Tag Archives: Greg Lawlor

25 Lessons from 25 Years in the Sales Trenches

I left teaching 25 years ago to take a position selling fitness equipment to gyms and commercial settings. 100% commission at the time, 30 years old, mortgage, hoping to start a family. 2nd career. Never did sales.

Since that time, I have sold in a small territory in 2 languages, sold in a big one in 1 language.

Managed a small team while selling and managed a big team.

Worked on very small transactions, been a part of some very large ones.

I have met many very interesting people,  travelled to many interesting places.

I have been disappointed and lost many times, however, my wins overshadow those losses.

I have lost money but overall made a good living.

The bottom line is that I have had the privilege of supplying lots and lots of exercise equipment to organizations that focus on creating healthy communities.

I don’t think there has been 1 day when I have not learned a lesson, and maybe that is why I have survived 25 years.  25 years x approx. 300 working days a year = 7500 lessons!! (on the low end!! )

For you, I have narrowed it down to my top 25 .

These are the 25 lessons from 25 years in sales.

  • Have a passion, or at least an interest in the product you are representing. There is a reason most sales business cards say “sales representative”. We are being paid to represent the company for whom we work.  Being passionate about exercise, it was a good fit to represent companies that created tools to help exercisers.
  • Believe in your organization and the people who run it.  Without that belief, it is very difficult to speak confidently about the equipment you represent.
  • As a former team sport athlete growing up, I was always more comfortable in a team. That worked out because to be efficient and productive in sales, you need a supporting team. In our industry, that team included administration, logistics, technical support and finance.  Without that support, you risk becoming a jack of many trades, and master of none.
Team!
  • Understand the business you are in. How does your organization compete, be profitable, win and lose.  While working with a team, and specializing in 1 aspect of the sale (the front end), understanding the business side became a massive asset.  My first organization were stickler for inventory control. In big pieces of exercise equipment, 1 mistake around inventory costs a lot. Getting on an installation and being a part of the last touch point to a customer was also a valuable perspective.
  • Understand the customer.  The customer is not always right, but putting yourself in the customer position is a good start to making a connection and getting towards a sale. What are their concerns, fears, challenges and worries? Without understanding this, you are playing roulette instead of establishing a starting point to enter the conversation.  The entire point of sales is to knowledgeably offer a product that solves a problem for the customer.
Many customers have been disappointed before ever meeting you!
  • Have a USP.  Early on I learned that having pieces of the puzzle others could not compete with was critical.  Being unique. Unique selling proposition.  USP. What makes what is being offered unique? Different? Worth a 2nd look by your customer. A unique selling proposition is taught by every business school from here to the north pole.  Being able to transfer that to traction for your offer and your customer is a direct link to your sales success.
  • Be of “service” mindset. Sales is another term to be of service.  To get someone to write a cheque for something you offer and be excited to do so, comes from creating something of value for someone else.
  • Study and master lead generation. This has changed a ton over 25 years. Social media, email marketing did not exist when I started.  However, the phone did and so did the standard mail. These are still so valuable. What’s working and how is a big part finding those interested in what you offer, or perhaps more relevantly in an information age, have them find you!   If consistency is the goal, then lead generation is the skill that sets you on your away to achieving the goal.
  • Understand your industry: growth trends, top players, best practices. You can learn a lot from what the best are doing.  How can you learn from top performers. When I say industry, I refer to sales, not just your product category.  I have been in business to business sales for most of my career, so this is the industry I study.
  • Understanding how your competitors sell and market is a good idea. (Your customer options) Most important lesson here, to do something different.  For sure, important to know best practices, and integrate into some of your offering. 
  • Professional development. Never stop learning. 25 years ago it was reading. Still is. Today,  podcasts, webinars and seminars. Focusing on getting better everyday.  As John wooden said “it is what your learn after you know it all that counts”.
  • Use the products you sell.  This is linked to a passion for what you represent. Also, Use the products you compete against.  This is especially relevant for me over the years, in fitness equipment.  But this applies to many products. If you don’t use your products, you are not the advocate you claim to be for your customer.
  • Get good at listening. Really listening.  The more I listened and observed, the more consistent I got.   Simple. Not easy.
  • Practice communication skills.  A good doctor can communicate medical speak into terms the average person understands. They do so with compassion and with humility. Same with a financial advisor taking complex financial information and converting it into terms we can understand. A good salesperson does the same.  The communication of message needs to be customized to the person being addressed. This is a skill that can only be developed through practice. Just like an actor with a script.
  • Don’t let numbers scare you and don’t be a slave to them.  Numbers in business and sales are how we keep score. It is how we get paid. They scare many. However, they are a guide on performance and validation of your skills. They don’t lie. I always loved the picture numbers can provide. In my business, B2B sales, numbers paint the picture for the customer as well. Best embrace them and use them to your benefit.
  • The work expands to the time you have : if you are good, you will be in demand : don’t let that take you away from what’s important to you.  I have not always been good at this. Many years, I worked long hours to learn a craft that was foreign to me. Very few people are good at a skill early on. As I started I got some advice, don’t let the company and their interests take you away from what’s important in your life.   You only have 1 chance to raise your kids and be home for important events.

