Russell’s Ramblings

Those who do not hear the music might think the dancer mad

The sale starts with you!

Russell thoughts 1Recently I had the privilege of speaking to students at a local Career Day at Bradley Middle School in Huntersville. One of the questions asked was, “Outside of your family, who had the most impact on you for the career you have today?”

While attending college, I worked at an office furniture and supply store delivering case goods and supplies in Rock Hill, SC. The store, Harper Brothers Office Supplies & Furniture, was managed at the time by one of my father’s closest friends – John Teague. John later went on to be one of the company’s vice presidents. After graduation, I went to work for Harper Brothers as a marketing representative.

I could cite dozens of people who have had a profound impact on my life. That said, perhaps no one person shaped who I became as a sales person more than a working mother of two with a limited resume but a ton of confidence.

She walked into the store one day and admitted, “I don’t have any previous experience. I’ve never sold the first thing but I’ve raised two kids, and a husband.” Then she added, “Give me a chance and watch what I can do.”

Shirley Lineberger is not a name you’ll find in any business books.  I doubt she’s taught the first seminar or written a column.  Yet, when I think of successful sales people – I think of Shirley.

As an office supply company, some of the industry representatives would place incentives or “spiffs” on selling products.  Sell a dozen rolls of tape, you earn an extra silver dollar. At the end of the day, those dollars really added up. I will never forget the afternoon Shirley walked back in the delivery room and split her dollars with the delivery crew. She thanked each of us for the jobs we did, taking care of her customers.

A coffee cup and candy jar  we gave customers of Harper Brothers - circa 1985
A coffee cup and candy jar we gave customers of Harper Brothers – circa 1985

A few years later, when I had moved from delivery to sales, Shirley took me under her wing and we made calls together.  One particular day we planned several calls showing various lines of furniture to prospective customers.  The first three of the morning were spent with little results.

I remember feeling a little dejected with no orders in hand.  Shirley observed my rejected look and then reminded me, “Cheer up! I normally get one great sale in every five tries.  Now that we’ve got those out of the way, we’re gonna’ sell something after lunch,” … and sell we did!

Shirley loved her customers. Filled with confidence and optimism, she taught a young kid to begin each day believing great things were going to happen – and they would.

Love your job, take care of your people, and remember every rejection is just another step closer for you to reach your goal. Treat it as an opportunity, not a setback. It’s a lesson I learned along the way from a mother of two who understood the most important part of the sale starts with you.

Bill Russell

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June 24, 2015 Posted by | Leadership Lessons | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lessons I have learned along the way #6 – Knowing when to stop!

The following is the sixth a ten part series of “Lessons I’ve Learned Along the Way…”

Knowing when to stop 

While I lead a non-profit Chamber of Commerce today, my first occupation after graduating from Winthrop University was serving as a marketing representative for Harper Brothers, an office furniture and supply company in Rock Hill (SC).  Sales isn’t really a subject you can learn from a text-book.  It really derives from natural and learned abilities, experience, knowledge of your product, customer needs and expectations and competitor information as well as good advice or coaching from a mentor or professional coach.

One of the first golden rules I learned from sales was that most people have a tendency to try to pack too much information into their delivery.  We tell them how to build a watch instead of just what time it is.  Sometimes the best sales approach are the simplest ones.    Public speaking is another area where people get caught up in their message and say way too much when they already have their point made.  When I was a teenager, I was terrified of getting up in class and giving reports at Northwestern High.  Eventually though, I overcame that fear through practice and experience.  In 1992, I addressed a convention with a 35 minute speech to 3,500 delegates.  That would not have been possible without practice and preparation.

Charlie Madsen and I meet before my final speech to the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce.

I learned to craft talks on a subject and rehearse it over and over until I had the delivery just right.  Then one day, one of my mentors from the Junior Chamber (Jaycees), Charlie Madsen, gave me some simple advice.  “Bill, when you give one of your motivational talks, look around the room.  If you see them eating out of your hand, you know you got them hooked, finish it.  Don’t go into another story or make another point no matter how good you think it is.”

