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In search of Jeffrey Gitomer

Editor’s Note: Ever wondered who Jeffrey Gitomer is or why his column appears weekly in the Mississippi Business Journal? Staff writer Wally Northway decided to find out. Enjoy.

Without hesitation, and certainly with no apology, he said, “I am an expert, a world-class expert, perhaps the expert on selling.” It was classic Jeffrey Gitomer.

Brash, with a self-confidence that seems to near if not cross the line into cockiness, every week readers expect Gitomer to inform, entertain and, more often than not, shock them with his trademark “.5” tips in his columns where he is not shy about using such terms as “idiot” and “jerk.” And every week, Gitomer delivers as promised.

So, who is this maverick sales consultant/trainer/facilitator?

Gitomer grew up in South Jersey, across the river from Philadelphia, born into an entrepreneurial family. (Gitomer has owned a multitude of businesses, including technical and trade schools and a retirement community.)

His earliest memory of selling is when he was seven years old, peddling candy bars. But it would take time for him to evolve into the sales guru of today.

“I literally grew into it slowly,” Gitomer remembered. “I always was an entrepreneur, and had the gift of gab. But I begun studying sales in 1971 or 1972. Once I realized there was a science to selling, the light in my head kind of went on.”

Gitomer would develop into an avid book collector and reader, and it was in books where he found the foundation for his sales philosophy. Interestingly, the books that first proved influential to him when he was young were not sales guides, but rather those centered on personal behavior. He would eventually read sales theory from such notables as Zig Ziglar and Herb True, but that would come later. He gives his earliest influence as Elmer Letterman and his “Strangest Secret,” which held that one is what one thinks about every day.

This focus on behavior first, selling second, may not come as that much of a surprise when considering Gitomer’s basic approach to his profession. It is built on five elements — attitude, sales philosophy, mission statement and belief in self, company and product. Sales skills are number five, and it’s a rather distant fifth, at that.

“I have to have the other four in place first before I can do anything with the fifth,” Gitomer said. “If not, you end up with a well-trained idiot.”

Tough lessons

While Ziglar and True were key in developing sales strategies, it was the hardscrabble streets of New York where Gitomer cut his sales teeth. Then a manufacturer of imprinted sportswear, Gitomer sold his product to prospective customers who might cuss him out or ask for a bribe on a typical day.

“Everybody should be made to sell in New York City for a month,” Gitomer said with a chuckle. “It would be the rudest awakening ever. They would realize just how good they have it. You know the expression at the end of the song, ‘If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere’? That’s true.”

Gitomer has also evolved into a noted speaker. His presentations are much like his columns — full of energy and conviction, and totally fearless, a characteristic he proved during his first-ever speech.

Asked to speak to roughly 300 of his peers in the imprinted sportswear industry on how he sells in 1976, Gitomer had plenty of notes and felt prepared. But things unraveled quickly once out in front of his audience. After stammering and muttering for some three or four minutes, Gitomer just stopped and said, “This sucks, doesn’t it?” So, he scrapped the speech, asked attendees to give him their biggest objections and he would overcome them on the spot. After his presentation ended two hours later, it was Gitomer’s tapes that outsold all others at the event.

“If you can’t do it from your heart, if you try to do it from your head, you’re not going to be effective,” Gitomer said.

Optimistic, positive — and self-absorbed?

It might be easy to label Gitomer self-absorbed, but that may not be fair. It’s not beyond him to admit he was wrong, laugh at some past foible or give someone else credit for a good idea or strategy. He consistently quotes and uses as example sales theories and practices of others, heaping praise just as quickly as he levels criticism.

Yes, Gitomer has heart. That first job selling candy bars was to raise money for charity. And he was scheduled to hold a seminar in New Orleans this month, a gig he landed before Hurricane Katrina’s landfall. It has been postponed, but Gitomer has committed 50% of the net proceeds to a local New Orleans charity when it does take place. It is tentatively scheduled to be held in January 2006, though that date may be optimistic.

Then again, Gitomer is nothing else if not optimistic and positive. Gitomer might, figuratively, get in your face, but seems to be always smiling when he does it.

“As I developed into an expert on selling, I also became the most positive person on the planet,” he said. “I love what I do. For me, it’s all play and no work.”

Still having fun, when asked his proper title, Gitomer quipped, “King of sales — nobody holds it, so I’ll take it. It’s been vacant a long time. Eve was the queen of sales. She sold the apple to Adam. It proves that the oldest profession is sales.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

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