Stephen R. Covey was truly a beacon of trust and leadership in the world of business as he taught with clarity those principles that defined business and personal success.
His epic teachings in the most profound book ever written for the business community, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, must be studied for anyone seeking success in their sales career. The principles he taught the world are paramount for any salesperson who wants to improve their level of performance. One of the simple, yet profound principles Covey taught was, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”. What could be more important in selling than that simple principle? Yet, so many salespeople begin their presentation selling, before they understand the needs of the prospect.
The story is told of two battleships assigned to the training squadron that had been at sea on maneuvers in heavy weather for several days. A seaman serving on the lead battleship was on watch at the bridge as night fell. The visibility was poor with patchy fog, so the captain remained at the bridge keeping an eye on all activities. Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing of the bridge reported, “Light, bearing on the starboard bow”. “Is it steady or moving astern?” the captain called out. The lookout replied, “Steady, captain,” which meant they were on a dangerous collision course with that ship. The captain then called to the signalman, “Signal that ship: We are on a collision course, advise you change course 20 degrees”. Back came a signal, “Advisable for you to change course 20 degrees”. The captain said, “Send, I’m a captain, change course 20 degrees”. “I’m a seaman second class,” came the reply. “You had better change course 20 degrees.” By that time, the captain was furious. He spat out, “Send, I’m a battleship. Change course 20 degrees.” Back came the flashing light, “I’m a lighthouse.” The battleship changed course.
Stephen Covey taught us principles are like lighthouses. They are natural laws that cannot be broken. One of the principles he taught which is critical to the success of salespeople, relates to prioritizing and planning. Covey said, “The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities”. He teaches this principle not only in his book of Seven Habits, but also in another of his books entitled, First Things First. As salespeople, we need to begin with the end in mind and then plan and schedule those activities which will allow us to accomplish our objectives most effectively.
One of the seven principles Covey teaches in his book of Seven Habits that is so critical to salespeople, relates to the attitude of being proactive versus reactive in our lives. I was training a group of salespeople recently as we focused on this very subject. They were inside salespeople spending their days dealing with customers who would either walk into the business, or call, looking for solutions to their problems. Some days were busier than others, but every day was far less busy than it could have been. These salespeople were reacting to those few people who made contact with them while they waited for the phone to ring or the door to open. I suggested they take a proactive approach and contact every customer they had sold to in the past five years. By contacting these customers they could assess their level of satisfaction with the products, resolve concerns, if there were any, look for new opportunities and ask for referrals. Through taking a proactive approach to sales, they were able to resolve many unknown and unhappy situations, receive numerous referrals and significantly increase their sales.
Covey has expounded on the principle of motivation with his words, “Motivation is a fire from within. If someone else tries to light that fire under you, chances are it will burn very briefly”. Every salesperson must discover their fire and fan their own flames of desire. In many respects, selling is a brutal and lonely career. There is constant opposition and continual discouragement and yet, no career has the potential for greater rewards and ultimate satisfaction. Salespeople must learn to light their own fires and keep them burning, through focusing not only on the financial rewards, but the personal joy of helping others solve their problems and cure their pain.
Thank you Stephen Covey for your wisdom, insight and clarity found in the principles you have taught us. Thank you for teaching us through your profound wisdom, the value of a principle centered life. The secret to sales success can truly be found in learning and properly applying correct principles.