The scar above my right eye, was placed there when I was four years old. I waved and said hello to the middle school boy standing on the other side of the fence. He replied by picking up a rock and throwing it at my face. That was the moment fear took hold of me. Many years later, I would find myself with a much larger scar.
Three years later, soon after my father moved out, my mom called him to tell him that four neighbor boys, took turns punching me in the face and stomach. My dad picked me up and drove me to get my brother before driving us to the boy's houses. There was no one home at the first house, but the other two were in the front yard when my father told me and my brother to get out of the car and take care of them. He threatened me that if I didn't take care of them, he'd take care of me. I was more afraid of my dad than the eleven-year-old I had to face.
When we moved out of our house and into the apartment complex, I would sit next to my mom's bed to make sure she didn't leave me and my brothers and sisters during the night. Fortunately, my mom is a person of the highest possible character, and having been raised by single mom herself, she had a model. If she was afraid, she never showed it.
Fear is a powerful force. It can paralyze you, and it can also compel you to flee from danger. It can also cause you take action that, while uncomfortable, allows you to deal with something you'd rather not have to address.
When I was thirteen, my father gave me a copy of G. Gordon Liddy's autobiography. Liddy was the mastermind of the Watergate break in that ended President Nixon's time in the White House. Liddy's book starts with a series of stories in which he faced each of his fears conquering them one after another. Conquering my fear became my North Star and Liddy's book my guide, as I dealt with my fear.
Some months later, I was walking to the convenient store near the apartments when five older boys turned the corner. I had never seen them before, and I didn't know them, but one of them threw a punch toward my face, and I blocked it and returned fire. He ended up on top of me, but between gripping his fingers so tight he couldn't get free and being difficult to control, he couldn't hurt me.
It is the very rarest of children that tells their parents they want to grow up to be a salesperson, and like you, I was not one of them. Having seen Def Leppard on their first tour and falling deeply in love with rock-n-roll, I knew I wanted to play music. After playing with a few bands when I was fifteen, I started a legitimate band when I was seventeen years old. To pay my bills, I went to work in a staffing company my mom started with her business partner. My job was to interview and place people in light industrial jobs. I was told to make calls to companies to see if they needed any help when interviews were slow.
I carefully read the script to the person who answered the phone, waiting for one objection on the index card in the tiny binder I was provided. When I finished, the contact on the other end said, "Call me back when you don't need the script." I called the CEO and my mom and asked them what I was supposed to do. They told me to call him back and tell him I didn't need the script. Without fear, I called and told him I didn't need the script, at which point he told me to come to his facility on Thursday. No one ever told me that what I was doing was sales, and had they accused me, I would have denied it. I was not selling; I was trying to help companies get the employees they needed.
A few years later, as the band improved, I moved to Los Angeles, California to pursue a life in rock-n-roll. I found a job with a 4-billion-dollar staffing firm as a staffing coordinator, interviewing people and placing them on the very few jobs we had available. Between interviews, I called the companies that showed up on the applications and visited them, most of the time leaving with orders. When a new manager realized that I had more new clients than the sales force, he fired them and forced me into outside sales. At the end of the first year, I had won one of the largest clients with my manager's help, and I was improving as a salesperson.
On a nondescript day in October, I was brought back to consciousness after being strapped into an ambulance by paramedics trying to convince me I had just suffered a Grand Mal seizure. I tried to use force to free myself, and that failing, I protested, telling my captures I knew my rights and that they could not take me against my will. They confessed that I was right, even though I was unaware of the laws in California. Eventually, the paramedics, the landlady, and my neighbor convinced me to go to the UCLA medical center where I was diagnosed with an arteriovenous malformation, a group of arteries and veins that grew into a large knot, creating pressure on my brain, damaging it and causing the seizure.
After meeting with the best neurosurgeon in the world, I fearlessly agreed to sign the document that gave Dr. Tew permission to open my skull and remove the knot of troublesome blood vessels. A week later, I had two surgeries, one to glue the arteries and veins shut, and one to remove the AVM. No one told me I would lose a piece of brain, nor was there any mention I could not drive for two years.
Events like these provide you with a sense of clarity of what's important. When people say events like this one was "the best thing that ever happened to them," it's because they understand something that others don't quite perceive.
My response to losing a piece of my brain was to do something with what was left of my brain and my life. While working in the family business, I enrolled in college and completed my four-year degree in three years, graduating summa cum laude with a degree in Political Science. My advisor suggested that I take the LSAT, a term I was unfamiliar with until he explained that it was the law school entrance exam. My score on the entrance exam and my grade point average entitled me to the Dean's Academic Scholarship. My grades were good, but they fell a little as Cher, and I had three babies in two pregnancies. After law school, the CEO of my company sent me to Harvard Business School's OPM program, an MBA for people who already have a P&L and a Balance Sheet.
During this time, I worked in outside sales. The company was doing 4.75M in revenue when I returned, and using what I learned working with my manager, I increased sales by 54%. Eventually, I was promoted to sales manager, and I built my own team. I was a good salesperson, but I didn't recognize the challenges of transferring my knowledge and experience to other people. I took years to translate my approach to the people I was now charged with helping succeed. During this time, I read every book on sales I could find, finding Rackham's to be the most helpful. I also took courses and classes on sales, negotiation, and management. I listened to every audio program that offered some idea about better results.
Over the course of nine years, I discovered that the key to succeeding in sales comes down to a strategy that allows you to create value greater than your competition in the sales conversation. What salespeople need is talk tracks that allow them to open and advance deals effectively.
At the end of 2009, having watched Seth Godin write and publish a blog each day, I followed the example, fearlessly publishing what I had learned about sales, management, leadership, success, and relationships, writing every morning at 5:00 AM. In 2011, I gave my first keynote to 1,000 salespeople in a large hotel ballroom.
In 2015, I signed a three-book contract with Portfolio, publishing The Only Sales Guide You'll Ever Need in 2016, a book part success and part a competency model for modern B2B sales. It was a USA Today, ABA, and Amazon bestseller.
In 2017, ten months after The Only Sales Guide, I published The Lost Art of Closing: Winning the 10 Commitments That Drive Sales, a book that was also an Amazon.com bestseller. The Lost Art is a methodology for facilitating your client's buyer's journey.
In 2018, I published the first sales book on competitive displacements, Eat Their Lunch: Winning Customers Away from Your Competition. Eat Their Lunch provides strategies for creating a higher level of value than your competition, differentiating you and your approach.
In February 2022, the fourth book in the series of books designed to provide a modern approach to sales, Elite Sales Strategies: A Guide to Being One-Up, Creating Value, and Becoming Truly Consultative.
Anthony Iannarino is a sales strategist, a sales methodology creator, and provides B2B sales training to forward thinking sales organizations.