Because of his nearly four decade career in sales, Robert Terson is often labeled a master salesman. He retired from his advertising company in 2010 and is now writing and speaking about sales. Robert recently released Selling Fearlessly: A Master Salesman’s Secrets For the One-Call-Close Salesperson. After reading the book and talking with Robert, I realized that the book is more than a sales book. It’s a life book. It could just as easily be titled Living Fearlessly.
Why Relationships Are Important
Robert, already in my interactions with you, I can tell how important relationships are to you. Why are relationships so important to success? How are you able to build relationships with so many people so quickly and easily?
First of all, Skip, I’m not sure the words “so quickly and easily” are applicable. One of my favorite expressions is, “The Tortoise won the race.” It is true that I’ve literally established a few hundred strong relationships over the past 19 months of networking, but it’s been done in a “slowly but surely” methodology. I’ve been going about networking the same way I’ve interacted with people all my life: caring about them, showing an genuine interest in them, trying to help them all I possibly can, creating friendships wherever I go—the bank, cleaners, post office, you name it. I take the time to get to know people well. Then, when I go out to do my errands, I’m not just doing mindless tasks; I’m going out to see my friends. It makes life so much more pleasant and meaningful. It’s smelling the roses and enjoying the journey as you live your daily life. It’s living in the moment.
It’s the same way with networking. When people of interest follow me, I send out personal direct messages inviting them to talk, interact on a high plain. I offer to help them; and it’s not just empty rhetoric, it’s for real. It’s putting into practice what the late Zig Ziglar meant when he said, “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.” It’s giving of yourself, paying it forward, so to speak; and people respond positively to this approach. Who doesn’t want to be around people who genuinely care about them? We all want that! What’s so wonderful about it is how it comes back to you in so many positive ways. Not always directly, but it does come back to you. Those who approach networking with the “it’s all about me” mindset, who are in a hurry to sell something without bothering to establish a solid relationship first, are foolishly self-sabotaging themselves, to say nothing about missing out on a lot of fun.
Let’s talk about fear. It stops so many of us at various times. Whether in sales or in life, how do you help people overcome it?
Let Fear Expand Your Comfort Zone
One of my colleagues in the STA Sales Mastermind Group, Andy Paul, interviewed me for his newsletter, and I recall telling him that the only way to conquer a fear is to challenge that fear, or to quote the title of my favorite book on fear, authored by Susan Jeffers, “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.” In other words, drive through the fear until your comfort zone has expanded to the point you’re no longer fearful. There is no substitute for experience, and once you’ve done something enough times, once you’ve succeeded and are continuing to succeed at it, the fear dissipates like a burnt off morning fog. There is no other way to put a fear behind you. Another one of my favorite expressions is, “Forge ahead with aggressive ignorance.” It never matters how afraid you are; it only matters that you challenge the fear and take the necessary action despite the fear.
I’ll often ask people I’m coaching to recall a terrible fear they were able to get past. What was the fear? Why is it no longer a fear for you? What happened? How did you get past it? All that leads to: If you could overcome that fear, why not this one? I usually get a smile and an “Okay, let’s do it!”
We won’t attempt to delve into every area of your book, but I do want to talk about what you call “The Triangle.” What is it and why does it matter?
The triangle is geometrically one of the strongest shapes you’ll ever encounter—if all three sides are solidly connected. The three sides of the Sales Triangle are Mental Attitude, Work Habits, and Salesmanship; they make up three of the four parts of Selling Fearlessly. This is what I said about each side in my book. I did so many drafts, about 30, that it’s memorized, Skip.
The first side is Mental Attitude. You must possess a positive mental attitude made out of titanium. Anyone can be up when she’s winning, when everything is running like a well-oiled machine and success is the norm; show me a salesperson who is alert and grinning, enthusiastic, ready to forge ahead and make that next call after she’s had her teeth kicked in for a month and a half, and I’ll show you a Champion.
The second side is Work Habits. I don’t care how talented you are, or if you possess the selling acumen of Brian Tracy, Dr. Tony Alessandra, and Tom Hopkins combined, no one defiles Mother Law of Averages and gets away with it long term. You must always do the work. For a salesperson, that means making the calls, giving presentations. There is no compromise. Given the choice of a salesperson who gives six presentations a week and closes 60%, or one who gives ten presentations a week and closes 40%, I’ll take the latter on any day that ends in “Y.”
Side three is Salesmanship. If anyone knows your business better than you, best take a hard look in the mirror and ask why. If anyone knows the intricacies of selling techniques better than you, time to challenge yourself again. There are no excuses, no alibis. It’s your business, your choice of making a living; you must know every aspect of your business—backwards, forwards, and sideways. You must know selling techniques down to the subtlest detail.
Why does the Triangle matter? It matters because the Triangle is the lever and fulcrum of successful selling. Archimedes said, “Give me a lever long enough, and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” If your Triangle is sturdy enough, you’ll move the world. Everything you need to know, all the answers, fall under the purview of one of its three sides.
Use Stories for Greater Impact
Rather than giving a lecture, you teach by stories and your book is filled with them. Why is the art of telling a good story important?
