Even though I recognize there is a lot of excitement over everything Lincoln as of late, I am not tying Lincoln to sales coaching as part of a marketing or search ploy. I've been reading a book - Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin - on which the movie "Lincoln" was based and I felt compelled to share my observations.
Despite the current widespread Lincoln mania, not a single person before has ever identified him as a great sales coach. Then again, not many people have my mindset of thinking about how every book, movie or song translates to something related to sales or sales management. You could say it is something I've been cursed with, or blessed with, over my last 20 years with Anthony Cole Training Group - to see sales lessons in the most unusual places.
Here are great lessons from Lincoln for all sales leaders and sales professionals:
"Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing."
Here is another lesson:
"A real democracy would be a meritocracy where those born in the lower ranks could rise as far as their natural talents and discipline might take them."
“In order to win a man (woman) to your cause, you must first reach his (her) heart, “the great high road to his (her) reason.”
These are three awesome lessons for all of us who desire success in sales, sales management and selling. Let me briefly take them one at a time.
Resolution to succeed: Lincoln was mentoring a young law student who was seeking advice. The book doesn't indicate what advice the student was seeking, but by the nature of Lincoln's response, you can imagine that he was asking how to overcome obstacles such as availability of books, proper learning and appropriate schools to attend in order to have a successful law career. Lincoln’s response: "Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing."
In selling, the message is the same. In our evaluation of sales organizations, we look for commitment to success in selling. The word commitment could be substituted for the word resolution. Commitment is a willingness to do everything possible to succeed DESPITE unfortunate circumstances. In other words, look to your "commitment to success" to pull you through the tough times, instead of making excuses about the tough times.
Natural talents and discipline: We all have natural talents and gifts. Those talents (nature) are enhanced or limited by our environments as we grow and mature. But Lincoln adds the disclaimer of "and discipline". Lincoln did not see having talent as a free ride to success. Lincoln often was described as a man who had passionate commitment to the ideal that "all men should receive a full, good, and ever increasing reward for their labors so that they might have the opportunity to rise in life." In our world of sales today, we would call that incentive compensation. As sales people, we get the chance to set the bar as high as we would like it to be for personal success and achievement. When sales people are given the opportunity to stake their claim, they can depend on natural talents to get them to a certain point, but it is discipline that is the difference maker. Often the difference between the "haves" and the "have nots" is the difference between the "dids" and the "did nots".
Reach their heart: The first two lessons have more to do with attitude and resolve, where this lesson falls within the realm of focus, technique and skill. Lincoln was a teetotaler - one who abstains from drinking. Often, he was asked to speak to temperance groups and most would expect him to denounce those who drank. However, Lincoln believed that "denunciation would inevitably be met with denunciation, crimination with crimination and anathema with anathema. A sanctimonious reformer could no more pierce the heart of a drinker or the slave owner than penetrate the hard shell of a tortoise with a rye straw." And so it is when you attempt to convince someone to buy. You cannot convince the "inconvincible". Too often, sales people have to suffer through sales training lessons on how to overcome objections. More than 30 years ago, David Sandler taught his students that "you cannot overcome objections, only the buyer can overcome their objections." What we must do is seek to first understand (the prospect’s pain) before being understood (how we can help solve the pain).
I am finding the book on Lincoln very interesting and instructive. There are many more stories, anecdotes and quotes attributed to Abe that even reflect what we are about today as a people and as a country. As for sales and sales management, I believe that the Old Railsplitter would have been one heck of sales coach.