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Titans of Sales: A Conversation with Master Salesman Robert Terson
Blog / For Sales Pros / Oct 6, 2014 / Posted by Bruce Boyers / 5210

Titans of Sales: A Conversation with Master Salesman Robert Terson

In 2010, Robert Terson retired from a 40-year career of selling advertising to small businesspeople. For 38 of those years, he owned his own business. He is the author of Selling Fearlessly: A Master Salesman’s Secrets For the One-Call-Close Salesperson—a highly entertaining and seriously applicable guide straight from the mind of a true sales master. He also hosts a highly informative and helpful website and blog at

Terson was kind enough to sit down with us and give us some simple yet powerful insights into sales and sales management. His comments should be part of Sales 101 for anyone engaged in selling.

You obviously love sales, having spent the majority of your life doing it. What do you really love about sales?

Well I think there’s a multiple answer to that: I always liked being my own boss. I always liked the ability to make whatever amount of money that I was worth, as opposed to somebody telling me what I was worth. I loved the work itself, bringing people value for the money they spend; that was quite enjoyable.

 And, I got to set my own hours. The last 38 years I had my own business, so I had the independence of that as well as being a salesperson for the business. The last ten years, for example, I flew out on a Sunday, I worked Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, then came home Thursday morning. I took 17 weeks a year off. I enjoyed all that freedom. Man does not live by work alone.

What makes a great salesperson?

Again, multiple things: Someone who enjoys the work, talking to people. Someone who likes people. Someone who values the solution that they have. They want to help people, they want to bring that solution to people to help them. Someone who likes to be independent—someone who appreciates the freedom that running your own life brings to you. Someone who wants to make a lot of money.

 I think that most salespeople deal with fear. They’re afraid of the prospect—they’re afraid of failing—so they approach the prospect from a point of subservience, sort of like, “Please, Mr. Businessman, give me a few minutes of your time!” And that does not garner respect.

The great ones approach any customer from a point of equality. They approach the prospect or  customer eyeball to eyeball. And why not? The salesperson is someone who’s there to bring great value. Isn’t that something to be proud of? You respect yourself, so you’re going to garner respect. If you’re afraid of the prospect—if you approach from that point of trepidation, fear, subservience—you’re not going to garner respect and more than likely you’re not going to make a sale.

That’s what Selling Fearlessly—the name of my web site and the title of my book—is all about. It’s approaching someone from that point of equality, believing in yourself, believing what you’re selling, feeling a responsibility to bring that value to others.

Talk about the importance of helping and establishing relationships.

Well, let’s look at it from the opposite side for a moment. I regularly get emails from people who want to just post on my site. I have about eighty-five to ninety guest bloggers and they’re among some of the top sales and marketing pros around the world. So I get cold solicitations from people, and I’m sure they’re sending them to a lot of other people, too.

I got one today that read:

I presently work as a freelance branding and marketing consultant advising companies and businesses. My expertise extends to areas like internet marketing, SEO, web design and graphic design.

In my free time I love pinning down my thoughts and ideas about things that I know best. I am keen to feature an article on your website as it would do wonders for my portfolio as a writer, and also give me an ideal platform to share my thoughts and ideas with a large number of readers. Here are a few ideas for your consideration: (He lists thirteen possible articles.) I would be glad to write on any of the above topics and I am also open to any suggestions or ideas that you might have.

Lastly…(This is really a peach here)…I am willing to part with thirty dollars for your efforts in publishing my article as I know it would be a sound investment. I hope your reply is in the positive so your readers can benefit from what I have to say.

So this is what I wrote this man:

I have eighty-five to ninety guest bloggers. Many are among the top sales and marketing experts around the world. I put up guest posts every Tuesday and Thursday, so I can publish each individual only once every nine to ten months. They are all friends; I only put up articles from people I have strong personal relationships with.

