Sales Lessons from the U.S. Armed Forces

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.

Sales Lessons from the U.S. Armed Forces

Sales Lessons from the U.S. Armed Forces

Part 1   Part 2

“Nobody climbs the mountain alone.  Somebody gave you the boots”

Jeff Weaver, Captain, Field Artillery, U.S. Army

It was 12 years ago when I was in Jeff Weaver’s office, interviewing for my first sales job.  It took me four attempts to get here.  Other managers said I was too green and told me I needed more development.  This time was different; I made it pass the initial interviews and this was the last step in the process.  The final step was a role play and mock call with a sales manager.  Jeff would play the customer and I was the sales rep trying to sell a comprehensive solution that would help Jeff’s law firm research needs.  Yes, I was selling content-enabled workflow solutions designed specifically for professionals in the legal industry.  Jeff handed me the mock call materials which included information on the customer and sales promotions I was offering.  He stood up, gave me the five digit extension to call, and said, “you have 15 minutes to read over the materials.  After reading the materials I want you to call the number I gave you and we will begin the mock call.”  Jeff left the office and I jumped into his seat, pulling out all my notes from books I had read about sales regarding opening statements and how to ask thought provoking questions.  I was a true newbie to sales and I needed someone to take a chance on me.  I knew sales was my calling and this job would change my life.  I read the mock call materials, took notes, highlighted certain sections, grabbed the phone, and punched those five digits to connect with Jeff.  I heard the phone ring two times and then he answered, “law office” in a very stern why are you interrupting me type voice.  Jeff knew these were the type of calls I would be expected to make each day and he needed to assess my skills and potential.   What I learned from Weaver or Weave as me and others call him made me a solid sales professional and sales manager.  Jeff taught me how to be a sale professional and how to be disciplined in my approach each day.  He taught me the importance of execution and consistently delivering your numbers.  He taught me that, “your forecast is a contract between you, your manager, and the company.  It is your word, and you don’t break your word.” (see H.A.A.N.D Your Forecast)  Jeff knew how to motivate and inspire.  Jeff had the ability to see diamonds in the rough and under his tutelage he could turn you into a superstar sales professional.  He is a legend in our business winning awards and developing future leaders.    Yet he doesn’t care about the awards or the accolades.  His passion is winning and developing others.  Sales Reps that have worked under Jeff have moved on to become Sales Vice President, Director / General Manager, and Sales Managers to name a few.

When I was promoted to sales management, Jeff and I talked.  He advised me to read Daniel Goleman’s, Emotional Intelligence and Primal Leadership.  In that book I learned why Jeff was such a good manger and leader.  He fully understood how to use Emotional Intelligence to guide thinking and behavior.  What made Jeff an exceptional role model for me to mimic when I became a manager was that he had that “Dick Winter’s, Easy Company, military leadership” aura about him – if you have seen HBO’s Band of Brothers then you know what I’m talking about.  He led from the front and he focused on putting his reps into positions where they could win more deals.  I learned this during our intense team trainings.  It was in those trainings that we all left our egos, titles, rank, and awards outside.  Jeff trainings were like military simulations.  He would create the most challenging sales obstacle course for you to complete under the safety of training.  Everyone participated no matter tenure and those trainings made you battle ready on the phones.  The trainings equipped us to handle the hardest objections with ease.  Our simulations went like this.  Everyone entered the training room and you if you were selected, you would pick a scenario from a bowl.  Jeff always played the difficult prospect or customer.  After the role play the entire team would give feedback and present best practices in the areas you struggled.  Jeff gave final comments and we jumped back on the phones better than we were before the training.  Trainings were held weekly and we looked forward to meeting the challenges.  Meeting the challenges made you successful on the phone and helped you close deals.  It makes sense, right?  In a training environment you can make mistakes and be corrected without losing a sale.  I applied the same training practice to my teams and the results were the same.  My team got better and they crushed the numbers.

