I am going to share with you a useful story about a huge breakthrough in sales effectiveness. My friend told me this story at a critical time in my career. First, some background on how I heard it and why its lessons are so powerful.

I returned to executive coaching full time in 1995 and put my coaching materials on the World Wide Web using CompuServe’s pioneering OurWorld service. My email newsletter was soon being read around the world. I soon received an email from an important coach in South Africa, Pat Grove, who became a valued friend and mentor.

Pat told me that he was in San Francisco in the early 1970s helping to invent coaching at the same time as Werner Erhard (EST), John Hanley (Lifespring), Fernando Flores (Action Technologies), and others. Pat developed and delivered his own training programs in South Africa and Israel for forty years, until his death in January of 2012. I never participated in his group training but I did get tremendous value from our emails and Skype conversations. I am sad that he is gone.

Pat mentioned once that being an effective coach is only possible if one is effective in sales. Simply put, if no one accepts your coaching you are not a coach. Pat, like me, was not a “natural salesman.” We also began our careers with traditional business training. He started as a bank accountant and my first paying job was with a “Big 8” accounting firm. Frustrated and bored, we each decided to try sales and we each failed. The story of my first breakthrough in sales effectiveness is told elsewhere on this blog. Here is Pat’s story, that he shared with me by email in 1996. Pat wrote quickly and informally so I present an edited version here. [My comments are in square brackets.]



No Big Deal

by Pat Grove

I gave up wanting to prove anything and just got the job done.

I chose to be a service agent…

The most important thing I learned was not to sell benefits but to enroll people into taking action on their dreams.

Selling Encyclopedias was at first for me a way to prove to myself, and others, that I was OK. Firstly, my background and experiences and lying about myself to others and to myself was catching up with me. [Pat used the word “lying” in a particular way here. He refers to the pretensions so common in our culture of pretending to “have it all together,” hoping people will think we are more competent and comfortable than we truly feel. This is all an “act” to prevent people from seeing us as we see ourselves.]  So I found a system that had the potential to make a lot of money compared to what I had been earning as a Bank Accountant. I bullshitted myself that by making this money I would live a lifestyle consistent with “my act.” And this would prove my lying was correct and that I was OK and therefore would not have to add guilt to any of my lies again. You see, I was not really interested in winning but mainly in “being right.” Oh! Right about so many things in my life. Here my Mother played a big role [in developing my worldview that “I am not OK,” and that earning money could make me seem OK].

One Thursday night, after the team I was working with was getting into the car to go home, about 10.30 p.m., the leader said “Pat since you have not sold anything tonight I will give you one more chance tomorrow, then that is it. Management has decided this game is not for you and we will not rehire you again.”

Friday evening, as we were getting into the car, he repeated what he had said to me the night before. I resigned myself to the fate of being unemployed. We were placed in an area where most people spoke Afrikaans and I was English speaking and I thought ‘That’s it. No sales tonight. I am finished. I look for a new job tomorrow.’

I walked up to the first door and knocked on it. The biggest man I had ever seen opened the door with the biggest black beard, stomach, and head. He did not speak, he shouted. Shit, I thought, this is it. Not only do I get no sale but more than likely a black eye and broken jaw as door-to-door salesmen were a ‘dime a dozen’ in South Africa at that stage and we were getting the reputation of ‘poison sellers.’ He boomed, “Do you sell encyclopedias?”

I was terrified. I took a step back and decided to lie and ask him for directions. Something snapped inside of me and instead of lying I said, “Yes, and if you buy a set tonight I will give you a free bookstand to hold them as well.”

“Come in,” he shouted. “Is it still R30.00 deposit and R45.00 per month?,” he asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“Sign me up!,” he screamed.

“You mean you want buy a set, sir?”

I will never forget his answer, “What sort of salesman are you man, do you want to lose the sale or what?” After I signed him up he said, “Do you still give commission to people that introduces others to you?”

“Yes, sir, we do.”

“Good wait here while I phone quickly.”

His wife brought me a cup of coffee and when he returned he said my brother is on his way and he wants a set as well and, “I want the commission, okay?”

I walked out of that house at 9.30 that night with my first earnings in twelve weeks. The commission from the two sales was equivalent to four months wages at my bank job. It was so surprising that I walked down the street afraid I had made a mistake.

I was supposed to meet the team at 10.00 and I had 27 minutes to walk to the car. This did not leave enough time to knock on another door and complete purchase paperwork.

But I saw a man watering his garden, so I opened the gate….and, yes, I sold another set. That set took eighteen minutes to sell and sign up.

Because I sold three sets that night I received a bonus equivalent to two months bank wages. The three sales and bonus was the same as roughly six months of the wages I had been used to. From that night on I sold on an average three sets per night.



Water to Ice.

Water to steam.

The appropriate catalyst,

The necessary seed, and

The shift takes place.



Way of Being.

Appropriate Action.

What was the shift due to? I gave up wanting to prove anything and just got the job done. I chose to be a service agent in education. I did not sell books. I sold peace of mind and opportunities through knowledge.

The most important thing I learned was not to sell benefits but to enroll people into taking action on their dreams. I listened to what they had to say. Before this transformation, I had never heard them saying “I want it but I have barriers.” That’s why I did not sell any sets. Whatever objection the prospect had, I interpreted as, “This is too expensive.” I was hearing my own scarcity. In my head, I was focused on the money I needed from them to feel OK about myself. I heard my own impossibilities instead of their possibilities. I heard my limitations (The usual clichés!)

This transformation was my key first step toward becoming an effective coach. THE BEGINNING OF MY TRAINING PROGRAMS WAS IN FRONT OF ME.

I became Sales Manager at the encyclopedia company. Controlled sixteen offices and a floating Sales Staff of around 760. My position was to train managers to manage these people and to produce results consistent with their goals and the company’s goals.

Sorry. As I said, “No big deal.”