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What Have I learned In 60 Years?

I am writing this and posting this on March 9.  Tomorrow, March 10 is my 60th birthday!  I am now a strong believer in #60isthenew40!  To celebrate I am leaving tomorrow for a 500-mile bicycle ride from Atlanta to Tampa, FL, taking me six days.  I am doing this as I love cycling, but mostly just to see if I can do it.  (It was either this or buy a really expensive red sports car or start a relationship with another woman, neither of which my wife thought was appropriate!) Can I stand the day in day out grind on staying mentally and physically on my game?  The daily ritual of getting fueled and ready in the morning, staying hydrated and fueled all day and then going through my recovery checklist in the evening.  Three days of 80 miles, one day of 66, then the last two days are gut check time, 102 and 91 miles the last two days.  Follow martymercer on Instagram if you want to see a few photo’s.

But that’s not the main subject of this blog.  Last weekend I was with my wife and three children and their spouses to celebrate my birthday early.  My son asked me to share with the group the three things I have learned over the years.  I have to say I was impressed by that request.  I told him to give me a day and I would think of a few things.  So, here are not three, but six (double the request!) things I have learned, mostly over the last 30 years, mostly in the business world, that I shared with my family.  In true millennial fashion, my kids were all furiously typing what I said on their iPhone’s!

  1. Don’t be afraid to be a late bloomer.  What I mean is that just because success or fame is not instant for you, or occurred at a young age, does not mean you won’t get to your success time.  I consider myself a late bloomer.  No real sports success until high school.  Climbed the corporate ladder for many years, but never to the very top.  But in the last 10 years I have found my calling and consider the last 10 years to be my bloom!
  2. Know more about your customers business than what you sell. I have always been in sales, and for many years I was an expert in only what we sold.  However, thanks to this late 10-year bloom, I now realize that once you have spent a year or so at a company, you know enough about them.  Stop studying your company and spend all (well, a lot!) your time studying your customer.  Success comes easier and more quickly this way.
  3. Learn about the rest of the world outside of your business vertical. For 25 years I led sales teams selling software to hospitals.  I was an expert on our software and on hospitals.  In fact, some called me a hospital savant!  Over the last 10 years of sales training and transformation, I have worked with many companies outside of healthcare.  And I discovered there was more to know about the rest of the world than I knew.  Always be learning about other subjects than just your company or vertical.
  4. Do what you are good at, can make money at, impacts people AND what makes your happy. Probably bad grammar, but all the connecting words are important.  You should do all of these.  If you are not doing all of these, find a new spot where you can.
  5. Always share the glory with your team – there are no solo events anymore. For the last 10 years I have been the guy up front leading sales teams through sales training, strategy sessions, changing the way they sell.  It looks like I am the “show”.  I am not. There are always several, if not many, people behind me who are making me look good.  You can lose alone, but you can only consistently win in the long haul with a team.  Make sure they know how critical they are to the successful outcome.
  6. And lastly, perhaps a bit whimsical, but I really mean it….at least once per week listen (in no order) to: Frank Sinatra, AC/DC, David Bowie and early Britney Spears. You will get a smile on your face, play some air guitar, pretend you are the coolest cat in the room, and realize that Britney is still making money….in Vegas!

How Much Do You Practice Your Presentations?

My wife Karen and I are just back from a great two-week trip to England.  A week of fun and a week of work.  We have been to London and surrounding areas several times, so this time we decided to venture a bit farther and visit Liverpool, home of four young blokes that we now know as The Beatles.  We visited the main Beatles museum and the next day had a private car tour with a guide from the Fab Four tour.

If you love The Beatles, or even if you only sort of like them, this is a trip you should not miss.  We all know their history from the Ed Sullivan show forward. But our trip to Liverpool gave us the history of their youth and growing up in Liverpool, their school days, and the early band started by John Lennon, The Quarrymen. This band evolved into The Beatles who are the best-selling band of all time, having sold over 800 million hard copy and digital copies of their songs.

The part of their development that really caught my eye, and ear, were the three years they spent playing in Hamburg, Germany, beginning in 1960.  I believe that without these three years in Hamburg, The Beatles would never have risen to the fame they did.  Why do I say that?  Here’s why.

During those three years they played in several different bars and clubs.  They would play four and one-half to six hours per night, six days per week, for 90-day periods.  Their skill when they arrived was basic at best.  Yes, they were very enthusiastic.  Yes, they had raw talent.  Yes, they had desire.  But they were not a “band” yet.  They were not as musicians say, “tight”.  John Lennon said, “We had to play for hours and hours on end. Every song lasted twenty minutes and had twenty solos in it. That’s what improved the playing.”

Thousands of hours of playing their early songs and lots of cover songs.  Night after night, four to six hours each night they played.  Twenty-minute songs with twenty solos in it.  Mistakes were made, but over time smoothed over.  They learned each other’s nuances, hand motions, head motions.  They learned how to play with each other.  Over and over again they sang the lyrics, practiced the harmonies.  They began to get better.  They just kept grinding away, practicing, practicing, practicing.

