I ran into this guy standing outside the Italian parliament in Rome this week. He is Mr. Euro and he appears on television several nights a week. His job is to make members of parliament look stupid by asking them awkward questions as they leave work.
Archive for January, 2012
THE ART OF THE SALE [STARRED REVIEW!]
Learning from the Masters About the Business of Life
Author: Broughton, Philip Delves
Sales was not part of the curriculum at Harvard Business School. Former Daily Telegraph journalist Broughton (Ahead of the Curve: Two Years At Harvard Business School, 2008) explains why that’s a big problem.
For the author, sales is where the rubber hits the road, where the deals are done. If a business can’t sell its product, of course, it won’t survive. More Americans are employed in sales than any other line of work. Not to be confused with marketing, the author’s definition of sales goes from his sons’ lemonade stand to the Dalai Lama representing the Tibetan people against Chinese repression. Broughton has met with top sellers around the world, traveling to Japan, Morocco and the United Kingdom in search of the keys to success in sales. In addition to his interview research, he examines academic studies, history, self-help literature, academic research on the psychology of selling and the character attributes of sales people. He explores the differences in theory and practice, and he draws from the history of the field, by way of P.T. Barnum and Joseph Duveen, who brought fine-art sales to the U.S. Broughton does not exclude the seamy underside—e.g., pharmaceutical companies recruiting college cheerleaders to “sell” their products to the country’s doctors, who “buy more and prescribe more to please ex-cheerleaders than they do for salesmen who look like themselves”—but he supplies plenty of success stories, including Ted Turner, casino magnate Steve Wynn and former AOL executive Ted Leonsis.
Entertaining, balanced and provocative.
Thank you Kirkus.
A great profile of Tom Coughlin, the long-serving coach of the NY Giants, in today’s NY Times. Coughlin’s habits suggest he would have made a great salesman. He is a stickler for rules and routines, and a believer in the power of motivational speeches. While all around him teams and coaches search for the next new thing in the NFL, Coughlin sticks to the tried and true.
“Taught by his father, a World War II veteran, Coughlin liked to be in charge: he was the catcher on the high school baseball team, the point guard on the basketball team and the captain of the football team. Rules and accountability, his friends said, pervaded his life.
Over time, his contemporaries say, Coughlin came to view his rules as producing more than just discipline. They are a key to consistency, and to Coughlin consistency leads to routine, and routine leads to preparedness, and preparedness leads to proper execution.”
The piece also quotes the former Giants executive Ernie Accorsi who says that the finest NFL coaches have always had one common trait: very high intelligence.
“Vince Lombardi taught high school chemistry, Bill Walsh could have been a college professor, and Paul Brown qualified for the Rhodes scholarship. Tom Coughlin is in that mold. It’s his intelligence and football knowledge that has made him successful.”
The question posed by all three is what do these venerated leaders have to teach us today? The Caesar and Ataturk books are quite formal military histories. Andreas Kluth’s Hannibal and Me is a more meditative and original consideration of the purposeful life.
What after all, is a good life? According to Herodotus, Solon, the philosopher, said the most fortunate man who had ever lived was Tellus of Athens.
“Tellus was from a prosperous city, and his children were good and noble. He saw children born to them all, and all of these survived. His life was prosperous by our standards, and his death was most glorious: when the Athenians were fighting their neighbors in Eleusis, he came to help, routed the enemy, and died very finely. The Athenians buried him at public expense on the spot where he fell and gave him much honor.”
Solon’s claim infuriated Croesus, the Lydian King, who after showing off all his wealth expected Solon to say that he Croesus was, of course, the most fortunate man ever.
My next book is out on April 12th. The Art of the Sale – Learning from the Masters about the Business of Life is about salespeople, who they are and why they can do what they do. The idea for it first came to me while I was at Harvard Business School, where sales is not part of the curriculum. Why, I wondered? A professor told me that if I wanted to learn selling, I should take a two week night course.
