I call it the seller’s dilemma: Do we focus on hitting our numbers, or take a step back to build our skills?
When sales reps tell me that they can’t carve out time to work on professional development because they’re scrambling to hit their sales quota, I tell them: I get it. You’re too busy trying to keep your job.
But — ready for a paradox? — the best time to invest in yourself is often when you’re “too busy” to do it. These days, I don’t carry a quota anymore. Instead I teach others how to crush theirs — as a Wall Street Journal bestselling author, keynote speaker, and growth leader at Salesforce. I don’t say this to brag, but to make a point: I got here by becoming a student of the profession, and committing to my craft.
In the early days of my sales career, I sat across from CFOs trying to convince them to make million-dollar technology purchases, and they were asking me about things I’d never heard of (contra revenue? WIP? what?). So I signed up for a one-day accounting class at UCLA.
It was like watching paint dry. (In sales, we prefer watching ink dry, am I right?). But it was worth it. From then on, when I met with CFOs, I could understand their questions, speak their language, and craft the story of how I could help.
Later on, I found myself struggling to find new opportunities. I had focused so much of my energy on closing complex deals that I got rusty on the basics, like cold calling. So I read a few sales books, kept tabs on my network, attended a “solution selling” course — and I practiced.
Within a few months, I hit my stride again. I got smarter about where to spend my energy and it paid off. While others on my team struggled to make quota, I hit (and even exceeded) my numbers.
Fast forward 25 years, and I’ve got a career I love. Like so many of you, I was thrown out into the field and left to figure out how to be a professional seller on my own. Back then, there was no internet, no social media, and no Salesforce. It was a single-user version of Act! or GoldMine with a little bit of Excel and bubble gum holding it all together. Ah — those were the days!
What made all the difference was my conscious choice to invest in myself, even when no one else would. Now, my greatest mission is to inspire others to do the same.
That’s why we created How to Sell, a complete guide to sales. It walks you through the fundamental skills you need as a modern seller. So you never have to go it alone.