I’ve spent the last five years on the supplier side of the three tier system. In those five years I’ve learned so much from so many people, not to mention the life experiences and observations that I would have never experienced anywhere else.

I would love to share all of the stories and lessons I learned with you right now, but I don’t think a single blog post would suffice—light bulb, I just had an idea for a book.

I’ll share with you what I feel, at this point and time in my life, were the five most important lessons that I learned as an Area Sales Manager, in the Three Tier System the last five years.

1. Have Integrity.

I was having a conversation with a vice president of sales, I believe it was early 2012, and we were discussing some of the challenges that I was having with one of my wholesalers.

In the midst of our conversation he asked, “What matters most to this particular wholesaler?”

“Integrity,” I told him.

Without a hesitation he responded, “Then how do they measure integrity?”

Although I didn’t have an answer for him that night and I managed to solve the challenges I was having with that wholesaler on my own, that question has been rattling around my brain for over three years.

Considering integrity isn’t a number it’s proven quite difficult to measure it.

So how do you measure integrity?

Well, it’s not measured by the amount of plaques you have hanging in your building that have the word integrity on them. It’s also not measured by the number of times you talk to people, about the integrity you have. From my experience people who have integrity, rarely brag about it.

But how is integrity measured, if it’s not a number?

Integrity is measured by your actions, your decisions, and the way you interact with people.

I’ve seen people fall victim to the false ideal of having integrity, but rarely if ever, displaying it in their actions, decisions, or the way they’ve interacted with people. But I’ve also witnessed and interacted with people who’ve never faltered, who always chose to do the right thing, because they didn’t want to compromise themselves or their organization.

Integrity is the wholeness of your character, which can’t be measured by a number, but can be felt or seen by the people around you.

2. Everyone Operates Their Business Differently.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with or visiting over 25 different wholesalers, countless more markets in Florida, Illinois, Ohio, New York, Minnesota, Mississippi, and Michigan, and thousands of retail accounts. I’ve been able to work with wholesalers that are part of the MillerCoors network, the Anheuser-Busch InBev Network, and everything in between. When I started as an area sales manager, I thought everyone operated in sort of the same way—but boy was I wrong.

I have a group of wholesalers that are all within a short drive of each other and are all part of the same wholesaler network. I learned quickly, that although their portfolio of products are similar, the way they run their businesses and built their cultures couldn’t be any more different.

Yes! They all sell beer. But they have different ways of inspiring, motivating, and moving a case of beer from their warehouse to the retail outlet.

What I learned, is there is more than one way of operating a distributor or wholesaler.

Some wholesalers may argue that their way is the best way, and they’re right, it’s the best way for them to operate, because of the culture and the people they have.

Each wholesaler has built a tribe, by attracting and keeping the people that fit well within their particular culture. I couldn’t imagine seeing some of the employees moving from one wholesaler to the next. It’d be like fitting a square peg into a round hole.

The benefit of working with wholesalers with such diverse cultures and tribes has helped me understand that there is more than one way to sell a case of beer.

3. Don’t Be Scared To Ask Questions.

I’ve become known to many, as the guy that asks questions. Some people liked that quality about me, while others disliked it.

Now, I don’t believe in asking stupid questions I believe in asking questions and then questions that clarify.

Here’s an example from a real world sales call:

A fellow employee and I were meeting with the buyer for a large regional hypermarket chain. My co-worker is pitching our product to the buyer. And all of a sudden I get the sense that the buyer’s mind is beginning to wander, his eyes start scanning the text infected slide and he says “next.”

The next slide comes up on the screen, the buyer says, “Next.”

My co-worker just keeps talking and flipping thru slides.

Then the buyer saw something on a slide that caught his attention—how much money our product could make for him.

As my co-worker took a break from pitching, I asked the buyer, “What’s more important to you profit or revenue?”

“Revenue,” the buyer responded.

My co-worker and I were stunned by the response, considering the main theme of the presentation, was profit.

Before my co-worker could continue with the importance of profit over revenue, I asked the buyer another question, “Why do you consider revenue to me more important than profit?”

The buyer began to tell a story of the failed grocery store chains that he had worked for and how their main concern was profit above anything else. As he continued with his story, everything started to become crystal clear. The grocery stores that were no longer in business, never generated enough revenue to keep the doors open. This regional hypermarket chain valued profit, but they understood that without substantial revenue, they couldn’t keep the doors open or continue to expand their footprint.

Although we didn’t make the sale, I gained a great deal of incite from those two questions regarding the buying motives for this customer.

When I shared the story with others, they wrote it off as the buyer was blowing smoke up my ass. Some of the responses I got were “everyone cares about profit, without profit you can’t keep the doors open, you can’t operate with little margins” and so on. But there’s a problem with everyone’s response. It’s focused on what they believe and not what the buyer and his organization believe and value.

Without asking those two simple questions no value could have been extracted from that meeting.

Questioning is a powerful tool when used correctly.

Without questions it’s quite difficult to find the answers.

The right questions can create meaningful dialogue, open up new ways of thinking, and empower people to speak their mind.