A lover of Coca-Cola soda, poker tournament jackpots, and any PGA golf course, Jeff’s personal philosophies shaped my sales career and influenced me to be the sales leader I am today.

Captain Jeff Weaver

Captain Jeff Weaver


Here are some of the philosophies he taught me:

– Always do what is right – even when no one is watching.
– Loyalty is a two way street.
– Know what you’re supposed to do and then do it.
– A hand-up is better than a handout.
– No matter how tough it may get, never quit.
– Don’t wring your hands – be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
– Always maintain your sense of humor



The next post will be about 2nd Class Petty Officer U.S. Navy, Rex Caswell, PhD.  (Go to Part 2)

I’m interested, how has a member of the U.S. Armed Forces positively impacted your sales career?

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.



CJ Webster @insidesalemagic

CJ Webster @insidesalemagic

If you are a sales professional, I can bet my commission check that you forecast to your leadership team. Depending on the average number of transactions in your industry, you may roll up forecast quarterly, or monthly. Forecasts are used as an indicator to predict future performance of the business to the executive team and shareholders. This critical insight exceeds beyond sales. Forecasts often determine the amount of investment, risk, and capacity that a business can manage successfully without compromising their position in their respected market. Yes, as you can see, your forecast is IMPORTANT. One of the best mentors I ever had said to me, “Your forecast is a contract between, you, me and the company. It is your word, and your promise in writing to perform.”

How do you forecast? I’m talking beyond your CRM computed percentages and sale methodology ratios. (Note, I do agree with sales methodologies, cadences, and breaking down contract values into percentages. An example that I have seen at many companies is taking 90% of the contract value if the opportunity is in the contract stage of the sales funnel.) Are you a conservative forecaster, overly opportunistic sales forecaster, or just plain hate rolling up forecasts? If you identify with one of these scenarios, this is for you. I have found in my experience that the key to forecasting is Honesty, Activity, and Agreed Negotiated Deadlines. This is your H.A.A.N.D. and you have total control of your forecast.

Recall that your forecast is your word. So your forecast needs HONESTY in your assessment of where and how you will make your quota. Take a true self examination of your level of activity, number of created opportunities, and agreed next steps with you and your prospects. That’s why you have to start with HONESTY. Do you honestly have enough first appointments, opportunities, and agreed next steps to make your number? If you don’t, stop, adjust, and jump on the activity bandwagon.

Keep your ACTIVITY constant, continuous, and strategic. When you examine your activity level, begin by looking at your first appointments. Are you getting enough of them weekly to grow your sales funnel? If you are having issues getting first appointments, I recommend reading and acting on some of the blog post using social media to sell. Sales professionals such as Ken Krogue, Trish Bertuzzi, Craig Rosenberg, Jamie Shanks, and Schon Messier have written about using social media to secure first appointments. Check out their blogs! Activity is the life blood of your sales funnel and you have to know your success ratios to ensure that you are on target to maintaining a healthy funnel. This is why most sales professionals drive to have 2.5X or 3X size sales funnels in their negotiated and contract stages. High activity is their insurance policy to ensure they will deliver their number and they have backup opportunities to move forward in the event a deal goes wayside. Keep your activity high and know your first appointment ratios.

Agreed Negotiated Deadlines is where the “dollars runs with the bulls!” If you have agreed negotiated deadlines with your prospects, your bucks won’t stop here. You will find yourself closing business frequently and beating your quota regularly. The best practice in the industry on this subject is to always have a next step in your sales cycle for you and the customer to agree on. It can be your next follow up appointment, meeting to receive completed paperwork, and meeting to set up implementation processes. Each meeting must have 1) a purpose and 2) a next step. Doing this will not only improve your overall sales success, but it will positively impact your ability to accurately forecast your business.

In closing, Honesty, Activity, and Agreed Negotiated Deadlines will give you the upper h.a.a.n.d forecasting to your company.

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