Frankly, I get a ton of solicitations like yours from people whose idea of “networking” is to see what someone else can do for them, and they leave me cold. I’m attaching a blog on that very subject which I’ll be posting in July. I suggest you read it, and change your methodology accordingly. Zig Ziglar said—and I’m paraphrasing—“Help enough other people get what they want and you’ll get what you want.”  However, the kind of self-focused, “What can you do for me?” that you’ve exhibited in your cold solicitation will not bring you success with the crowd I hang with. We believe in paying it forward in establishing solid relationships before we ask for anything.

I coach my clients on this stuff, and my email address and telephone number are at my website and my LinkedIn page. If you’d like to talk about it, I’d be glad to give you a free session. Reach out at any time.

You can see that I never give up on people. I see this as selfish, self-focused, foolish behavior, but I’m not going to give up on them. I’ll give anybody a reply that will try to show them that they’re behaving in a half-assed manner.

The truth is, it’s always about the “other guy.” It’s always about what you can do for that person. That’s what networking is. I mean all these people out there who think networking is to get what they want as quickly as possible are just nuts.

Sure, you’re interested in what you want to accomplish too, obviously. But the point is, the way to get it is by helping others. Does it always come back to you? No, of course not. There’s a lot of selfish people in this world—a lot of what I call “one-way Charlies.” But there’s also a lot of wonderful people out there who will help you all they can. And that’s really what networking is about.

In order to succeed, many salespeople end up having to learn how to listen, as opposed to just throwing out an appealing pitch. How important is listening?

It’s very important, and it comes after asking questions. That’s what great salespeople do. They interview their prospects, their potential clients. They ask them questions.

One of the questions that always helped me was, “What’s the one thing I need to know right now to be of great service to you today?” And then you listen, and listen carefully. You don’t concentrate on the next thing you want to say—you listen. My father used to joke that there’s a reason why we have two ears and only one mouth.

You throw in your pitch, in most cases, after you’ve asked your questions and found out what the problem was. And you may or may not have a solution—if you don’t have one you should point the person in the direction of someone who can help them. If you do have a solution you zero in on it in relation to that specific problem.

You bring that value to that individual. You get them excited about it. You let them know how you’ve helped others with this very same problem and these are the results.

How important is it to feel good about the product or service you’re selling?

It’s vital. If you’re selling something you don’t believe in, get yourself another job. Life is much too short. You’re not a salesperson if you’re doing that—you’re a con man. If you don’t feel confident in your product, why would you bother? Why would you spend your time doing that? How can that bring you pleasure and joy and satisfaction?

Lastly, do you have a feel for what is a great approach to being a good sales manager?

I think so. I think you should have a hands-on approach. I think you should observe an individual, see how they work, so you can tell them what they’re doing wrong and what they’re doing right. I think you need to go into the field with them and watch them present.

The trouble nowadays is that most sales managers will tell you they don’t have the time to do that. And maybe they’re right–maybe management is loading them down with so many tasks that they can’t really be a sales manager.

But that’s what it takes. A great sales manager has a hands-on coach. One of the problems with sales management nowadays can be seen in the Peter Principle [“A person will tend to be promoted to their level of their incompetence.”] Someone might be a great salesperson, and they’ll be promoted to sales management because of that skill. But that doesn’t mean that they know how to coach people, and so they wind up as a sales manager and are completely incompetent in the role.

If you want to be good at anything, what do you do? You go out and learn how to do it, right? I believe in mirroring the masters. I will tell salespeople, “Why not spend a week with the one who’s doing the greatest job at your company? Ask them for help. And then spend time watching them on the phone, watching them present. Make notes afterwards. Learn from the masters, and then mirror that behavior.”

Most people will be afraid to go up to Joe Number One and ask, “Will you help me? You’re doing this better than anyone else. I want to emulate you. I want to learn from you, and spend a week just observing you and seeing how you do it.” But if you ask people to help you that way, I think most of them are going to.

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About Author

Bruce is a freelance writer and a 20+-year marketing veteran. During his career he has worked very closely with salespeople, achieved an understanding of how they can best be assisted by marketing, and gained a keen insight into the innate and singular abilities they demonstrate day in and day out.

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