Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Learning About Commitment, the hard way

My first job out of college was with IBM. After training, I was assigned to small business (underscore) and office products. Our area was affectionately known around the office as the "THUMP' district: tattoos, hustlers, undercover, mob, pimps.

I could not imagine any of my potential clients on the south side of town using a typewriter for something remotely related to legitimate work. It was not an easy market.

Before getting THUMP'd, I had fantasies of casually selling $4 million computers to well-heeled executives while teeing off the 9th hole. Instead, I was trying to convince struggling business owners to buy a Selectric III typewriter or slap down $5,000+ to be the first on their block to own a personal computer.

I had some lean days. In fact, I had many, many lean days. After one of those days, my manager took me aside and spent an afternoon helping me understand how to turn my luck around.

"Russ, don't waste your talent with people who don't appreciate you, or spend another day with a company that looks like death eating a cracker." Don had a deep southern accent that flavored all of his down-home expressions. "Just thank them for their time, make a sale if you can, and then commit yourself to the next prospect who can appreciate what you have to offer."

He added another thought that meant the world to me.

"I'm committed to your success - that's why I hired you. Stop in anytime. I'll be glad to go over your progress anytime you want."

It was only later when I got back to my desk that I laughed out loud thinking about his "death eating a cracker" homily. In the end, I was successful, even in that crappy territory. Only much later in life did I realize the two important lessons he had shown me:

1. People respond when someone is truly committed to their success. Through his dedication to me, and my dedication to my territory (and not my products), I was able to create loyal customers who trusted me, regardless of where I worked or what I sold. Through commitment, we both gained success, and my manager gained my respect and lifelong appreciation.

2. We "sell" ourselves everyday, no matter what we do for work. Through our words, actions, and body language, we either invite others to participate with us to achieve great success, or push them away, causing us to work even harder to stay afloat.

Stop getting THUMP'd. Commit yourself to others, and to your customer's success.

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