4. Relationships Are Built On Trust.

I was working with a wholesaler a few years ago, visiting accounts and helping the sales rep sell in my company’s product. Before we walked into the first account, the sales rep warned me that this store owner doesn’t like him or the wholesaler, and it may be difficult to get anything accomplished here.

As I made my way over to introduce myself to the store owner, he stopped me and said “Listen I don’t want to buy anything from you or your company, so go ____ yourself.”

“No problem” I said, “I’m not here to sell you anything I just want to talk to you.”

After a brief conversation I discovered that he really despised the sales rep. When I asked him for reasons he gave me a laundry list of incidences where the sales rep lied to him, didn’t follow up, or took advantage of him—you know sending in product just to hit an incentive.

I wrote this account up in my notes as a difficult account and a rare occurrence. But the very next account we walked into I heard the same song and dance from the store owner. He despised the sales rep.

All day long I heard the same song and dance from every store owner regarding the sales rep.

As we were walking into one of the last accounts of the day, I greeted the store owner and I followed up with this line:

Listen, I know you don’t care for the sales rep, because he’s lied to you or failed to follow up on something he promised you. And I understand that. I just want to know, if I can have a few minutes of your time to discuss some opportunities I may have for you with our products.

The store owner was speechless, but he finally managed to say “so you’ve heard from everyone today how bad this guy is.”

The very next day I worked with the same wholesaler, but this time a different sales rep. Before we got our day started, the sales rep told me we’d have opportunities in most of his stores, and the ones we wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything in, is due to the fact the decision maker wouldn’t be in that day.

I remember walking into the first account of the day, the sales rep introduced me, I started to talk to the store owner and he said “you can do whatever you want… you see I trust_____!”

After I finished making room for our product, I started to talk to the store owner regarding the sales rep and why he trusted him so much. He went on and on, about the things he’s done for him and his store. And just like the day before I thought this was going to be a onetime occurrence, but I was wrong once again.

Throughout the day I heard the praises from every single account. “He’s helped me reset my cooler, he helps me move product if it sits too long, whatever I ask him for he’s always there to provide help or advice.”

The story above proves the point that without a foundation of trust your relationships are bound to crumble.

Relationships are a key ingredient to the success of any sales rep or sales organization.

5. Invest In The Most Important Person In The World.

In July of 2010, I was planning a trip to meet with one of my wholesalers in Ludington, Michigan. I was spending countless hours and hundreds of miles in my minivan the past couple of months, before this trip. And I was getting sick and tired of the radio, whether it was news, sports talk, or mainstream music, I had enough of it.

Then, I stumbled upon audio books; I download a few old school sales books and seminars and uploaded them to my iPod.

I remember embarking on my 3 1/2 hour drive to Ludington, Michigan and listening to the first seminar, The Psychology of Selling by Brian Tracey. Although some of the information was dated the one bit of information that stood out the most was this:

According to the University of Southern California, you can get the equivalent of full time university attendance by listening to educational audio programs as you drive from place to place. Turn your car into a learning machine, into a “university on wheels.”

I took the advice and started listening to anything and everything that I could on sales, leadership, marketing, communication, and business. One audio book led to the next, one seminar led to the next. Eventually I found one common message in all of the books and seminars.

Invest in the most important person in the world, YOURSELF.

How do you invest in yourself? You can start by reading, you can study that which you want to improve upon, and start to apply those things to your life. The purpose of investing in yourself is to separate yourself from the pack and increase your skills sets to become the best version of yourself. Earl Nightingale said it the best:

“One hour per day of study will put you at the top of your field within three years. Within five years you’ll be a national authority. In seven years, you can be one of the best people in the world at what you do.”

One hour a day doesn’t seem like much does it? But spread across a year that’s 365 hours or 45 full 8-hour days of work.

Time is a precious commodity, and finding that extra hour a day is difficult, especially if you have kids. I know having a two year old and trying to find time to improve my skill sets has become a challenge. It’s also very easy for me to get distracted, by everyday nonsense, that never amounts to anything but wasted time.

How did I find that extra hour a day? Well, I stopped watching TV.

I followed this advice from Seth Godin, and then early last year this Tweet from Jeffrey Gitomer really hit home with me. Yes, many people consider me different because I’m not up to date on the latest TV Show, local news, or that I don’t watch sports—yes I’ll watch the big games occasionally, but other than that, I’m not a sports fan.

I’m a firm believer in applying what you’ve learned, to your life every day. What’s the point of having all that knowledge in your head, if you never plan on using it. My ultimate goal is to make a dent in the universe, but if there’s one thing that I’ve learned for sure is I can’t do that watching TV.

5 Important Lessons In 5 Years.

As I look back, I’ve learned many lessons from many great people. Some of those lessons were apparent immediately; others took time to manifest themselves. But as of right now, these are the five most important lessons that I learned working as an Area Sales Manager, in the Three Tier System the last five years:

  • Have Integrity
  • Everyone Operates Their Business Differently
  • Don’t Be Scared To Ask Questions
  • Relationships Are Built On Trust
  • Invest In The Most Important Person In The World

What are some of the lessons you’ve learned in the last 5 years?