Billionaire Oprah

1 Surprising Skill of Many Billionaires You Can Develop

Billionaire Oprah
Image by Joe Crimmings

I have studied thousands of successful individuals.

You tend to pick up on eerie similarities that many of them have when you do so.

This is one that I don’t think anyone really recognizes or emphasizes:

I have found that a ton of successful founders and CEOs were really, really good salesman before they started a company.

In fact, many held the #1 spot in their division.

A few examples: Billionaire Sara Blakely was the one of the best door-to-door fax machine salesman in her field for seven years before she started her company Spanx. She attributes a lot of her success to the training she got as a salesman. She said it was”very difficult, very humbling with lots of tears.” Over time, she perfected the skill and was fine with being thrown out of buildings. Her skill at selling allowed her to be persistence and properly convince someone to invest in her first pantyhose product after many doors were shut in her face.

Noah Kagan is the founder of OKdork.com and Appsumo.com. He’s made over $30 million in sales and was the top salesman at OfficeMax for 1.5 years.

Neil Patel, founder of a couple multi-million dollar companies, including QuickSprout and Kissmetrics, has made numerous blog articles emphasizing the importance of learning how to sell, including one titled “Want to be successful? Learn how to sell”.

Vishen Lakhiani, the CEO of Mindvalley, valued at $40 million+, credits a lot of his success to the only job he could get before he started his company: as a salesman. He was forced to learn to sell because he was paid on commissions and it really helped him later in life.

The billionaire John Paul DeJoria was an insurance salesman for many years before his companies took off. Billionaires Mark Cuban and Michael Bloomberg worked first as salesman.

Cuban says he immediately identifies and favors anyone who used to be a salesman. He believes that a lot of the same skills you learn selling door to door can be applied to businesses of all sizes.

Mark Cuban business and sales advice
Mark Cuban answering questions on his verified Quora account

The man who grew McDonalds from one restaurant into a multi-billion dollar empire, Ray Kroc, was a salesman for decades. (By the way, he wrote a pretty good book Grinding it Out. Worth the read)

Heck, even the Youtube superstar Tyler Oakley, who has 8 million subscribers and growing, used to work at a call-center and was the #1 salesperson in his division. (Source: See his interview on the podcast Earbiscuits)

How to Be A Great Salesman Jason Fried
Jason Fried, founder of 37 Signals, a multi-million dollar business, and author of Rework tweeted back telling me to just learn to sell.

I think you get the point. The list goes on and on.

If you want plenty more examples, there is a great book called Getting There by Gillian Zoe Segal that has plenty of biographies of many different successful people of different backgrounds who were great salesman.

Does this mean you’re screwed if you’re a bad salesman or you don’t like selling? No.

First, selling can be learned. It is a skill that you can get better at. Now you know the importance of it and can work to improve on it, while your competitors undervalue its importance.

Second, if you tried everything and you’re still never going to be a great salesman, relax. Not all millionaires and billionaires were great salesman. JK Rowling, Oprah, and George Lucas are billionaires who never really had to sell that much… or did they? In any case, the point is that you should value the importance of a good salesman and maybe that means instead, you look for this skill when you hire or decide on a business partner. I fit into this category as I hate selling and am not naturally talented at it. I am still learning about selling because I know how important it is.

I recently uncovered a video for highly exclusive high-ticket seminar. The people in attendance had paid thousands to attend. The person presenting was the#1 salesman for a multi-millionaire company run by Russell Brunson.

This man valued a good salesperson so much that he said he went through over 300 really good applicants awithout hiring anyone. He also dropped another golden nugget: He says anyone who wants to hire the right people for sales should read a book called The Ultimate Sales Machine: Turbocharge Your Business with Relentless Focus on 12 Key Strategies by Chet Holmes

Anyone who’s serious should jump at information like that. A $10 book could make you hundreds of thousands of dollars down the line.

Before I got into learning about success and business, I didn’t really see the importance of selling. Now I know it is really important.

In fact, the famed marketer and business growth expert Jay Abraham says in his book, The Sticking Point Solution, that sales is the #1 think you should focus on if you’re company is making less than $1 million a year. It makes sense. Money comes from selling. You need to sell.

I wouldn’t say it is even close to the only thing necessary for a great company, but it is worth at least working on and it is worthy of you valuing its importance.

The final myth I want to dispel is this whole idea of “selling is sleazy or bad.” I used to partially think this too in the back of my head for most of my life before I got into business or any of this. However, the billionaire investor Peter Thiel said in his incredible book Zero To One that the bad salesman give selling a bad name. When he said this, it made so much sense to me. He states that a great salesman isn’t annoying or sleazy. This stereotype usually comes from the bad salespeople who don’t know how to sell properly. A great salesperson makes the sell a great benefit to the buyer.

As Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, calls it, a great salesman makes the situation a “win-win.” It is almost effortless because both parties benefit. That’s why I personally think it is important to have a great product you believe in that you are selling.

Having said that, selling is something that is still a mental block for me. I still think of it as being sleazy or selling stuff to people that no one wants. I don’t like being the guy who is forcing a bad product down someone’s throat and bothering them. It affects your psyche.

I will counteract this by realizing that the best businessmen in history sold great products: the iPhone, the laptop, the Playstation… They were doing a great service to people. Maybe you can choose a product that is so great that you are simply educating and making them aware of it.

I do think a higher level of business and sales should be in this way: a win-win situation for everyone involved.

Conclusion

Throughout my studies of successful businessmen, selling comes out as one of those eerie similarities.

Selling shouldn’t be sleazy. It’s the bad products, businesses, and salesman that make it so. It should be a win-win situation.

Honestly, selling can be useful for almost anything: when you are being interviewed for a job, when you are pitching a movie script, when you are auditioning to be an actress, or when you are pitching to investors for money.

Getting good at selling is important.

Is it necessary to be successful in your career? No.

Are there people who weren’t the best salesman and still succeeded? Most likely. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg focused on coding, but had a team of partners and employees to help them out with their weaknesses.

Having said that, I’ve learned that sales is a critical element of business and you have a higher chance of success if you can get better at it. It is an acquired skill that takes practice.

Thanks for reading this post. I have a ton more of these interesting insights to cover. In a future post, I will cover another eerie similarity: the under-emphasized importance of a great business partner.

Let me know: Are you good at sales? If not, what’s the first thing you can do right now to get better? What’s holding you back? If you are good at it, what have you learned that produces great results and what were the results?

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