And yet what is business but creating a product or service and then selling it? Why should sales be so belittled by the business academy? The harder I looked, the more contradictions I found. There is Arthur Miller’s grim portrayal of selling in Death of a Salesman, as well as Horatio Alger’s tales of Americans who pull themselves up through society’s ranks with a ready smile, hard work and a knack for selling. We reward great salespeople with high political office and great fortunes, and yet society also belittles selling as tawdry, the back-slapping car salesman trying to gouge out a few extra cents.
Whenever I have had to sell, I’ve found it hard. Selling requires persistence, the adoption of masks and attitudes, conviction, persuasion, empathy and a bullying streak. More than any other aspect of business, it forces you to ask that most fundamental question: what are you willing to do for a buck?
Researching this book took me all over the world, from Moroccan souks to Japanese insurance firms to Silicon Valley. I met many fascinating characters – salespeople are invariably good company, with great stories to tell. They were mostly very honest about the difficulties of their work and its rewards.
So this book is for people who sell, whether they like it or not. I tried to be as un-squeamish as I could as I sorted through the many challenges of selling, the need to find purpose, to stay optimistic in the face of endless rejection, to balance personal and professional friendships, empathy and ego, truth and lies. To keep one’s mental balance amidst the psychological turmoil that is sales.
We survive by selling, by converting out talents and efforts into financial and non-financial rewards. My hope is that you read The Art of the Sale and find that process easier.
The first review of the book just came out in Publishers’ Weekly. It says:
“Though we normally don’t think of Nelson Mandela as a salesman, persuading white South Africans to end apartheid was one of the great sales campaigns in recent history. Journalist Delves Broughton (Ahead of the Curve: Two Years at Harvard Business School) thinks salesmanship deserves more respect, though he freely admits that the few times he was called upon to sell, he hated it. Integral to any successful business, selling is seldom taught in business school, perhaps because M.B.A. programs prefer to paint a less brutal vision of business life. This exploration of the nature of salesmanship begins in Morocco, where Delves Broughton meets Majid, a world-renowned antiques dealer, who suggests that the art of the sale lies in patience and the ability to instantly read people. For infomercial-king Tony Sullivan, the art lies in the ability to tell an irresistible story, while Japan’s top life insurance salesperson, Mrs. Shibata, credits her conviction that she’s performing a valuable service. Like Malcolm Gladwell, Delves Broughton is drawn to success stories where natural talent takes second place to hard work, but he’s also willing to explore the manipulative, deceptive aspects of the task, as well as the endless rejection salespeople must face. His enthusiasm and admiration for skilled practitioners of the art is contagious.”
I wrote this defense of financial innovation for the latest Spectator. Criticising individual overpaid, underperforming bankers is one thing, but taking aim at the financial industry as a whole is a terrible idea. Britain will depend on its financial sector to propel it out of its long slump. It should be encouraging it, not continuing to beat it down long after the financial crisis occurred.
In early December, I had the chance to go back to Myanmar – my mother’s home country – for the first time in my many years. It was delightful to return and find the country finally changing. The dreadful oppression which used to exist in Yangon has lifted – a combination of the government moving out to its new capital, Naypyidaw, and also lifting its boot from the country’s neck. Foreign visitors are now pouring into Yangon, Hillary Clinton in December, George Soros and William Hague so far in January – and it’s only the 6th. I wrote this oped which appeared in the FT today, and will have another, longer piece in the Chatham House magazine The World Today next month.
A great profile in the NY Times of the mathematician turned biologist Eric Lander. Lander now runs the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. Lander was a superlative mathematician who later became an expert in molecular biology, medicine and genomics, swapping the solitary life of a mathematician for a much more collaborative, inter-disciplinary adventure.
Two quotes in particular.
The first from Lander’s high school friend, Dr. Paul Zeitz, a maths professor at the University of San Francisco: “He was super smart, but so what? Pure intellectual heft is like someone who can bench-press a thousand pounds. But so what, if you don’t know what to do with it?”
The other from Lander himself, describing the improbable leaps in his own career: “You live your life prospectively and tell your story retrospectively, so it looks like everything is converging.” But of course, at the time, there is no convergence. You make choices and take risks, hoping that everything works out. Only when it does do others look back and approve.
Lander saw the kind of life he wanted, pursued it and succeeded, but I’m sure there were those at every turn wondering what on earth he was doing.