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How long did it take to get good? Here are lessons I’ve learned

A reader recently sent me this question: “I have a personal question for you that may help others deal with the ups and downs of being in the sales profession. Honestly, how long did it take you to become a “good” salesman?”

My short answer is: A long time. Little-by-little.

Day-by-day. Sale-by-sale. Lost sale-by-lost sale.

A better answer is: Goodness and mastery evolve — if you decide you want to master the science, if you have a positive attitude, and if you believe in and love what you’re selling.

I am going to present a list of elements, as I traditionally do. The difference is that this list is personal. Everyone grows up in a slightly different way. I’m not saying my way is right or wrong, or good or bad. I am only saying, “it was what it was” and these are the lessons that I learned as a result of it. I have evolved to become a great salesperson, an entrepreneur, a writer, and a speaker as a result of my growing up environment and the influence of others, combined with my own thought process, decisions, and the luck — or the grace — of the gods.

Here then are the fundamental elements of how I got good. I hope they help you get good — or “gooder” than me. As you read each of these elements, I challenge you to examine how these same elements have affected you and your decisions.

The right household. I grew up in a family that was close. Not just my immediate family, all of my mother’s and father’s brothers and sisters, and all of my cousins. My mother made certain that our house was kid central. Everyone came to our house to play and partake of fresh baked goods and Coca-Cola in little bottles. I was fortunate to grow up in a place where I loved coming home.

Smart parents. My mother was a teacher. My family stressed education as one of the requirements for success. At one point in my education, my father and I went to night school together. He would always get an “A” without trying. I struggled to keep up, with a “B” or a “C.” I always envied my father’s writing skill. Packing perfect thought into short sentences. Sometimes the inspiration and wisdom of your parents takes 30 years to realize.

An entrepreneurial environment. My father was an entrepreneur. Business was always the topic of discussion in our household, whether it was with my immediate family or my family with their friends. This environment, whether I agreed with it or fought it at the time, laid the foundation for my understanding of the world.

Working for my dad. As early as I can remember, I loved going to work with my father. On Saturdays, he would take me to the kitchen cabinet factory — and I would just hang out. In high school, I began working there. And by 19 years old, I had decided to drop out of day school and take on the role of plant manager. Then at night, my dad and I could discuss what happened at the plant that day. I got a master’s degree and a doctorate in “real world business.”

Willingness to lose it all — taking a gamble (aka: risking). Risk starts young. Not getting caught for doing something wrong or not doing your homework. I used to take the family car for a drive around the neighborhood at night when my parents left me home alone. Underage and no license. Being an entrepreneur and being in sales requires risk-tolerance every day. I have risked and lost a thousand times, but I have risked and won 10 times more. “No risk, no reward” is an incorrect phrase. The correct phrase is “No risk, no nothing.”

Speaking of risk, I’m running one by running a three-part column. This is part one. The risk is that you might not see the other two parts. But you’re in luck! All three parts will be posted on my Web site, www.gitomer.com, for 30 days following publication of the third part. Or, to view the column in full, you can enter the words GITGOOD in the GitBit box on my Web site.

Stay tuned…

Jeffrey Gitomer, author of “The Sales Bible,” and “Customer Satisfaction is Worthless, Customer Loyalty is Priceless,” is president of Charlotte-based Buy Gitomer. He gives seminars, runs annual sales meetings and conducts training programs on selling and customer service. He can be reached at (704) 333-1112 or e-mail


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