I was highly focused entrepreneur until my late 30s, when the ‘call’ to change was spurred by the ideas in Steven Covey’s business book, The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People.
Starting an industry placement as part of my degree in my early 20s, I joined the sales force of a large American multi-national, NCR. This is where they invented the cash register and where the founder of IBM originally learnt his trade.
They generously sent me on a wide array of presentation and sales skills courses in their training centre in Birmingham, UK.
I became fascinated by business psychology and started some recommended reading about success.
The two books that stood out to me were: ‘How to Sell Anything to Anyone’ by Joe Girard and ‘What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School’ by Mark McCormack. I was later to apply some of the ideas and techniques in these books within my own business
1. How to Sell Anything to Anyone by Joe Girard
“The elevator to success is broken – you will have to take the stairs: one step at a time.”Joe Girard
My main take-away from this book was how marketing is very much at the root of sales success.
Joe Girard applied a relentless approach to finding prospects to sell cars. He would drive around affluent neighbourhoods, taking notes of addresses where old cars parked were parked in the driveways. He would then find the names of these people from the electoral roll and phone book.
Then Girard would contact them. This included six-monthly phone calls and a variety of greeting cards. He also had some eccentric ideas. He was always finding new barbers to cut his hair and offering them 100 dollars if they introduced him to a new customer.
Girard would the barbers a plaque to screw to their wall which read: “If you are looking to buy a new car – ask the barber”. He even tossed up a handful of his business cards when the local baseball team scored, so people would associate his cards with a positive feeling.
His relentless tactics paid off. He became the world’s most successful sales person for 12 years running in the Guinness Book of World Records. He usually sold around five cars a day.
What his book taught me was the huge amount of marketing activity that is needed to land a customer. It is a great reframe for those who find approaching people uncomfortable. It requires a deliberate and hard worked process to succeed in business.
2. What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School by Mark McCormack
McCormack was a highly successful entrepreneur who started the field of sports management.
He was also a great salesman and had wise ideas of how to build a business that would provide a lasting income.
McCormack founded a business (IMG) that had made him extremely wealthy. He also realised that the career of a sportsperson is relatively short. Instead, he found that if they could earn sponsorship money, not just during their careers but after, it would be a win for them (and for him).
As such, he decided to convince Rolex to appear on the score boards at Wimbledon. McCormack pointed out that Rolex didn’t sell watches, they sold ‘luxury’, which matched well the aspirations of tennis spectators across the world.
The Rolex brand remains on those courts today – producing a continuous income.
As my father advised me, “Make income not money”. This proved good advice and eventually gave me sufficient income to start employing more people.
3. The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People by Stephen Covey
The next phase of my business was more complex – to move from a ‘one-man band’ to a ‘pop group’. I’m not sure why I did this – probably because I was finding the work boring – but it was a huge gamble.
The ultimate goal is to get a ‘band’ which consists of a board of directors: competent operations, sales/marketing and finance people.
Initially, I did all these roles myself. But as the business grew, I could delegate many of the operations to my existing small team. But the finance and sales was much harder. There is a “Catch 22”. You can’t really afford to hire a decent sales professional and the cost of a truly competent accountant is breathtaking.
It was therefore an uneven and messy few years until finally the right people were in place.
During this risky transition time, the Seven Habits book was truly a life-saver. Covey advises to ‘delegate results not methods’. Indeed, I quickly found that my increasingly competent crew members didn’t like being told how to do things, but we could all agree on what “good” looked like.
I also found that my coaching skills were incredibly helpful in transitioning from a management to leadership role.
As such, I would now define leadership as creating and facilitating other leaders. Now, discussions in my team are more like brain storming. We jointly learn to create better solutions, without anyone (including me) dominating the discussions. Covey calls this “synergy”.
Perhaps the two greatest ideas I got from Covey were: time management and vision. I initially needed a highly disciplined approach to time management. This ultimately gave me the extra time I would need to deal with this transition (while still running the business).
The other, more ethereal, quality was that of vision. How could I galvanize a team to become highly effective?
This was also messy. It took time for my team to get the vision habit. But finally a mission did emerge that put us on the right path and, again, we created it collectively.
Vision still remains a bit of a mystery for me. It is not the same as a goal, but definitely influences the direction of travel and therefore which goals can actually be achieved.
Vision creates radical change. But as you can’t entirely predict what that change will be, it is impossible to anticipate it. You need to learn to grow and develop as a result of the change that you initiated.
What I think Covey’s ideas gave me was a permission to start thinking in a new way. Rather than being entirely preoccupied with the daily problems that go with running a business, it allowed me to have ‘bigger thoughts’. What were my values? What values did I want my business to foster and express?
As Peter Drucker summarised – I had begun the move from being in the business to being on the business.
It was this journey that enabled me to realise that my own personal vision was to follow a new path of NLP and Coaching. In typical entrepreneurial spirit, I started out in that direction too – but that will be for another blog.
For now, I remain grateful for these books and highly recommend them.