I began my career in frontline sales. After almost fifteen years of selling a diverse range of products, I realized that the sales techniques I need to use are the same, no matter what the product. The thought held me in its grip and took hold of my imagination.
I began talking to other sales people about the techniques they used. It was as I had suspected. At the core, the sales techniques were the same- whether the product being sold was an electric razor or state of the art cookware. I confess, I was amazed- and very excited.
What if I could develop a sales training system which could be implemented across industries and products? I was certain that other sales people too thought that sales methods change when the product changes. I took a decision which was to completely alter the course- and impact- of my life. And boy, am I glad I took the decision..!
I became a sales trainer and speaker.
The time I am talking of was the 1970s. Sales training was unheard of. You got into sales those days and learned on the job… in the University of Hard Knocks. If you had a guardian angel looking out for you, you sometimes got a boss who took the time to share his wisdom and experience with you. The rest of us smart, eager and enthusiastic people collected a set of multi-hued bruises across our posteriors. The bright side to that was that we never could afford to sit down and mope.
I don’t want to give you the impression, reader, that I was hailed as a messiah from the day I hung a ‘Sales Trainer and Motivational Speaker’ board on my door. Far… very, very far… from it. The brutal truth is- I was shunned. Things got so bad that I began to suspect conspiracy hatched by the most malevolent hoodlums. I knew I would have to change the way I worked when my fevered imagination (read fears) went to work on me. They almost succeeded in convincing me that ‘they’ were organizing citizen’s committees to watch out for me… and that they had even begun to train ferocious dogs to let loose on me the moment I was sighted on the horizon. I am not ashamed to confess that the thought gave me the jitters. Ferocious dogs scare me.
As I said, I decided to change the way I was working. I pulled up my socks and decided to SPEAK. Confused…? Let me explain.
I decided to speak to any group who’d give me a chance- not only to sales teams or aspiring sales people. Church groups, Sunday schools, senior citizen groups- I wasn’t finicky. As long as I had more than three people, I’d go and speak. I think I set new standards in ‘dismal’ in those months. But I didn’t give up.
When I say I didn’t give up, I don’t want you to gather the impression that I was upbeat and positive the whole while. Even after many months of willingness to speak to anyone who’d let me, the response I got was pathetic. It began to pull me down- inside- which was the worst thing to have happened.
With that depleted spirit, my desperation gained new depths. I began to lose hope. What happened next was the proverbial nail in the coffin- but for the grace of God.
I was asked to give a two-hour talk to a church group in another town. I was asked reach the church by four in the afternoon where- the priest assured me- I would be met by his secretary and introduced to the audience. I reached there punctually, and found the place deserted. Not a soul. The secretary was conspicuous by his absence. I wandered inside the church, which I found open. My ‘Hellooo..! Anybody there..?’ was met with silence. I stood at the pulpit, just to get a feel of the place.
It was a handsome building. The stained glass windows filled the church with an orange glow. The pews were of old highly polished wood. It was a well-used church, I could just feel it. I could imagine the many generations of people who had knelt in prayer at its alters.
Even today, I cannot describe to you how I felt- looking out over the imposing church. I still cannot explain the feeling that spread in me as I stood at the pulpit, sweating a little in anxiety. As I stood there, it was as if something was draining from me. I remember looking down to my feet. I wouldn’t have been surprised if I had found myself standing in a puddle of water. But there was nothing there, of course. In retrospect, I think I had hit rock bottom- from where there is no place to go, except up.
As I said, I don’t know what gripped me that moment. I began to speak- the same two-hour speech that I had painstakingly prepared the night before. I gave my talk with all the passion and fervor I could summon. I ignored the empty pews. To me the church was full of the most attentive group of people I had ever addressed. I poured out my soul, I spent myself to the very last bit.
When I finished speaking, the church remained as empty as ever. I hope you have never experienced the terrible poison of the rejection I felt in that moment. I hope you have never walked beyond the edge of total despair- as I did that day. No, I didn’t burst into tears. It seemed besides the point. I couldn’t bear to trivialize my pain by giving it the vent of a physical demonstration. I remained calm and collected outwardly. But I had disintegrated inside. Humpty- dumpty, that was me.
With a steady step, I walked out of the church. I was met with a glowing orange-pink sky desperately trying to hold on to a sun ready to bid adieu. The place was deserted… just a few bird about… going home. I too was going home- for the last time.
Just then I heard running footsteps behind me. The man was young. He was a little out of breath when he came to a stop beside me. We stood there silently, looking at each other. I was speechless with surprise because I KNOW he came from inside the church… the every place which had borne witness to the most terrible defeat of my life. And I hadn’t seen this man there while I was pouring my soul out from the pulpit.
I was filled with an unutterable feeling of shame- as if I was caught in an act of sin. I couldn’t bear to look at this young man, and averted my eyes. Just as I was about to slink off silently, the man spoke.
“I heard you in there. You couldn’t have seen me because I was lying down in the last row. After you began speaking, I decided to keep lying lest I startle you into stopping. I needed to hear you… I needed the words you spoke today. I was at the end of my tether and could see no way out of my difficulties. The only solution I could think of was to end my life. So I came to this church to ask for God’s forgiveness. I haven’t slept for two nights and must have dozed off since it was so quiet. I came to thank you because your words have got me out of the emotional dump I had been living in for the past ten days. I haven’t found a solution to my troubles yet, but I am determined to… and I am sure I will find a way out. Do you have any idea what you’ve done for me today?”
“No. I don’t”, I told him. “Just as you have no idea what you’ve done for me today.”
That’s when I let the tears come.
Note: Today, a few hours ago when my son woke up, he looked at the pre-dawn sky and said, “The sunrise is so different today. Isn’t it so great that we get to see a different sunrise everyday?”
“Yes we are lucky”, I said.
“Does the Sun feel bad that most people don’t see his beauty every morning?”
“Perhaps he does, but that doesn’t stop him from creating this loveliness anyhow… whether anyone watches or not.”
“Wow…!” was all he said… my ten year old son.