My 84-year-old grandmother has been running a business for the past nine years after purchasing it when she was 75. Last week, the local news station did a short video highlighting her and her business.
While the segment titled “Art of Aging” was meant as advice for seniors, my grandmother managed to inadvertently drop in a few nuggets of wisdom for salespeople too.
1) It’s never too late to get started.
After my grandfather passed away, my grandmother took a job helping a family friend run the retail side of her bakeshop. After a few years, our friend decided to move to Vermont and was looking for a buyer for the business. At 75, my grandmother purchased it.
She’s had different jobs in her lifetime, of course. She raised four children, helped raise many of her grandchildren, worked at an insurance company, bought and sold antiques, and even did a stint at riveting (like Rosie the Riveter) during WWII. When she was helping to build airplanes in the ’40s, I’m sure she didn’t imagine herself running a bread shop in 2016. But, I’ve rarely ever seen her say no to an opportunity or a challenge.
In sales, there are a lot of reasons not to do something. There are reasons not to pick up the phone, reasons not to go after that big account, reasons not to call back that angry customer, reasons not to try and close that deal. But if you have something you want to do (like be successful in sales, or start your own business), the best plan to get started is simply that — get started. As my grandmother proves, it’s never too late.
2) Only sell products you believe in.
In the video, my grandmother says, “I try to find the best for my customers.” It’s true that she loves baked goods (I’m pretty sure she’s responsible for the sweet tooth in the family). So she no doubt enjoys testing new bakers and their products. But her reasons for carefully testing her products goes beyond her fondness for cookies. She takes an immense amount of pride in putting the best products on display.
Another example of her high standards is the antique and collectibles business she ran with my grandfather. While it’s true that the bread shop is the first incorporated business she ran by herself, she and my grandfather also bought and sold antiques, collectibles, and junk for 10 years. My grandfather had long generated side income from buying and reselling closeout items, junk (often literally picked up from the side of the road), and the occasional collectible. But when my grandmother got involved, they began to focus more on collectibles and antiques. She upped the game quite a bit with an amazing display of jewelry, glassware, and other memorabilia and collectibles.
If you don’t believe in your product, do something about it. Either help make your company’s products the best (like my grandmother did for my grandfather’s junk collection), or go sell for a company that already has the best. It might be a risky move in the short term, but I can assure you from my own experience that selling a product you truly believe in is the best thing you can do for your customers and your career.
3) Live a balanced life.
I spent the last 10 years being an entrepreneurial salesperson and sales leader. I drove myself to achieve personal goals I had set more than 20 years ago. But in the process, I sometimes sacrificed “balance,” working way too many hours, and neglecting family and friends.
During her time running Just Loaf’n, my grandmother didn’t sacrifice any of that at all. She takes trips with her senior groups to the casino and to shows. At 40+ years my senior, she definitely has a better social life than I do — she both keeps in touch with old friends and constantly makes new ones.
She also prioritizes family over work. She’s never missed a holiday with the family. She’s been on vacations with her children and grandchildren — several per year, in fact. And she doesn’t miss important events in her grandchildren’s lives. She truly lives up to what she said in the video: “I can do what I want when I want. If I want to take off, I do it.”
My sales coach, Rick Roberge, once said to me, “Being in sales is the closest thing to owning your own business.” One of the similarities is that salespeople usually have flexibility about when they work and when they don’t work, as we’re measured by the outcomes we produce, not the inputs or hours we put in. If you have that kind of flexibility, take advantage of it. Don’t squander it. And most importantly, don’t lose balance in your life on your way to crushing quota.
Too often we get caught up in how new buying patterns, new technology, and how the latest sales methodology will change the way we need to sell. But, none of that matters if we don’t keep in mind what’s most important: being balanced people, doing what we believe in, and doing it now!
Last summer, I took a week off so that my son, wife, and I could spend some time with Gigi Caputa (as her great grandchildren call her). We had an amazing time seeing some great aunts and uncles, visiting my other amazing grandmother and just hanging out. We plan to do it again this summer.
While I hope you all live healthy and long lives like my grandmother, don’t wait to get to know yours — I bet you could learn a lot from her.