I don’t mind admitting that I struggled with this for some time, because the ego stroke that comes from being in demand is gratifying.  In hindsight, it is not all that important. The work is there. Especially if you are good. If you are good, you can develop your own terms of work.

  • Master Sales Skills. Have a process. A musician knows what skills to practice to get better.  Many salespeople don’t.  The theory of sales and the practice of sales often get lost in translation. There are skills that you need to be good at to be better at sales.  They include many of what is shared here.  Knowledge of your customer, and market. Listening and asking relevant questions. Focus and follow up. Communication in various forms, from writing to presenting.  Most importantly problem solving. The most important skills come from practice.   But sales success starts with knowing the skills that work.
How Do You Define Success?
  • Positioning. This is a big one. Thanks Dan Kennedy! This is connected to lead generation. If you can position yourself as being valuable to your customer, sales consistency will follow.
  • Collect money. Early on in my sales career, I was at a conference and someone I struck up a conversation with started bragging about all the quotes he had out in the field. Being new to sales, I had to question whether this was important in performance.  It is. But not as important as getting orders and collecting money. Collecting money is the most important skill. Get good at it.
  • Understand & leverage finance. This is connected to knowing and understand numbers. In B2B sales, finance plays a big role. The largest sales I have been involved in were over $1M in equipment. The role of exchange rates, depreciation, interest rates, cash flow and other aspects of finance are critical in putting together a winning proposal.
  • Don’t try to please everyone.  It was definitely a process to understand that I was not going to please everyone. Problems happen. Deliverables sometimes don’t meet expectations.  All opportunities are not created equal. Being able to say no, or deal with disappointment or negative reviews is part of the job.   Especially if you experience some success, many negative naysayers will target you and try to knock you down.  Don’t let it deter you from what is important.
Best planning still results in mistakes
  • Learn from your mistakes. Oh, the mistakes. I think it was Michael Jordan who said, that he succeeded with game winning shots because he failed so many times. Not many sales trainings will talk of the journey of mistakes and losses. But they are valuable. Learn from them. I did.
  • Create goals you can be excited about.  The self-help industry will talk of goal setting. Which is fine and good. However, having goals that you can get excited about is most often connected to your why.  
  • Focus. The more success one has, the more distractions come your way. Stay focused on what’s important to you while striking a balance with what’s going on around you.  At times during my career I think I suffered from tunnel vision, and that hurt just as much as getting distracted.
  • Stand for something. How do you want to be known by coworkers and customers?  

Last, but not least, have fun. This won’t happen all the time. But if you represent products and organizations you like, work with people you enjoy, it won’t always seem like a job. This is very high on the list. The equipment industry gave me outlet to determine my income while being part of an industry that I love.  I worked hard, filled up my library and applied what could. I had some great wins, but also some devastating losses.

The more I worked in sales, the more l realized that the people were the most important thing.

It is not about product or quotas or margins or goals.

It is about helping people. 

That was and is fun!

The Downside To Teaching Sales Employees What It Takes.

There are many things that sales management and business coaching books won’t teach you. 1 of them is training an employee, who does well then decides to jump ship to compete with you.

Any business owner or senior manager will tell you that grooming young talent comes with its pitfalls. It requires an investment of time and money, expert guidance and patience.

In business to business sales (B2B), the sales cycles can be as long as 1-2 years. There are lots of skills to master.

From lead generation & prospecting, to product, customer and competitor knowledge.  There is also administration of the sale and management of customer relationship management software (CRM) to increase efficiency.  Managing a pipeline, relationships, working with support personnel, leveraging finance, negotiation and follow up skills are also required for consistent success.  In addition, our top performers also understand and manage priorities, understand how to create value, are good with numbers, hold margins, have good follow up skills, and  present well in various situations.  In our fitness equipment business, knowledge of exercise science is a valued skill of our top performers.

