I am not a salesman


Abstract: This article looks into the importance of selling in business and the relevance of the development of selling skills to career success regardless of your role in an organization.

Really?  You’re not a salesman or saleswoman or salesperson?  What are you then?  Zig Ziglar and others argue that everyone is in selling whether he or she recognize or acknowledge it or not.  I have come across people that say that they consciously and intentionally do not know anything about selling or that selling is below their station in life.  Some of them have no idea that some of the best-compensated people in society achieve the success they enjoy from being successful in sales.

What is selling anyway?   I would define selling as bringing someone else around to your way of thinking.  The hoped result of the selling process is that the other party will decide to act upon your suggestions and recommendations (closing questions).  Sometimes this results in a sale for value in which goods or services are exchanged. In other cases, you are selling a concept or ideas like a strategy or recommended course of action to a decision maker that must put their reputation and possibly their job on the line by committing to your proposed course of action.

When some people hear the term ‘salesman’ the image that pops up in their mind is the high-pressure wielding scoundrel at the ‘buy here, pay here, Se Habla Español’ used car dealership with the moussed hair, polyester leisure suit, braided leather suspenders, and patent leather platform shoes.   The sales weasel is the offensive stereotype that ‘professionals’ avoid at all costs. However, the argument can be made that the scoundrel has a much easier way of making a living than those of us that make our living by selling ideas, concepts, and strategies into sophisticated organizations.  He is not up against counterparties that in many cases are considerably more experienced, educated, credentialed or intelligent than he is.  More often than not, the reverse is true.

If you would just as soon not be bothered with selling, my suggestion is that you dispense with aspirations of obtaining or staying in a C-Suite role.  What is a C-Suite?  One definition is that it is a marketplace of ideas.  The environment is characterized by continuous, ongoing debate of concepts and strategies to move the organization forward or respond to problems and threats.  If you are not effective in getting your ideas heard, debated and accepted, you might want to start thinking about finding another way to make a living.  If you cannot successfully sell your fair share of ideas in what is usually a very intimidating, competitive and sometimes hostile environment, your perceived value will fall along with the probability of achieving your career ambitions.

What types of selling occur?  Direct selling involves interactions with the intended purpose of an agreement to exchange goods or services for money.  What I will refer to as professional selling is focused on winning in the marketplace of ideas.  In other words, getting decision-makers to take your advice, respond to your counsel or choose a course of action based primarily upon your input. Professional selling is infinitely more difficult because it has a variable that is usually not present in direct selling – politics.  The politics are carried out generally behind the scenes by competitors of yours that could be trusted co-workers that advocate for their ideas behind the scenes or behind your back, without giving you the courtesy or respect of a face-to-face argument.  They use whatever leverage is available to them behind the scenes, under the table, and behind your back to advance their causes, frequently resulting in decisions that do not make rational sense.  Suboptimal results occur because, in the presence of politics, decision making is usually irrational.

For example, I experienced a situation where some physicians were not happy with some of the decisions coming out of the boardroom and the front office.  Do you know how many visits I had from any of the doctors?  The answer is zero!  Instead, they took their grievances directly to members of the board or county commission that humored and engaged them possibly in utter and absolute ignorance of the degree to which this amounted to the active undermining of the leadership team of the organization.  I learned that one board member was accosted in the church vestibule and never made it into the sanctuary to join their family for the service.  Others are caught at their places of work or during unrelated social events.  As we are seeing in our society right now, people that are sufficiently strident about their position will resort to extreme means including violence to have their ideology imposed upon the rest of us.  If you are in a board meeting and something entirely unexpected comes out of left field and derails something that you have put a lot of time and energy into, there is a good chance you are a victim of cowardly, destructive politics.

The stakes of success in a political environment are exponentially higher.  If you are to be successful when you are up against political resistance, your arguments or the effectiveness of your selling must be sufficiently compelling to not only overcome the logical burden of your case but the political forces that may be working against you behind the scenes or maybe more accurately stated, behind your back.  If this is not selling, I don’t know what is.  Most of the time, to one degree or another, your career is potentially on the line when you are selling to your leader or a board of trustees.  Must close selling puts you in an Apollo 13 situation where failure is not an option.  I sold vacuum cleaners in college.  I learned these concepts early on.  In-home vacuum selling can be very intense, high-pressure selling.  That said, selling vacuum cleaners is infinitely more comfortable than surviving in the shark tank that is the C-Suite of most organizations I have experienced.  I guess that’s why good vacuum cleaner salesmen make around $50K and C-Suite roles pay into seven figures.

So, the obvious question is what you should be doing?  My recommendation is that you start dedicating significant time and energy to learning as much as you can about selling.  The quintessential sales trainer is Zig Ziglar. He is one of the best but not the only one.  I would also recommend Harvey Mackay. Both of these guys are retired, but their work is as relevant as ever. Effective selling requires a healthy positive attitude.  There are many excellent motivational speakers. Some of my favorites are Les Brown, Earl Nightingale, Dr. Angela Duckworth, Zig Ziglar, and Ed Foreman.  Don’t overlook some of the incredible ministers that deliver messages of hope and inspiration.  For starters, I recommend Charles Stanley, Johnny Hunt, Robert Schuller, and Joel Osteen.  I have found that the more time I spend listening to these inspiring people, the luckier I become in the marketplace of ideas in a consulting firm, among my compadres, in a hospital C-Suite or down at the local watering hole.