Telling a good story is important for two reasons. First, as a writer, I didn’t want to bore anyone. I’m sent a lot of sales books to read and review. Nowadays they’re all written in what I call the abstract theory style; the author speaks to you the information he wants to impart to you. He tells you, he doesn’t show you. As you said, it’s like sitting in on a lecture, in too many cases a boring lecture. Honestly, the information may be spot on, but I have to fight my way through many of these books. I wanted to use my storytelling ability to entertain my audience, as well as enlighten and inspire them. I wanted to make it a fun read, like a novel you just can’t put down. We all love a good story. Stories capture us in a way no lecture ever will.
Secondly, when you tell a story, a narrative, the reader can follow the action with her own five senses; she’s there observing the action taking place; she isn’t just being told the principle, she’s following the action that’s proving the principle, she’s seeing someone live the principle. The first chapter is entitled “The Mound Road Story.” It’s an incredible story of unyielding persistence. But if I just told you why persistence is so important, it wouldn’t have anywhere near the meaning or influence on you that watching someone in action being persistent does. What it boils down to is this: telling, or lecturing, is vague, it bounces off of us, it doesn’t stick. A great story moves us, inspires us, and in some cases stays with us forever.
Why is mental attitude so critical to success? How do you help someone improve his/her mental attitude?
Success is there for the taking, for anyone who wants it badly enough, but it’s often an arduous, twisting, difficult path. In other words, it normally isn’t something that comes easy, which is a good thing, because if was easy, people would be lining up around the corner and down the block to do it, and then it wouldn’t have anywhere near the meaning, would it? But the vast majority of us aren’t going to go climb such a towering mountain unless we’re tough enough mentally to overcome our terrible fear of failure to (1) begin the quest and (2) persevere through the countless setbacks we’re going to encounter—in many cases over years or even decades. Without a mental attitude made out of a space-age alloy to insulate you from the terrible hardships you’re going to face, the odds of success are diminished greatly.
I make them aware of how important it is to control their own mind, that that’s the only thing in life that they can control. I teach them about the power of the subconscious mind, about standing guard over their thoughts and emotions so they’ll continually feed their subconscious positive thoughts and emotions, which is the only way to keep the negative garbage from reaching the subconscious. I relate stories of real people and the great struggles they managed to overcome to win their personal battles. I teach them that keeping a strong mental attitude is a lifelong struggle for most people, that it’s a battle they must not ever let up on.
There are a number of success principles in your book—commitment, persistence, gratitude and on and on. Is there one that the majority of people struggle with the most?
They’re all vitally important, but the two that are the most difficult for most people are believing in yourself and overcoming the great enemy—fear. The majority of us don’t have a clue what we’re capable of, we really don’t; it’s a huge uphill struggle to have belief, faith that we can do it, that we can achieve the extraordinary, which is an absolute necessity to overcome the terrible fear of failure that is always lurking in the back of our minds.
Mistakes Are A Pathway to Learning
You see mistakes as helpful, maybe even a key to success. Tell me more about that.
People who are mentally weak are fearful of making mistakes; they equate mistakes with painful failure. People who are mentally strong understand that mistakes are part of the learning process; they’re the clues to tell you that you have to adapt, change what isn’t working; they help you figure out what isn’t working and lead you to what is going to work. Mistakes aren’t evil; they’re the teaching tools that eventually will propel you to victory. They’re just temporary setbacks, not the death blows that cause too many people to give up, surrender, and then, sadly, beat themselves up over it for the rest of their lives.
I’m a huge fan of quotes. What’s your favorite quote and how did it influence you?
My favorite quote is from an unknown source. It goes like this: “If you don’t have a dream that is so outrageous that you couldn’t possibly succeed unless God Himself puts in a personal appearance, you’re not alive.”
How did it influence me? It’s the reason I’m pursuing this “retirement” career of mine, as opposed to living the typical retirement existence. I knew I wasn’t the kind of man to sit around and do nothing; I knew I had to be fully alive until my dying breath; I knew I needed to wake up every morning so excited that I couldn’t wait to tackle the day ahead. I’m going to spend the rest of my life going from one outrageous dream to another, to another, to…
What one book would you choose as the biggest influencer on your career?
It isn’t even close, Skip. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. I recommend it to everyone. It was written in the 1930s and is as apropos today as the day it was written. In my humble opinion, it is the very best book ever written on what it takes to achieve great success. I’ve read it over 100 times. I peruse through it every time I begin a new quest. I’ve referred to it as the Bible of success books.
You’re a big baseball fan. What’s your prediction for next season?
Well, as you know, I’m a Cubs fan; my wife and I have season tickets. Probably the safest prediction I can make is, somewhere around June or July—could even be sooner—I’ll be uttering those magic words, “Wait till next year!” I’ll add this, though: the Cubs are dead serious now about producing a winner, so I think you’re going to see a competitive team from 2015 onward. My grandmother would’ve no doubt added, “From your mouth to God’s ears!”
For more information, see Selling Fearlessly: A Master Salesman’s Secrets For the One-Call-Close Salesperson.