These skills lead to an experience bank. This experience bank allows you to use the above skills for maximum performance.  Most importantly, all of this is wrapped up into a unique selling proposition, an approach that positions our solution better than the others available to the customer.

The learning curve is steep, and often takes 6 months to 1 year or more for a successful representative to hit their stride.

Performance is always the #1 objective. Results. Sales. Generating revenue. 

Therefore, supporting the new representative in these skills becomes a priority for the manager, because time is always of the essence.

With this training, performance and overall investment by the organization, 1 of 2 things tend to occur:

  1. It is not a good fit for the representative.  The activities required are not performed well and results are not there, and the contract needs to end.
  • It is a good fit and the representative builds some momentum, enough to keep going and find a rhythm.  From here 2 things can happen.
    • They settle in and have some success and nice long-term relationship gets established. This benefits the representative, the organization and, most importantly the customer. In many cases, these are the next wave of senior representatives and some start move into management.
  • The success becomes so strong that the representative starts to feel that they can get to a better opportunity. The perspective is that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence and will lead to more money and freedom.  Perhaps this opportunity is one that they can run with more control and answer to less people.  The feedback has been that the new opportunity won’t have as much structure and guidelines.    Sometimes, they want an ownership stake or don’t feel the mother ship is supporting them as well, so they decide to leave.

In almost 20 years of sales team management, the most frequent result is #1 above.   In my experience, I have found 2 reasons for this.

  • The profiling and interviewing process was not deliberate enough. Hire slow and let go quickly applies here and is very true.
  • The expectations out of the gate were not realistic for the skill level of the new representative.

Both are on the hiring organization.

The 2nd most frequent result is 2a, they settle in, do well and are long term productive representatives.  This is the most rewarding part of the work, as I have been on both sides.  Representative and management. 

A close 3rd to the above is 2B. This is where the successful representative packs up and leaves for a better offer or start their own shop.

2B is every employer’s worst case scenario.

Investment into the representative, they get up and running and do well, and they leave.

In my experience, there are not many situations departing representative had as much success with the new organization.

Why would this be?

Not a clear understanding of all aspects of the business is the most logical answer.   In the industry where I have the most experience, the selling of commercial fitness equipment, the capital requirements and support expertise to prop up a representative are significant. This would be akin to a top performing car salesperson starting their own dealership.  But they could start their own brokerage could they not?

Of interest here is that yours truly departed a company in 2010 to start out on my own.  That would be option 2B.  That’s right, I was one of those people.  I learned a lot with my first organization for 15 years and then felt I had reached an impasse and had to leave.

The change, at that time, propelled me into business ownership and took my career to another level.  But that other level brought increased investment and exposure financially along with the eventual strong results. (We eventually sold our business in 2015 to the company I work for now.)

The ironic aspect of this, was that I never wanted to leave.  I understood all that my first organization had taught me. The competitive advantage it provided me so I could focus on serving customers.  That organization, however, stopped doing those things to support me and our customers suffered. Products started taking too long and other aspects required to be supported were stopped. In fact, I tried for 3 years to help the first organization get back on track, without success.

In my case, I had no choice. I had to leave.  Either the company and/or the industry.

I knew going into the new venture, what the requirements in running a business run much wider and deeper than simply sales.  I also partnered with 2 people who were very good at aspects of the business that I was not.

Conclusion:

I don’t think I would change a thing.   I think people leaving are part of the process of running a business and/or managing a team.  The key is developing a process that increases the chances of a good hiring fit and shortens the learning curve to performance.   

I have been on both ends.  The employee and employer. The sales representative being managed, and the manager.

I am teaching my son to find an organization within an area he is of interest, that has a great onboarding program.   Regardless of where you go from there, you can not lose!

Greg Lawlor is a former schoolteacher and 25 year veteran of sales, management and business ownership.  He continues to learn something new every day!

Christmas: Not As Expensive As I Thought.

That was overhead at the gym.

“How was your Christmas Bob? “

Bob: “Not as expensive as I thought”.

That was overheard at the gym Dec 27th.

Ummm.

That made me stop and think.

Interesting reply.

Is the reply a reflection of the personality?

Is the reply a reflection of where our western Christmas culture has evolved (or digressed) to?

Perhaps both.

My first reaction is “what a sour puss!”

But then, as I moved to my next exercise, I thought about it more.

