad did this with the script he was given.  He took some words out, added others in, and became comfortable with his customized script.  As a result, customers believed what he was saying and opportunities where uncovered that led to closed deals.  Are you customizing scripts and making them yours?

Be comfortable with change.  Brad was successful at every evolutionary stage of our product pre and post internet because he was able to go with the changes and adapt his approach.  How are you navigating change in your sales process?  When your company creates opportunities for you with cross sell products do you answer the call?

Lead By Example.  Brad inspired his colleagues with his “can do” attitude and didn’t participate in any counterproductive activity with others who could not adapt to the changes we were going through.  This was pivotal to our success because less experienced reps took their queues from sales veterans like Brad.  Other reps saw Brad working through his difficulties, finding a solution, and having success.

Brad is no longer with us, but his legacy and impact to those that knew him lives on. Brad was diagnosed with cancer and when asked what type of cancel he had. Brad would smile and say, “If you had a list of cancer to pick, it’s the one you don’t want to pick.” He cherished his family, RV-ing, drinking beer, wearing U.S. Navy shirts, and spending time on his boat. Whenever he did take a break from calls he talked about the love of his life, his wife Susan and his best friend, BJ (Brad Junior).  He loved watching the Cincinnati Reds, and the American Bald Eagle was his favorite animal – he actually had a toy American Bald Eagle that hung from the ceiling with a fishing line and he would push it around so it looked like the eagle was flying over his head.

Brad would visit us and the other reps as often as he could as the cancer progressed. When reps were having bad days and he showed up, he would look at them and say, “I’d give anything to make calls and talk to customers.” He always cheered up everyone in the department.

This is the last post in the series, Sales Lessons from the U.S. Armed Forces. I hope you enjoyed it. I will consolidate the lessons and publish them along with the books mentioned in the posts. (Check out the series in order: Post 1    Post 2)  Happy Memorial Day and thank you to all who have served and given their lives to defend the USA.

CJ Webster is the author of insidesalesmagic, a blog written to help sales professionals become knowledgeable about social selling and sales 2.0 strategies. He doesn’t provide smoke and mirrors, hocus pocus, or any presto chango posts. This is real writing from a sales prospective on the issues, challenges, and success we have as sales professionals. It is honest, raw, and uncut. Sales is a noble profession and one of the few professions where the playing field is equal. Insidesalesmagic will be right there giving you the secrets and tricks of the trade that will elevate your sales game.

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