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As you go about your day today, remember that selling isn’t life or death.  However, if you prepare and have commitment, your approach is based on solid core values, and you execute and work to win with honor, then you will win more than you lose.  You will thrive and you will be proud of this business of selling.


I recently had the great honor and privilege of visiting our United States Military Academy at West Point, NY.  I was overwhelmed by the courage and passion of those that occupy this post.  They are truly remarkable people and I was struck by how much the disciplines they practice relate to selling. Yes, it might be a stretch to tie what happens at West Point to sales and selling, but not much of a stretch. This group of young people consistently demonstrates at an extraordinary level all of those competencies necessary to succeed in selling:  courage, desire, commitment, persistence and ethics.  They are sales people in fatigues. They spend their day selling others on the connection between athletics and winning on the battlefield.

One of the metrics for success:  bringing everyone back alive.  That is life or death.

I was introduced to the head of competitive sports at the military academy at West Point.  We talked about measuring commitment.  Commitment at the military academy is at a different level than what we consider as commitment.  We think in terms of committing to prospecting activity; they commit to bringing entire companies of soldiers back to the states alive.  However, we both have the same problem:  “how do you measure commitment”.  I think it’s simple:

• Achievement of stated and “agreed to” non-negotiable goals
• No excuses when you fail to accomplish goals

As simple as this concept is, and with all the leadership taught at the academy, this seemed to resonate and help them realize that, yes, even at this high level of performance, people are susceptible to performing less than they are capable of.

Their objective of focusing on building teams of significance and winning with honor is to prepare cadets for battle, for fighting, for protecting our country.  They measure success by lives not lost and those not wounded.  These are their objectives, their metrics for success, and they have fun, they joke, and they enjoy a deep commitment to each other and to the cause.  It is truly a remarkable environment.

In addition to our discussion around identifying and measuring commitment, we discussed how they work to develop commitment and cohesion within their teams.  I asked them what they do currently.  Their response:   they talk about and coach to vision, goals and core values, having the right team members and creating a culture that enables teams to succeed.  Sound familiar to what it takes to build a committed and cohesive sales team?  It was comforting to hear that one of the best learning institutions in the world addresses this crucial element of success the same way sales organizations must.

Here are some of the other lessons from my visit:

Lesson 1:  There is time, and then there is military time:  We met at 0600, began our program at 0610 and finished at 0640. I shook hands with this group of majors and corporals as they filed out to go to formation in the square prior to heading to mess hall and then to their first class of the day at 0700.Cadets pack more stuff in before breakfast than most people do in a day.  It is truly amazing to observe the capacity for work and effort that this group has.  And their intensity is unmatched in anything I’ve ever experienced.  Imagine what you could achieve if you approached your professional career with this kind of intensity.

Lesson 2:  If you want to be good at something, I mean really good at something, desire and commitment alone won’t be enough.  You have to drill, drill, and drill and then drill some more so that you can perform your task with near perfect execution every time. These cadets go through ‘the routine’ of preparing for battle in everything they do, so that when faced with the most difficult scenario, they can perform automatically and with precision.   In selling, you may not think it’s critical, but at the academy, it means someone’s life.

Lesson 3:  If you commit to something because of the desire for great reward (BHAG:  Big Hairy Audacious Goal), you have to be willing to pay a substantial price.  You need to invest.  And not at the level that anyone would be willing to pay.  No, if you want the big reward, you must make the big investment.   These cadets willingly complete their 47 months of training and development knowing that they will be asked to make the ultimate investment.

Lesson 4:  You must have standards of excellence. These standards of excellence rest upon your vision, your mission and your core values. The core values at the academy are Duty, Honor, and Country.  Every cadet lives his or her life by those values.  Those values become their DNA.  As a sales person, how you approach what you do for a living has to be in your DNA.

Lesson 5:  Finally, I learned that the best of any class are the best of any class because of their willingness to learn.  It amazes me that these cadets, one and all, are sponges when it comes to learning.  They devour information.  They ask questions. They ask for clarity.  They want to practice what they’ve learned. They want to execute and implement.  They strive for extraordinary and do not make excuses for failing to meet “agreed to” objectives.  Imagine pursuing your own goals the same way.

My parting thought is this:  As you go about your day today, remember that selling isn’t life or death.  However, if you prepare and have commitment, your approach is based on solid core values, and you execute and work to win with honor, then you will win more than you lose.  You will thrive and you will be proud of this business of selling.

About the author

Tony Cole

Tony Cole

Tony has a lifelong focus on helping people and organizations achieve their personal best.As…

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