To be successful in selling, you first must understand the rules.

Rule 1

To the customer, your products are generic and difficult to differentiate.

Rule 2

It's never been harder to meet with decision makers.

Rule 3

Your boss really doesn't care about the first two rules. He or she still expects you to excel.

Does this situation seem totally unfair to you? Does it make you want to curl up in a ball in the corner of your office? Do you wish the life of a salesperson weren't like this?

I have a strong statement for you: Get over it.

In the 1970s, Deacon Jones was an imposing Hall of Fame defensive lineman in the National Football League. He was a huge man who could outplay his opponent almost every game, largely because of his size. Today an NFL quarterback, traditionally one of the smaller guys on the team, are the same size he was! Times change, competition gets harder and the way the game is played changes.

To be a Hall of Fame performer in today's business climate, you have to work harder and condition yourself for the new game, learning and adapting to the new rules and playing conditions as you go.

Today's sales leaders out-think the competition. What does it take to get the attention of the decision makers? In the 1987 movie Wall Street, Charlie Sheen's character (Bud Fox) worked daily to get Mike Douglas' character (Gordon Gekko) to notice him. He was creative. He was relentless. He was constantly looking for an opening, an opportunity to impress, because he knew it was worth his effort.

Let's break this down.

How are You Being Creative?

What are you doing to exercise your mental creativity? Just like your biceps, your creativity isn't going to grow unless you give it a workout. A tool I find useful in developing my creative process is Roger von Oech's “Whack Pack.” He produced the original creativity-spurring Whack Pack and then produced the Innovative Whack Pack as a sequel. Whack Packs are decks of 60 creative strategy cards to “provoke and inspire your thinking.”

With the help of this idea-generating tool, I created a sales approach I refer to as my “Shock and Awe” program, which is personalized to each decision maker. While the form of “Shock and Awe” obviously varies from recipient to recipient, the aim is always the same: Get the decision maker to stand up and take notice.

For example, I had the opportunity to be in an executive's office with Nationwide, a prospect at the time. In this man's office, I saw John Wayne everywhere — posters, autographed pictures, even a stand-up life-sized cardboard cutout in the corner of his office. I commented on his “collection,” and he replied that everyone who stepped into his office picked up on that theme. Now he is overrun with John Wayne.

I wanted to do something with more impact than simply adding to his extensive collection. Amid memorabilia of “the Duke,” I saw a certificate he got from attending a Star Trek camp. A Trekkie! I tucked this bit of important information away in my mental files for future use.

As customers will, he perceived my products as generic. I only got 15 minutes of his time out of courtesy. How could I make an impression?

After our meeting, I hunted down limited edition Star Trek collectibles on eBay and sent them with my thank you note. In the note, I referred to the trinkets and told him to wear the Klingon Battle pin when he was about to have a “kick butt” meeting with his management team. As I signed off, I encouraged him to “live long and prosper.”

Not only did I get a quick return phone call to share a laugh over his battle pin, I got the opportunity to work with him for several years. I found a way to stand out from the crowd. Find the unique identity of your decision maker, tap into it, and differentiate who you are to your prospect. Seize that opportunity to set off your products and services to the best advantage.

How Relentless are You?

Most salespeople allow many, many follow-up opportunities to slide by. Either you got the cold shoulder from your prospects, they never responded to your initial contact, or you are the type of person who only wants to bother with picking the low-hanging fruit.

What separates great sales people from the rest of the pack is how relentless they are in pursuing what I call “fresh meat.” Before I go any further, I need to clarify that being relentless is different from engaging in stalking behavior. I don't want to know anyone reading this article got a restraining order taken out against them because I said to be relentless!

Relentless means I'm not going away until I am told “go away” — but also I'm not being a pest to the point where they run to lock the door any time they see me coming.

Being relentless isn't as difficult as you think. It only requires a plan, discipline, and that creativity I mentioned earlier. Let's start with the basics first. Call when you said you would call. It is staggeringly amazing how many people don't do this. Keep the tickler database system up to date and keep the calls going until you get your answer.

I also look for additional methods to be relentless in keeping me in front of them, although I am generally not pitching products while doing so. For example, the article you are reading is a way for me to keep my name in front of potential clients. My bi-weekly online newsletter reminds my clients that I am an expert who gives them valuable information. I send copies of articles I know they would enjoy (rarely related to what I am pitching them), and I'll e-mail them links to website I know they would appreciate.

The creativity comes in when I kick it up a notch. Some of my favorite business magazines are inexpensive for annual subscriptions. If I think the prospect would appreciate reading one of those magazines, in my follow-up communications, I'll let him know I paid for an annual subscription. That way, every time that magazine is delivered, he remembers me.

There is a difference between pitching relentlessly and being seen relentlessly. If I am constantly selling every time I see my prospect, I appear desperate. Customers assume that if you are that desperate, what you're selling cannot be very good. Otherwise, you would have plenty of business and not desperate at all.

By contrast, however, if I am relentlessly being “seen” in a positive and creative way, I am demonstrating to my prospect I am investing in him. I'm a patient person and not going anywhere. When the time is right, we will do business. Always operate from a position of strength.

How Committed are You?

Why did Bud Fox constantly look for opportunities to land Gordon Gekko? Because he knew he was an elephant and was sure the eventual payoff would be significant. I work with athletes, and I've noticed the best athletes are the ones who work the hardest, practice the longest, and invest the most effort. Coincidence? I am sure it isn't.

The people who sit around the office bemoaning the economy, the difficulty of sales and have ready-made excuses are getting smoked by their competition, if for no other reason than effort and commitment. When I left the check-of-the-month club and quit my corporate job to start my own business, I learned that pay for performance is a great thing. I can make as much as I want depending on my effort and commitment. I love capitalism!

If you don't like who you work for — quit. If you no longer enjoy sales — find another occupation. If you want to be successful at sales — go at it full-bore with a commitment to giving it everything you have and remember the most important commitment is the commitment to yourself. Regardless of whether you love your boss or not, you need to be completely committed for your self worth, your bank account, and — bottom line — your self respect.

Ever see a professional athlete “dog” it? How did that affect your respect for him? Remember at the end of the day you have to look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself — did I do all I can? You are worth your own best effort because winning at sales is purely an inside job.

The author is president of Russell J. White International Inc., Lake Wylie, S.C., and known in speaking and consulting circles as “The Big Guy.” He is an author, trainer and international speaker with 25 years of experience as a Fortune 500 manager and consultant. He can be reached at (877) 275-9468 or by e-mail at mail@thinkBIGguy.com. Visit his Web site at www.thinkBIGguy.com.