During my recent trip to France to visit my family and introduce our second 5-month old son to the relatives living there, my wife and I were chatting and wound up discussing how I grew up and what aspects of growing up, as one notices with their own children, are taught behavior vs intrinsic personality traits.
Somehow, I realized that I always had an entrepreneurial spirit with a focus on sales. While I learned many a technique as an adult through various jobs and experiences, the drive, out of need, came out organically. I don’t believe most people “seek” sales positions, which are traditionally regarded as “not as cool” as the creative or other positions requiring less skin in the game, and what I mean by that is that in sales positions, survival is the key: you only eat what you kill, no guarantees and it’s all on you. Sales also doesn’t mean “slime” or pushing something no one wants. Good salesmanship is about creating value for something people want or need and finding a way to help them get it.
The “abs” in question is fitness business appropriate paraphrase of the ABC’s of sales “always be closing” wherein the closing portion is what concludes the transaction and the exchange of goods and monies occurs. The fitness ABS are Always Be Selling. These days, with social media, people are selling themselves more and more, with greater ease and sometimes at the detriment of true value or quality. It becomes a quest for the self, a web wide popularity contest not unlike a High School experience with its cliques, prom kings and queens, attacks and strategic controversy just to get a read, a comment or a “like”. Allow me to shamelessly partake, though, while revisiting memory lane of what contributed to make me the adult I am.
At the age of 5, when I didn’t know basic additions yet, I would get 5 French Francs a week (the equivalent of 80 cents). I would go to the local baker’s and get 2 Kinder Surprise which cost 3 Francs each. Obviously, I was short 1FF, but I learned to negotiate the value of a volume discount.
At the age of 7, I was selling FREE movie theatre schedules. Yup. I sold a free good, but that isn’t accurate once you break it down. I was selling a service for a free good I would deliver to your door. There was only one movie theater in the 6 neighboring towns, with only a few screens. There was no Moviefone or Internet. You’d have to call and listen to a recording listing the movies and schedule, and this was done once a week, for the entire week. It was like listening to an 8-track where you can’t fast forward to get to the information you need. The Cineplex owners would post some flyers or hang their schedule at a few local stores only. So, I would grab the schedules and go knock on every door in the neighborhood (we lived in track home areas, so I had a nice territory to cover) and would sell each catalog for a suggested 1 Franc donation or whatever people would give me. Service. Now, I didn’t earn much, got more rejections than closings, though always politely turned down with a “not interested” response, but I learned rebuttal and also to not get greedy. I only needed enough money to go buy some candy, a comic book or something small.
At 8, I had to, as with all kids at school, sell raffle tickets for the elementary school year-end fair. Most of the kids would get their parent and family to buy the tickets. I would go door to door, again, hitting homes where other kids had already tried their luck, successfully or not, and would sell upwards of 300 tickets in a few days after school. Sales pitch refinement.
Fast forward a few years to High School, I am now 14 years old. My brother Alex, who is a very talented graphic artist, painted a T-shirt for himself with a near perfect replica of a rock band’s album cover. I started a “business” of people providing me with a T-shirt and the art work of their choice, and Alex would do the work, while I acted as his agent (Alex was still in Junior High at the time). Most popular design at the time: Guns’n’Roses Use Your Illusion II. That was the more popular album (II vs I) with the release of Terminator 2 and the hit song “You could be mine”. Trending.
The ultimate sales job came the day I graduated High School. In France, you finish High School with a series of tests that earn you the Baccalauréat diploma. You fail, you repeat. You pass, you go on to study to whatever school or University that accepted you. In my case, I was no registered anywhere. Yup, I aimed a little too high during the school year, but my grades in Math were not good enough, so I wound up rejected from every school I applied to. It took my brain 2 quarters to register how to process math (I was told I wasn’t good at math, which was a fallacy, I just didn’t know how to turn on the switch). When I did, I started acing all my classes and I got my Baccalauréat, track C (which had a Math and Physics emphasis, the hardest of all tracks) and graduated with the second highest level of their grading system (the highest is not frequently achieved, to the point the Government was giving away 10,000 Francs and a trip, that year to Moscow and automatic enrollment to Science Po (Political Science university). So, as soon as I saw my grades and got my transcript, instead of taking off to party with my friends, I started walking to every single business prep school in Paris that had rejected me and said “Look, I can do this, look at my grades and listen to me: I am here selling myself and my value, and this is what you want for business school”. I walked for 3 days, dressed for business even though it was very hot, and targeted over 20 schools. Out of the 5 where I was able to actually get a meeting, 2 called me to accept my application. I didn’t find out until 2 days before school was starting, spending my Summer in a no-man’s land of apprehension, anxiety and limbo, whereas all my friends knew where they were going. Resilience, persistence, patience, pounding the pavement.
So, in essence, the ABS of any business revolve around: value creation, staying current with trends, patience, persistence, resilience and presentation skills. Follow these and you won’t need to “close” people, you won’t need to be pushy, because the value is then real and perceived and you’ve relayed your confidence into their trust in you.