A couple of days prior to Christmas, I noticed the level of stress rising amongst the masses.  Little things like impatience getting cars around parking lots and off at green lights.

Ah, yes. The green light race. If you don’t get off the brake and on to the gas in .01 seconds, someone behind you will let you know that is not acceptable.

We all must hurry off to spread Christmas cheer, now get out of the F****** way!

In my generation, our parents worked so hard to create a special time at Christmas.  We had gift exchanges of course, but also took time to see the Christmas lights, visit with family, enjoy beautiful meals, get some spiritual time at church,  give to those less fortunate and generally pressed pause on our lives to give thanks.

That was the essence of the Christmas spirit then, and what we try to instill with our son.  Spending time with those close to us is still cherished.

It seems with the constant connectivity and drive through mentality, that seems to be lost.  The day after Christmas in Canada is Boxing Day.  Historically, this is when the rich gave boxes to the less fortunate hundreds of years ago.  Growing up, it was a 2nd holiday almost. A day of rest.

In 2019, it represents a massive rush to the stores to get special shopping deals. Visuals of people battling for discounted items run rampant on social media.

The expectation of Christmas seems to have changed.

It seems the expectations around gifts have risen form many.

I guess if you let it, it can get expensive.

I still think that is one’s perspective to view it as a negative time. 

I think, and will continue to think that Christmas can be and is so much more than just a financial strain.

55 Years Old and How Everything Has Changed

Growing up, I did not think about what it would be like at 55 years old. The only time 55 years old was mentioned was in the context of retirement.

As we turn the calendar to 2020, I will turn my chronological calendar to 55.

Over the last few months, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on what 55 feels like, what I have learned with this time on earth and what’s ahead.

That’s a good place to start. What’s ahead.

I am not sure when, but at some time in the last few years I started to think of the finish line more and more.   I have watched my dad and in laws pass, and my Mom’s health decline rapidly as she approaches 80.

I don’t remember thinking about my remaining years as much when I was 30 or into my 40’s.  But I do now.

  • How do I want the remaining years to go?
  • How long will I be able to do the things I like?  What do I like?
  • How long will I maintain a full-time work schedule?
  • How is my physical self? 
  • Is it declining? 
  • What do I want to do?
  • Who do I want to spend my time with?
  • How do I want to feel?

I don’t have the answers to all the above questions.

I find it interesting that this line of thinking and questioning in entering my thoughts.  I think it is positive.  For me, it represents a sense of mindfulness.  These questions represent not taking life’s events for granted.  It represents a sense of scripting out what I can and being proactive today, tomorrow, next week, month and year. 

Have you found that much of our adult lives are being reactive?

Reactive to family and work demands. Reactive to what needs to be done on a daily basis.  I think that is normal as we raise a family and try to establish ourselves professionally that we feel we are responding to life’s events rather than planning them out.  We don’t take as much time for ourselves and guide our events as much as we probably should.

I do find, in the last few years, that I don’t take much for granted.  Relationships, time, finances, health. I think that is good thing.

When I was younger, in my 30’s, 20’s and teenage years, I thought 55 years old was old. It was a beyond comprehension really.  When my Dad was 55, I was 28.  At 28, I was in the process of buying my first house and leaving school teaching for the world of sales and business.  My mind was not focused on how my dad viewed his life at 55, or much beyond building a foundation for myself and my spouse.

Even into my 40’s, I continued to focus on providing for my family and doing what needed to be done to strike a work life balance.

I think it was the passing of my family members that triggered the sense of vulnerability that comes as we age.   I was close to my Dad and in laws.  It hit me hard.  It took me a long time to recover, and not sure I have completely.  That was 3-4 years ago.

What does this mean?

I have come to the conclusion that I must work on myself daily.

Keep myself healthy, strong, positive and vibrant.  That process alone is one of the things I enjoy the most. Kind of like an athlete preparing for competition.  Except my competition is life.

I am a huge believer in being our own health and well being advocates. I think it is our responsibility to navigate what we can control around our environment and our mood.

I have received the reminders about how life is short, and how every day is a gift.  I don’t take that for granted.

For that, I feel blessed. 

55 years old today is not what it was 25 years ago.  It can be the age of retirement, but it is not for me at this point.  The workplace has changed so much. It feels like we have control over who we work with and what we do. That is empowering.

My spouse is starting a new career at 53.   I am going back to doing more and more coaching. I am starting to write more.

Years ago, I feel mid 50’s represented a time to wind down.

I don’t feel that way. I feel I am just getting started! 

