“Shut the h*ll up and listen.”
I don’t know if it was because it was provocative or because it was yelled at me, but the above phrase was the first piece of advice from a mentor that I can remember that actually sunk in.
At the time, I was a 23-year-old recent college grad with one year of IT selling experience under my belt. After spending that one year with a software startup, I knew it all; In fact, I was selling cloud SaaS before cloud was even an IT term. At the startup, we sold a web-based e-learning platform. I was seasoned and wise compared to my recently hired CDW peers who were fresh out of college. Needless to say, I didn’t need help talking.
I was able to create relationships with customers quickly, but I wasn’t winning the strategic deals. My clients felt comfortable purchasing PCs and printers from me, but I couldn’t win the big server storage refresh deals. This confused me, and it couldn’t be because of me — ’cause remember, I knew it all.
I consistently hit my sales quotas on transactional business, but I wanted more. I wanted to win the big deals, especially after losing a huge networking and server deal to a local VAR. That month, I had still hit my number, but when I looked at what my margin pay-outs could have been, I realized it was time for some coaching.
Less Talking, More Listening
The best person to go to for coaching was my manager. She was a seasoned veteran at CDW with a lot of experience. We got along well because I consistently hit my number, so she did not hesitate to help when I reached out. I had her shadow me on multiple occasions.
When it was time to go over the hours of calls she listened in on, all she could really say was that one, memorable line: “Shut the h*ll up and listen.” She explained to me that on multiple calls, I had my client sold, whether it was a follow-up meeting, quote opportunity or even that prominent strategic deal. She said where it all fell apart for me was when I had the client sold, I would keep selling.
She had diagnosed me with a very common sales disease, hyper-chatter-osis. I didn’t know how to stop selling and really listen to my customers and their needs; I thought I knew it all and enjoyed it when others heard what I knew.
The Mentor’s Role
Stop talking and listen seems so simple, but seven years later, I still view it as the best professional advice I had ever received. It’s a universal lesson for anyone working on a team or in a position where you need to win someone to your cause, whether it’s working on a team project or persuading the finance staff that you need budget. Listening, more so than talking, has gotten me to where I am today.
I don’t know if I would have ever come to the realization on my own and that is why I’ve come to believe that mentorship is so important. We need constructive criticism to realize our day-to-day flaws in order to avoid permanent bad habits. Almost all people want to help others. I have yet to find someone who has said no when I have reached out to ask for career advice. Therefore, I am always willing to mentor others when asked and the first piece of advice I give them is — you guessed it, listen.
I now strive to be self-aware in other areas too. It is much easier to improve oneself when we know the area that needs to be improved. I encourage everyone to find someone they trust who not only guides you on your career path but also gives you real criticism that is realistic to fix.