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  • Brett Zalaski

Humility is the Best Sales Skill

What's my all-time favorite sale? Scheduling a meeting at CEB with Kim Courtney of Molson Coors. She probably never remembers it...I'll never forget it. It was the moment that I knew that I wanted to make a career out of sales. What does that have to do with humility? Hang with me!


Once I had identified her as the right contact for our Advertising & Marketing Communications Roundtable membership, I had called...and emailed...and called...and emailed...and finally, one day, weeks after first reaching out, my number lit up with a '303' area code. It was her! And boy was she ready for me. She asked me question after question ('What's the difference between this and the AMA?' 'What's the difference between this and the MLC?' 'What info will this provide that my agency won't?' Etc. etc. etc.) for 35 minutes. I stood my ground and answered all of them...and got the meeting. It's still one of the top 5 highlights of my professional career.


So what does this have to do with humility? Everything. I probably should have been fired after my first 3 months at CEB. I wasn't scheduling meetings and I was blaming everyone but me for my failures. I was the very definition of Jon Gordon's 'Energy Vampire.' Being a decent college athlete and academic, things hadn't come very hard for me since middle school...and, if they did, I had a tendency to do enough to get by...not push myself to excel. The opposite was true here...but it never would have happened if I didn't first eat a slice of 'humble pie'.


Here were the things I was particularly terrible at after those 3 months:

  1. Proper Lead Qualification: I always seemed to identify the person just below the decision-maker.

  2. Value-Add Touchpoint Mapping: I was the King of the 'Check-In' call. The ruler of the 'I've been trying to catch you' voice mail. And the maestro of the 'Please take a meeting with us because you should' email.

  3. Objection Handling: I once hid under my desk because I was so bad at this. True story.

If you were to ask people at CEB what were the 3 most important things you could do well...well, it was the three I was worst at. But guess what I did right with Kim?

  1. Proper Lead Qualification: I took a week talking to people around Molson Coors to appropriately identify Kim based on criteria questions I worked with my peers in my group to develop.

  2. Value-Add Touchpoint Mapping: In every outreach to Kim I made sure to think about it in terms of 'What does she need to hear from us?' Rather than, 'Pleasescheduleavisitwithusokthanks.'

  3. Objection Handling: I practiced the shit out of this one. I categorized all the objections I heard, and all those my peers were hearing, and made sure that I was ready with answers that directly handled their questions. My goal was to be so good they were hiding under their desks in fear of me.

Those first 3? That's where I was at after my first 3 months. My conversation with Kim? 5 months. I went from bad to good in two months. How? Why we're here...humility.


First, I had the humility to accept that I was bad...and it was my fault. Now it was time to do what I could to get better. No excuses, just practice, product knowledge, performance.


Second, I did not try to fix myself by myself. I talked to my mentors, managers, and the best people I could find to help me identify those 3 key weaknesses and get better at them.


Third, I practiced by doing. I had let my horribleness keep me from doing the thing I needed to do most...make phone calls and write emails to clients...as well as role playing with my peers, mentors, and managers.


In many sales training's I'll have the 5th year vet in the back who knows everything. In many sales training's I'll have the 5th year vet in the back who's asking more questions than everyone else combined. In my sales training's I'll have the first year rep who sits quietly and tries to fade into the wall. In many sales training's I'll have the first year rep who can't stop raising their hand and always emails me afterwards with questions. The 1st rep? Usually never makes it to manager. The 3rd rep? Usually never passes through their inside sales class. The 2nd & 4th? They usually top the charts and make a real career out of #sportsbiz.


They say that 'pride comes before the fall.' I'm glad I didn't have to fall all the way out of sales to learn that. A long career of growth in sports, and life, is best served by the people who have the humility to know what they don't know...but still want to know it. I had to learn it the hard way...but it was well worth it. I hope this helps!