She was a highly successful salesperson. People loved her. She worked hard and was able to sell the tough accounts others could never crack. Her clients were like family to her. She knew her territory cold. Ask her a question about one of her clients and she could give you an in-depth report immediately. She was truly exceptional, and she made a lot of money. But guess what? She wasn't a happy person. Her success wasn't enough for her. She seemed to worry all the time, so I was always concerned about her. Then one day, while we were on a business trip together, I attempted to find out what was making her so unhappy. Her answer went something like this: "I never went to college, and all the people around me have. I have an inferiority complex about it." I was speechless. Here was a talented woman who excelled in sales, made a terrific living, was loved by her colleagues and clients, and yet felt she was inadequate because she didn't go to college. We had a long chat about what it takes to be a success in any field. A college degree isn't necessarily part of it.
The first ingredient for success is heart. It's really another way of saying someone has courage. It means the courage to persevere and deal with life as it's presented. It's the courage to make a sales call when you know you are walking into a difficult situation. It's the courage to believe in yourself and trust your instincts.
Then there's humor. Most successful people I know have a great sense of humor. They not only have the ability to make others laugh but they aren't ashamed to laugh at themselves. Humor, if used properly, can be an important sales tool. It can put people at ease in tense situations and can help break the ice at social gatherings.
Common sense is another essential ingredient for success. The ability to cut through all the baloney and glitz and see things as they really are is critical, especially in sales. Many people lack common sense, so they say and do things that can destroy relationships. They speak out of turn and hurt people's feelings, often without even knowing they're doing it. People without common sense are perceived as rude and rather stupid.
That leads me to the subject of manners. Salespeople without good manners don't go very far. Making people feel special by treating them well is essential to success, no matter what your business may be. I know salespeople who can't get in to see certain clients because they treat secretaries rudely. Secretaries have a knack for remembering those people. On the other hand, if secretaries and assistants are treated with common courtesy, it's amazing how easily you'll get in to see the decisionmakers they work with.
Another key ingredient is the ability to listen. Successful individuals listen well. They listen with their ears, their eyes and their hearts. They observe body language to see how someone is reacting to them. If they sense resistance, they don't plod on and make the situation worse. They withdraw to come back and fight another day. They respect their clients and listen to them for advice and ideas.
Too often I hear people say they feel doomed for underachievement or even failure because they don't have a college degree. But that's just not the case. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs in this country never went to college. Some of the smartest people I know never went beyond eighth grade. On the other hand, some of the most rude, stupid and boring people I know have advanced degrees. You don't have to go to college to learn humor, good manners, discipline and hard work. Common sense, listening skills and courage come by way of the college of hard knocks.
If you don't have a degree, don't be overly concerned. You might just have more drive to succeed than someone who has a degree but doesn't realize that attitude is more important than any diploma.
Charles S. Lauer