Recently, I had the honor and privilege to visit our United States Military Academy in West Point, NY. It was amazing to see the passion and courage of the people who occupy this position. These are remarkable people. I was amazed at how closely the disciplines they use relate to selling. It might seem a bit strange to link West Point’s activities to selling and sales, but it is not impossible. These young people demonstrate at an extraordinary level all the competencies required to be successful in selling: determination, courage, perseverance, commitment, persistence, ethics, and motivation. They are salespeople in fatigues. They sell others the link between athletics, winning on the battlefield, and their daily lives. The key to success is bringing everyone back to life. This is the difference between life and death.
I was introduced at West Point to the head for competitive sports at the military academy. We discussed measuring commitment. The military academy has a higher level of commitment than we do. They commit to prospecting activities, but they also promise to bring whole companies of soldiers back home alive. We both face the same problem: how do we measure commitment? It’s easy, I believe:
Attainment of non-negotiable stated and agreed to goals
There are no excuses for failing to achieve your goals
This concept is simple, but with all of the leadership lessons at the academy, it seemed to resonate. It helped them see that even high-performing individuals are vulnerable to underperforming.
Their goal is to build teams of significance and win with honor. They define success as the number of lives saved and those who are not injured. They have these as their goals, their metrics for success. They laugh, joke, and feel a deep commitment towards each other and the cause. It’s genuinely a great environment.
We also discussed the importance of identifying and measuring engagement. We also talked about how to build commitment and cohesion in their teams. I asked them about their current work. They talk about coaching to vision, goals, core values, having the right people in your team, and creating a culture that allows them to succeed. Do you know what it takes for a sales team to be committed and cohesive? It was comforting that the top learning institutions around the globe addressed this critical element of success in the same way as sales organizations.
These are just a few of the lessons I learned from my visits.
Time is not the same as military time. We met at 0600 and began our program at 0610. We finished at 0640. As they marched out to form in the square, I got to know them all before heading to the mess hall and their first class at 0700.
Cadets have more stuff packed in their breakfast than any other person. It’s fantastic to see the group’s ability to work hard and put in so much effort. Their intensity is unparalleled in any experience I have had. Imagine how much you could accomplish if you applied the same intensity to your professional career.
To be truly good at something, you have to want and be committed. To be able to execute your task flawlessly, you must drill, drill, drill, and drill again. Cadets must go through the ‘the routine’ of preparing to battle in all they do so that they can perform with accuracy and speed even in the most challenging situations. It may not seem important in selling, but it is crucial at the academy.
You must be willing to pay a significant price if you are committed to something out of a desire for great rewards (BHAG: Big Heavy Audacious Goal). You must invest. You need to invest, but not at a level that is affordable for everyone. You must make a considerable investment if you want to reap great rewards. The cadets are willing to complete the 47-month-long training and development in the knowledge that they will eventually be required to make the final investment.
Excellence standards are essential. Your vision, mission, and core values are the foundation of these standards. The academy’s core values are Duty, Honor, and Country. These values are the foundation of every cadet’s life. These values are part of their DNA. Your DNA must reflect your approach to selling.
I discovered that the best in any class are the most open to learning. I am amazed at how these cadets are sponges for learning. They eat information. They ask questions. They want clarity. They want to put what they have learned into practice. They are eager to put their knowledge into practice. They are driven to achieve the extraordinary and will not accept excuses for not meeting “agreed-to” goals. Imagine yourself pursuing your goals in the same manner.
Let me conclude with this thought: Selling is not life or death. If you are prepared and committed, have a solid approach, and execute with honor, you’ll win more than you lose. This business of selling will bring you success and pride.