Charlie reminded me of the young politician on his first campaign speech.  He booked a big auditorium hoping for a great crowd, but he found only one man sitting alone  in a chair.  He waited and waited but no one else showed up.  Finally he looked at the lone guy and he said,  “Hey, you think I should get started?”  The man looked at the politician and said, “Sir, I’m just a farmer and all I know are cows.  But if I take a load of hay out and only one cow shows up, I’m still gonna’ feed it.”

So the politician reared back and gave him his best.  He talked on and on for an hour, then two as the farmer shifted back and forth in his seat.  Finally when the politician  wrapped up with his big delivery, he asked the old farmer just how he did.

Once again, the farmer pondered and then said, “Sir, I’m just an old farmer.  All I know are cows.  Of course, I do know that if I took my whole load of hay down to the pasture and only one cow showed up, I wouldn’t dump the whole load on him.”

Charlie winked at me as he made his point.  Your talks, speeches, and sales presentations are defined as much by your audience as your product.  I learned to tailor talks to groups using the people in the room.  Reading expressions to see whether my points had been made or needed to be expanded upon.

The bottom line know your product, know your competitor, most importantly know your audience, and finally know when to stop.

August 10, 2011 Posted by | Leadership Lessons | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Love What You Do!” – Lessons I have learned along the way #4

The following is the fourth in a ten part series of  “Lessons I’ve Learned Along the Way…  Love what you do…”

Gene Martin and Bill Russell, Past S.C. Jaycee State Presidents

I have written many times before of a mentor of mine from my Jaycee days, Gene Martin, who long ago encouraged me to “Love what you do, do what you love, and deliver more than your promise.”  It’s more than just a saying for me – it’s been my guiding principle for more than thirty years.

This past weekend I was attending the North Carolina Brewer’s and Music Festival at Rural Hill when one of the Chamber’s newer members, Kelly Franklin from Rely Local, asked how I decided I wanted to work at a chamber of commerce. I shared my early civic involvement and how after college, I started my career in sales at Harper Brothers in Rock Hill (SC), an office furniture and supply company headquartered in Greenville. However, my real passion seemed to be community service.  Simply put, making my community a better place to live and work.  That commitment to community was passed on to me by my parents who participated in a number of civic organizations themselves.

Bill Russell Jr. and Sr. spending quality time together

Long ago I asked dad why he worked so hard in the community and he quickly pointed to a verse from Matthew 5:16 which states, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”     Kelly listened intently and then began speaking about how welcomed he felt when he first met our staff as a prospective member.  The warm smile and open ear from members of our staff.  How he felt that first day and succeeding visits to Chamber programs and events, not just by our staff, but Ambassadors representing our organization.  I cannot convey how proud I was as he spoke about the important role we play in helping that business succeed.  It’s a statement I hear often, but one in which I never grow tired of hearing again.

Minutes later I was off to a ribbon cutting for a new veterinarian business in Huntersville. Speaking to the crowd at the Open House for Carolinas Veterinary Care Clinic, I welcomed Alisha and Alycen to our growing “Chamber family.”  As I was packing up the ceremonial scissors at my car, a young Huntersville couple commented on the remarks I made and agreed that much of what I said about our quality of life was why they chose to relocate to Huntersville and the Lake Norman region.

As we parted, the man looked back over his shoulder, and said, “Great remarks by the way – you looked like you were having fun!”  A quick smile and he was on his way.  Minutes later I was off to one last stop, “Brian’s Dog House Grill” and the grand opening of yet another new business – a family restaurant at Rosedale.

Grand Opening of Brian’s Dog House Grill

Walking up I was greeted by Brian, the owner, and Elizabeth Morgan, one of our Chamber Ambassadors who presented me with a check and application for Chamber membership she had picked up from another business… and all this on a Saturday!

That night, it occurred to me much of what had transpired that day – the community event, a ribbon cutting, and a grand opening all occurred on my day off – the weekend!  But I’m not sure I could have spent it any better.  Not every day is filled with fun and fellowship.  There are days when our task is much more serious and intent.  Our job is to grow business at the lake.  Jack, Janet, and myself – we’re in the people business.  We love what we do, do what we love, and we strive to deliver more than we promise.  And if we look life we’re having fun…  well, we are!

June 6, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment