What an Obnoxious Salesman Taught Me About Succeeding in Life
It’s simply a question of focus and how you choose to apply it
I learned at a really young age what it is that makes certain people successful and how to apply this to my own life. If you allow me, I’d like to share my story with you.
I was twenty-two, ambitious, driven and like most people my age, completely broke. They year was 1988. No one had heard of the internet. Cars still needed us to get around and the ultimate status symbol was a pager. Don’t know what that is? Go google.
The reason the date is important is because of the industry I suddenly found myself in. It was Timeshare. That brilliantly flawed industry that promised everyone a week’s worth of holiday somewhere. As a bonus, you could swap out your week with someone else’s somewhere else. Great concept right?
After a few unsuccessful months of trying my hand at different things, I’d applied in desperation for a sales position at a Timeshare company. I’d hit an all time personal low, I was going to sell holidays, expensive one’s.
A four year stint in the military had left me penniless and on the verge of being homeless. Killing people for a government doesn’t pay well. Privately, well that’s a different story. Let’s just say I wasn’t ready to go there. I needed a proper job.
Our sales training was an intense three-day session of lectures, videos, sales techniques and pitches. I paid attention. Careful attention. I really needed the money and my youthful arrogance told me I had this.
During our training sessions, a tall man with an unruly shock of black hair and no fashion sense would stop in occasionally. On his first visit, he was introduced to us as the sales manager and he gave our introductory lecture. Let’s call him Dan.
I had never heard anyone speak publicly the way Dan spoke. He was loud, he was abrasive and his diction would have made a drunken sailor blush. I was shocked and really sat up and paid attention.
“You’re here because you’re in shit. Some. of you are in it up to your eyeballs. Never forget this. It’s your best motivation to sell. F@@k up and you lose this, you lose the car. You lose, full stop. Hell, you and your sorry butt may as well go and jump off a bridge. No one’s going to miss a loser. Moral of the story. Don’t F@@k up.”
He looked around the room whilst he lit a cigarette. Like I said, 1988.
“Get it right though and you’ll be up to your eyeballs in pu@@y. I guarantee it.”
At this point, two people, a man, and a woman stood up and left. He waited a few seconds for them to leave and then finished with this.
“Just not that pu@@y.”
Roaring with laughter, he left us to the smiling lecturer. I was shocked. If that was supposed to be a pep talk, then he needed to work on his delivery.
We were let loose on the customers the following week. I closed my first two families, missed one and then closed the next three. Like I said, I’d been paying attention and had the pitch down pat. None of the other new candidates sold anything in that first week.
I was now Dan’s blue eyed boy. Back slaps were the order of the day. He heaped praise on me in meetings, used me to humiliate other new salespeople and I was now getting the best leads that walked in. On being questioned about this in a meeting Dan explained with his usual diplomacy.
“He closes them. You f@@kers couldn’t even close a door if you tried. Prove me wrong and I’ll give you customers.”
I made more money in that first week than I had in a year in the military. I worked a straight seven day shift and closed 16 deals. I was off and I was flying.
All is not well in paradise
I should have been over the moon, but the truth was I had other problems. Our commissions only paid out after four weeks and I knew I wasn’t going to make it that long with no physical income. I was behind on rent and I needed cash or my car was going. I had repeated visions of my butt and Dan’s bridge on the horizon.
I needed cash now, not in four weeks. In desperation I took night work as a ‘bouncer’ at a club around the corner from my apartment. The hours sucked, but it paid nightly. I worked out that after a week I’d be okay. Sort of.
It failed spectacularly. The first three days of my ‘double shifts’ saw my ‘closure rate’ initially fall and then evaporate. Dan hovered. I could see him watching me. On the fourth day, I didn’t even bother going in. I couldn’t. I was exhausted. I killed the alarm and overslept.
I woke to to the sound of persistent banging on my front door. Loud banging and cursing. It was Dan.
I hesitantly opened the door and he barged in. I was expecting a massive ear bender, but what I got instead were a few simple words.
“Get dressed. I want to show you something.”
His Porsche was parked outside, beside my rusty VW. and he patted it affectionately before climbing in.
“My baby,” by way of explanation.
We drove in complete silence for about fifteen minutes. My question as to our destination had gone unanswered. He eventually stopped outside a very derelict house on the outskirts of the city.
“See that” he asked, pointing at what remained of the house.
“That’s where I lived for years. I still own it. I come here from time to time and I’ll just sit here and stare at it. You know why?”
I shook my head.
“Because this is what F@@cked looks like. This is what failure looks like. This is where failure lives. Do you want to move in?”
I shook my head again.
“Here’s the thing you haven’t gotten yet. The thing you need to get or that (pointing again) will be your full-time home. Are you paying attention junior?”
This time I nodded. I had learned over the course of two weeks that despite his abrasively annoying demeanour, he was far from stupid. He knew what he was doing. He was the most successful salesman the company had ever employed. Ever. By a long way. More importantly, he was consistent.
“Focus my lad. Focus. That’s the secret. Forget about your problems and focus on the solution. You’re lucky. Your talented and you have the solution. You have an out. Why would you choose to f@@k it up.?”
He paused and I thought he was waiting for my response. He wasn’t.
“You’re focus is in the wrong place. You’re so desperate to hold on to the few things you have, things the bank owns, you’ve focused on that. What do you need for those things, to keep them? Money. Lots of it. Where can you get that money? In the shitty company we work for. That’s where your focus should be.”
Again the pause.
“Focus on the solution. The money. Forget the problems. If you lost everything today or tomorrow, what would you need to get it all back? Money right? They’re just physical things. Focus on the cash. On the thing that brings you that cash. One hundred percent focus. That’s why I come back here. It helps me remember where my focus should be. It reminds me of what happens if you lose that focus.”
Focus like your life depends on it
We’ll leave Dan and the exhausted young man there, sitting in the Porsche outside of a run-down house in suburbia. The lecture worked. The words hit home, I listened and I focused. I focused like my life depended on it and in many ways, it did.
I left the night gig and focused full time on the sales work. I did lose my car the following week. It hardly phased me. I knew now that no matter what happened, I was going to be fine. As long as I stayed focused.
I slept on a couch in our offices for ten days after I lost the car. It was just more practical and where I needed to be. When my first paycheque arrived, I had made enough money to buy another car. No finance this time, and I was still left with half of my cheque. I had learned to focus on the solution. Only that, and it had paid off. Massively.
Ignoring or choosing not to think about or focus on my problems had allowed me to apply myself completely to my solution. It also cured me of any fear. The realisation that I would always be okay, as long as I remained focused was liberating. It remains so till today and I have never forgotten my friend’s words or the effect they had on my life.
Dan and I stayed on at the company for another six months, quietly amassing money between the two of us. We left in 1989 and opened our own business. He continues to this day, training sales staff with his abrasive techniques and foul mouth and is sought after by large companies. He gets results.
His lesson was a simple one that doesn’t rely on fancy sales techniques and it’s applicable to all areas of your life, equally. It’s a hard ‘pull yourself up by your seat pants or life will crush you’ type of lesson but it is invaluable.
Focus. That is the true marker of successful people. It’s one of the main separators. They are able to focus on the solutions to their problems rather than focusing on the problems. It’s not an easy thing to do, but it’s eminently achievable, for anyone. Your solutions will remove your obstacles or make them redundant. It is simply a case of applying this knowledge.
If however, you choose to focus on the obstacles, on the problems, your solutions will evaporate. Literally. You will, in Dan’s words, be f@@cked.