And then one night, Brian Epstein heard them, liked them and eventually got them out of their Hamburg contract.  He took them back to London and introduced them to George Martin, a record producer.  And the rest as they say, is history!

A question popped into my head during our tour, how much time do we spend practicing our presentations?  Not building, not crafting, not creating, not editing, not fooling around with PowerPoint, not trying to decide what product or solution we should show, not deciding the order of the agenda.  I mean once the entire presentation and agenda and flow is set and agreed upon, how much time do we spend standing up in front of the monitor, clicker in hand if PowerPoint, and saying out loud exactly what we intend to say on each slide or each portion of the product or solution demonstration.  As if the real customer audience was in front of us.

What’s your answer?  Thirty minutes or less?  An hour?  A few hours?  How much is the sales opportunity worth to you, your commission (your family), and your company?  Thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions?  Are we really spending only an hour or less that has that much personal and employer revenue potential?

The Beatles practiced thousands of hours over three years in Hamburg with no real visibility into their future.  They just had potential and a dream.  They knew to get to where they wanted to go, they needed those thousands of hours to get there.

Am I suggesting you spend thousands of hours practicing a specific presentation?  Obviously not.  Not hundreds either.  What I am suggesting is that we need to practice our presentations more than we do now.  We need to practice out loud, with our team, until we can get as “tight” as we can.  Do you think if you practiced for two to four hours for a big, large opportunity, the customer would notice?  Of course they would.  Might that differentiate you from the competition.  I believe so.

Take a moment, be honest with yourself.  Write down how much time you spend “practicing”.  Commit to increasing that number to a larger number.  Think like The Beatles.  Find your Hamburg!  It sure helped the Fab Four achieve infamy!  Would you like a little fame?

Give me a call or email…. share with me your practice habits…. your new practice commitment.  Let’s start a conversation!

What Is Your Story?

Way back in 1988, geez, almost 30 years ago, I worked for a healthcare consulting company.  That was my goal to become the wise consultant partner with a corner office.  Healthcare organizations would call me for help because they thought I had all the answers to their problems.  That was my vision.  But a funny thing happened on the way to that goal.  Three years prior, 1985, that consulting firm decided to dip their toe into the new world of “software” that ran on “personal computers”.  They told me, the young kid on the low rung of the totem pole, to go figure out this PC software thing and come back with some ideas…expand our revenue stream.  The result was that we became a distributor for a small software start up that sold nurse scheduling software to hospitals.  The application could create a four-week schedule for a nursing unit in about 20 seconds.  By hand, it took about a week!

They bought me a 30-pound Compaq “luggable” portable computer and I started demonstrating this software to our customers.  It sold for an amazing, shocking amount of $25,000.  That does not sound like much but in the early PC days most software was around $99 or $199.  I got pretty good at the demo, learned DOS, flew all over the USA doing “demo’s” and writing contracts and selling and installing this system.

One day in 1988 a box came to the office for me.  I opened it and inside found the original Motorola “Gordon Gekko Brick” cellular telephone (watch the original Wall Street movie to get the Gordon Gekko reference….”greed is good”!).  It was the first cellular telephone I had ever seen or touched.  It weighed several pounds.  Had green text.  Huge big black antennae sticking out the top.  At least $1 per minute of talk time!  The phone was sent to me by the company that built the software I had been selling for the last three years.  I was a bit puzzled, so I called their CEO and asked why he sent me the phone.  He chuckled, as if I should know the answer, and he said, “Everyone who sells a million dollars of software gets a phone!”

Wow, a million dollars at $25k a pop.  I had no clue I had sold that much.  But here is the funny thing….my goal of being the sage senior partner in the corner office was the wrong target.  For the first time I realized I was not a consultant, I was a software salesman.  A salesman!  It took me three years and $1 million in sales to realize this (yes, I can be a bit slow sometimes).  It wasn’t long before I left the consulting firm, went to work for the software company and spent the next 25 years selling and managing the sale of software to healthcare providers.

That’s my story of how I got into sales.  I can thank the early developers of the PC and that Compaq luggable.  I can thank the company that built some very cool software (that ran on a 10 mb hard drive computer!)  Serendipitous perhaps?  However it happened, I rode the ever-increasing power of computing to a great sales leadership career and made a great living.

As I write this blog, and tell you my story, I am not re-telling you the story, I am re-living my story.  In my head I am standing on a curb at an airport calling the hotel and asking them to send the shuttle bus for me (no Uber or Lyft!).  I can see myself there, feel the wind in my face, and the chatter of everyone around me.  That is the power of a story.  It puts you right in the middle of the action.  And that is why we need to tell more business and sales stories in our sales presentations.  When we use stories to help us sell, the customer puts themselves into the stories.  They can see and feel how you can help them solve their business problems.  They begin to believe you know them better than your competition.  They believe you are easier to use.  It creates a quicker path to them deciding you are the better choice over your competition.

That is my mission now, to help sales teams, or anyone delivering presentations, to build better, more powerful presentations that move people to see that you are the best fit for them.  Plato once said, “People who tell stories rule the world”.  I want to help you rule your world!

Give me a call or email….tell me your story….I can help you take that skill to help you sell more.  Let’s start a conversation!