Contact me to discuss any questions or observations you might have about these articles, leadership, transitions or interim services.  I might have an idea or two that might be valuable to you. An observation from my experience is that we need better leadership at every level in organizations. Some of my feedback is coming from people that are demonstrating an interest in advancing their careers, and I am writing content to address those inquiries.

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Answer the phone 


Abstract:  This article explores how doing something as simple as disrespecting people by not returning phone calls can be career limiting.

One of the lectures I vividly remember was when the boss called the group together to absolutely shellack all of us because one of us had a very bad habit of not returning phone calls.  During the course of the lecture, we were told to ALWAYS return EVERY phone call even if it is to tell the caller to never call again.  The fact that one of us was not returning calls was described as an embarrassment for all of us.  We were told that the next time such a complaint was received, there would be no more second chances.  The person that galvanized my thinking on this topic has passed away but the influence of his powerful speech continues to resonate into the future and guide my thinking and actions.

Why would someone refuse or fail to return phone calls?  All of us are very busy and as those of us who are decision makers know, a lot of the calls we receive are cold, unsolicited sales pitches.  My assistants in several venues have been continually amused by all of my ‘long lost friends’ that drive everyone crazy with unsolicited calls that usually lead to some kind of sales pitch.  Most of these people I have never heard of.  Another reason that calls are not returned is that we are all extremely busy.  It is easy to procrastinate about returning a call until you have forgotten about it.  The next thing you know, you have disrespected someone.

I am used to not having my phone calls returned.  It is an all too common phenomena that those of us who put any effort into networking are well familiar with.  I will usually call someone three or four times and get no response before I black list them.  I recently had a very frustrating experience.  You know, the one where the administrative assistant answers the phone and says, “let me see if he’s in” only to return to the phone a few seconds later to tell me that she needs to take a message.  The probability that an Administrative Assistant will not actually know whether their principal is in or not is infatesimally small.  The last time this occurred, I told the assistant that the person I had called could use any of the last three messages I had left for him.  I am still waiting for one of those calls to be returned or better, an opportunity to return the disrespect I have been subjected to by this idiot; maybe in the form of a blind reference.  By the way what kind of narcissist would put their assistant into the position of having to lie for them in the first place but I digress.

Not only is this behavior disrespectful and unprofessional, it can be career limiting.  The very people that refuse to return your calls are frequently among your callers when they need something from you.  I have had several people that refused to accept my calls call me when they were referred to me during a career transition or job search.  I return their calls and enjoy listening to their lame excuses about how embarrassed they are that they haven’t kept up.  I indulge them while I make their call as short as possible.   What kind of arrogance and narcism is at the root of a person that would not demonstrate a whit of professional courtesy to me when they do not need me then reach out to me asking for help when they think that I might be able to do something for them?  Obviously, these morons have never heard of the golden rule.  You know, the one that admoishes us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

One of the many problems that can arise from this behavior is a blind reference.  Occasionally, I will receive an inquiry from someone that wants to know if I know someone.  All too frequently, the target is being considered for some type of public relations or networking opportunity like opening doors.   I ask the person wanting a reference how successful they think that someone that did not return calls would be representing their firm?

On this note, have you received requests from people that refused to return your calls or engage with you come around later and ask you to meet with them so they can try to sell you something you did not ask for and  not need?   The arrogance of this behavior is impressive to say the least.  I know people that will agree to these meetings.  They will let the idiot that disrespected them spend time and expense traveling only to limit their presentation to one hour or less.  At the end of these meetings the hapless moron is bid adieu and sent off with no intention of ever spending a cent with them or the company they now represent.

What goes around comes around.

The point of this is that when you fail or refuse to return phone calls, in my opinion you are intentionally damaging yourself.  There is an old one liner that says, “Don’t burn any more bridges that you have to because one day, you might have to re-cross one of them.”  When you fail or refuse to return phone calls, you are proactively burning bridges.  The irony of not retuning calls is that the behavior is a boomerang.  The disrespect will come back and wack you.  It is a whole lot easier to be arrogant toward those that call you when you have a gig that is when you do not have a gig.  An acquaintance that had ignored me for years finally got his ass fired.  A few months later, I got the call.  He was desparate for a job and in his opinion I held a key to him getting his next gig.  I told him that I would see what I could do and that was the last time we talked.  He never even bothered to follow up with me to see what if anything had transpired.  That conversation occured several years ago and as far as I know, his run in the helathcare industry is over.


A lot of people have the memories of race car drivers.  They NEVER forget.

Please feel free to contact me to discuss any questions or observations you might have about these blogs or interim executive services in general. As the only practicing Interim Executive that has done a dissertation on Interim Executive Services in healthcare in the US, I might have an idea or two that might be valuable to you. I can also help with career transitions or career planning.

The easiest way to keep abreast of this blog is to become a follower. You will be notified of all updates as they occur. To become a follower, just click the “Following” link that usually appears as a bubble near the bottom this web page.

There is a comment section at the bottom of each blog page. Please provide input and feedback that will help me to improve the quality of this work.

This is original work. This material is copyrighted by me with reproduction prohibited without prior permission. I note and provide links to supporting documentation for non-original material.

If you would like to discuss any of this content or ask questions, I may be reached at ras2@me.com. I look forward to engaging in productive discussion with anyone that is a practicing interim executive or a decision maker with experience engaging interim executives in healthcare.


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