The 1 Thing University Did Not Teach Me Is What I Needed The Most

Getting a university education is not for everyone.  For many, it is considered that college is the best way to ensure highest earning potential.  For others, they believe there are better ways to accomplish same.

University taught me so many things.  These lessons have provided a foundation for a great career. However, it was not in the planned path.

The lessons learned in school included but not limited to both an academic and self-development foundation.

On the academic side, I gained skills around the following:  

  • Understanding evaluation criteria.
  • Communication skills, both verbal and written.
  • Presentation skills.
  • Lesson planning.
  • The world of movement science.
  • The world of teaching methodology.
  • Social sciences like philosophy and psychology.
  • The role of formal education in our society.
  • Research methods.
  • Statistical analysis.

On the self-development side:

  • Time management.
  • Prioritization of tasks.
  • Self confidence.
  • Getting out of my comfort zone.
  • Listening.
  • Critical thinking.
  • Living independently.
  • Being functional with sleep deprivation!

There is so much more.

But there is 1 thing that university did not teach me, something I needed the most.

How to make a living with the education that has received.

University prepares us for many things, but for many, earning an income is not one of them. 

Can a university degree make it easier to get a job?

Maybe. 

A teaching degree in Physical Education should always be in need, yes?

Students will always be in need of daily movement, yes?

Much to my surprise, the people in power determining curriculum did not agree.

For 8 years, post university, I taught in various school boards around Montreal.  I started as a supply teacher part time as I finished my thesis.  That got me my first full time job in an K-6 school. 3 schools actually, dividing my time teaching PE in 3 small communities. 

I loved being a gym teacher. 

After 2 years, I ran into my first roadblock. Gym time cutbacks meant less gym teachers. 

I found an opening back in Montreal at Dawson College and joined the PE department there in 1993.

The experience at the collegiate level was very different than teaching younger ages, but equally powerful. Young adults (17 and over) were preparing for university and/or a trade. They had to take a gym class every semester as part of their core course load. They got to choose from classes like stress management, team sports, individual sports, martial arts, outdoor ed like hiking and mountain biking.

1 of the classes I taught was outdoor education for students with disabilities.  We had students up in the Laurentian mountains, north of Montreal, camping, canoeing, hiking and sleeping under the stars. For young adults, some of them had never been out of the city. 

It was life changing for all involved.

Cutbacks put an end to that. Very quickly students had less gym class requirements.  No longer compulsory.  The staff was cut by 50% from 34 to 17.   

In my 8 years of teaching, I always had year to year contract. I would be unemployed in the spring and sometimes renewed in the fall, and often had to find a new position.   My wife and I just moved into our first house,  I felt at a crossroads.  How long do I keep bouncing around?  

It was the spring of 1995 and I made the leap to 100% commission sales position, selling exercise equipment to gyms and fitness centers.  I have never looked back.

It opened a ton of doors for me, and I have been blessed with 25 years of unique experiences and satisfying work.

A lot of financial and professional ups and downs and lessons along the way.

When leaving university, it never occurred to me I would struggle to find an appropriate income.  The art of making a living while making a life is a skill that can be learned and taught. 

I wish that in addition to the academic and self-development lessons I learned, there were also financial ones.   How to maximize earning potential and how to promote your skill set in the wake of what the market needs and where revenue is streaming. 

Now that I think of it, should that not be standard in any academic or technical education stream?

I certainly learned the skills of perseverance and preparation in university, and those served me well adjusting my professional course after 8 years in the field, and 5 years of training. 

However, those adjustments might have been a little less painful with a career management course or 2.   Starting from scratch at 30 years old, was a risky move and many thought I was nuts.

Certainly, I feel very qualified to build that curriculum out now for those in a discipline where the traditional demand does not always equal opportunity.

Students still need to move daily in order to be at their best. However, in 2020 they are still not getting daily gym class. Far from it.   Sitting and screen time is taking over more and more.

Broadcasters are being created everyday with the growth of podcasts, have the learning institutions offering broadcasting adjusted?  I hope so.

All disciplines need to have keyboard skills, have the learning institutions adjusted? I hope so.

Tons of personal trainers and fitness professionals are struggling to make a living.  Have the accreditation groups adjusted to include career management in their curriculums? I hope so.

Devil’s advocates could say that the skill developed in school is what led me to have the confidence to adjust careers as I evolved in my professional life.

There might be a better way we can pass on to the next ones.

I think some more formal guidance in this area could have saved a ton of time on the roller coaster of making a living!