Barry Maher nearly gave up shortly into his first corporate sales job. After five weeks of basic training, his sales manager had thrown him to the wolves with little practical guidance and virtually zero oversight. Left to fend for himself, Maher had no idea what kind of businesses to call on or how to canvass. He was banging on doors with nothing to show for it, and he thought of quitting.
Then Maher decided: “I’m going to do the best I can in this next call.”
Although he didn’t make the sale, that call went better than any previous call. The same happened with the call after that. Rather than focus on the result of each call, Maher kept focusing on the activity, and soon he had popped his first sale. The following week he made $6,000.
“From that point on I wanted to see how well I could possibly do this,” Maher said.
Looking for a sales job
Maher is now an author and professional motivator, but it wasn’t until that moment during his first corporate sales job that he decided to give 100% to something. Before he took the job, Maher had planned on writing novels. He was in his mid-30s, and had recently sold a successful business he’d built. Unfortunately, the new owner quickly ran it into the ground, and because Maher had taken a down payment instead of the full asking price, he soon found himself broke and unemployed.
Without the investment income to support his writing career, Maher decided to look for a sales job. As a boy he’d sold prizes door to door and in his teens he’d worked on a cruise ship selling magazines. But Maher had never sold anything on a corporate level, so after a number of interviews and a lot of hoop jumping, he managed to talk his way into a Fortune 100 company. Despite the insufficient training and absentee manager, Maher went on to become the company’s No. 1 salesperson during his first year, and stayed No. 1 after that. His success stemmed in part to the decision to give each call his absolute all. But Maher soon adopted another practice that, while simple, proved to be extraordinarily productive.
“When I made a sales call, I always spent a couple of minutes afterward thinking of how I could do that better,” Maher said.
The art of evaluation
Whether he closed a deal or not, Maher always evaluated his calls by immediately establishing what went well, what went poorly, and what could be done to improve. With time, his calls became more concise, his workweek shortened and his close rate increased.
“It’s a natural thing that happens. You get better and better at it, and it takes less and less time,” Maher said. “And if you get a little bit better after every sales call, you get pretty darn good.”
Maher got better at picking who he was going to call. He got better at eliminating unqualified prospects. He learned how to make his points quicker and more effectively. He became a big believer in accepting no as an answer, and he began to understand when it was time to walk away.
As he advanced from salesperson to sales manager, and from sales manager to sales executive, Maher refined his sales process into a powerful, efficient, repeatable blueprint for success. He never went into a sales call without a plan. He made sure to have a primary, secondary and tertiary goal for every conversation. And perhaps most importantly, he learned how to connect with potential customers on an authentic level.
“The key thing was focusing on the customer,” Maher said. “Once I started trying to do it as well as I could possibly do it, I realized it wasn’t about me, it was completely about them and finding out what their needs were.”
Maher would begin a conversation with an interest creating remark. Then he would ask the customer certain questions to get them talking about their business. In talking about their business, the customer would eventually reveal their need. Sometimes the customer knew what they needed, and Maher’s job was to encourage them to express that need. Other times they were unaware of their need, and Maher’s job was to help them realize it. Then he would explain how the product he offered could fulfill those needs.
“Selling is just education,” Maher said. “It was just educating them on what I could do for the them, what the product could do for them, what the company could do for them.”
Believing in the product
But Maher never pretended he had the perfect product. Instead, he chose to sell products he truly believed in, and was never afraid to discuss the negatives with the customer. To this day, he stands behind the idea that if selling a product requires the salesperson to act or lie, they have no business selling it.
“It’s not going to do this, it’s not going to do that, it’s not going to do the other thing, but here’s what it is going to do for you, Mr. Customer,” Maher would say.
Maher was honest. He was authentic. He was understanding. Rather than perform for the customer, he would educate. Rather than talk the customer’s head off, he would listen. Sometimes, at the end of a call, Maher would simply close with, “Give it a shot.” And even when he found the perfect buyer with the perfect need and made a great sale, Maher would still take time at the end of the call to contemplate improvement.
Maher is now a highly successful sales trainer, motivational speaker and author. His sales books Filling The Glass and No Lie: Truth Is The Ultimate Sales Tool rank as required reading for any aspiring salesperson, and he frequently appears in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and USA Today.
For all that he has accomplished, Maher’s success can still be traced back to the eureka moment he had in his first sales job. Decide you’re going to do something as well as you can possibly do it.
“I was frightened of proving that I didn't have the potential I'd always believed — and I'd always needed to believe — that I had,” Maher said. “But you can either give up or say the hell with it.”
Maher said the hell with it. And that decision led him to master the art of selling.