Not everyone will grow up to become President of The United States and history typically only has room for one; Steve Jobs, Einstein, Ben Franklin or Gandhi. And that’s ok because success is a purely subjective term and excellence can be found without necessarily achieving fortune or fame.
In fact there are probably far more examples of people who have found excellence in their personal and professional lives, most have seemingly ordinary careers such as insurance agents, fire fighters, teachers and many others. What’s different about these people is their unrelenting sense of purpose, to do more. They refuse to live within the median and this competitive spirit is not with others but with the person in the mirror.
Amongst these people who seem to find and sustain excellence, there are many common denominators. They share many of the same attitudes and philosophies, focus on developing the same types of skills and have the same balanced approach to career and living. To illustrate, here is an example of one theme that comes up over and over with the concept of excellence.
The Skill That Changed Everything
It was over twenty years ago when I first heard the phrase that would become a core business axiom and it would be much later when I began to appreciate and understand its depth. I was asking a respected business mentor whether or not I should take a job in a very unglamorous industry and he said, “it’s all the same, regardless of the industry, sales is sales. Products are all the same; it’s a can of soup on a shelf. If people are hungry, they will buy it. Would you care if you were selling toilet seats if the money was good?” He was never one to sugar coat anything but his philosophy would prove to be both profound and recurring.
“It’s a can of soup, on a shelf. If people are hungry they will buy it.”
A little over a decade later, this idea would reemerge in a significant way. This time it was over dinner conversation with my father-in-law. A man whom I have great respect and admiration for, both as a mentor and someone committed to excellence in all things, he does not come across as a “sales man”. A Vietnam veteran, my father-in-law has both the discipline and confidence of a military man yet a calming demeanor much like my own father. Further, with over forty years of business success, my father-in-law’s words carry credibility worth careful consideration.
When our conversation turned to sales, it caught me off guard when he stated, “it really does matter what industry you’re in or job you have, it’s all sales”. Over the next few weeks I would ponder that statement. That pondering became an experiment to test my father-in-law’s theory that would last for the next few years.
“It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in or job you have, it’s all sales.”
Testing The Theory
Over the next few years, the goal of the experiment was simple, “find a profession that did not involve sales at any level”. Starting with the easy stuff, I interviewed people who excelled within the traditional core areas of business and asked the questions;
- What is Customer Service? Selling the experience to the end user so that they will come back and tell others.
- What is Human Resource? Selling the benefits and opportunities of a career within our company.
- What is Recruiting? Selling an applicant on working at our company
- What is an Interview? Selling yourself to get the job
Next, I challenged any associate to pick a profession that they believed did not involve sales. Subsequently, I would find someone who excelled in that profession and interview them without any tipoff as to the real topic of interest. At some point I would ask the question, “Do you think that your profession involves sales at any level?” Here are some of the responses over the years;
- Police Officers: “Absolutely, the toughest part of our job is selling ourselves in the community”
- Teachers: “Of course, we’re selling the love of learning”
- Preachers: “In a sense, yes. We’re influencing people on the fate of their soul”
The point was driven home when I spoke to John, a noted PhD and extremely busy archeologist who stated,
“Are you kidding me? Have you ever tried to get funding for a dig? You have to put a proposal together then pitch it to those who have the money. Then you have to put a team together and pitch them on being on the project. Then you have to sell the results so the project doesn’t get cut off.”
Pink & Others Bring It Home
In 2012, author Daniel Pink published the book; To Sell Is Human, The Surprising Truth about Moving Others. In it he combines the recent history of sales from the time of The Fuller Brush Man with sound research to validate the idea that every profession involves influencing others to action. In other words, it’s all sales. In an interesting twist of irony, I sat down with my father-in-law when the book was published to discuss it as well as my findings. He informed me that his father was one of the famous Fuller Brush Men.
If that is not evidence enough, consider the recent presentation by Michael Bidwill, President of the Arizona Cardinals Football Club at the recent Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce luncheon. There he talked about business leaders responsibility to promote and sell the economic development of their communities. He cited Arizona Governor, Doug Ducey, as an excellent example of a civic leader selling his state across a global landscape.
Finding and sustaining excellence does not make a person perfect, nor will it ensure fame or fortune. It also won’t ensure one a good person. It can however lead to a greater depth of purpose in personal as well as professional life. There are common denominators to excellence in all things, embracing those skills is key to sustaining excellence. Chief among them is the idea that, “it’s all sales”.