The temperatures began to fall, leaving a light dusting of snow on the ground. It was early November, and although the official start of winter was still a month away, winter weather was coming early and hard. It was bitterly cold, and I was depressed by both the weather and my future. You see, things weren't going well.
The merchants I sold to always tended to become as cold as the weather at this time of year. Plus the holidays were right around the corner, which usually shut the door on any new business during retailers' busiest season. Previously, I'd planned ahead for this slowdown.
Like a squirrel hoarding acorns, I'd increased my calling efforts the month or so before the holidays and built up a cushion for just a time as this.
Unfortunately, this year I'd followed the same plan, but to no avail. Nothing I tried worked. Even though I'd increased my calling efforts by 100 percent,
I hadn't signed any new business in over four weeks. On this particular morning, the snow on the ground increased my dread, and the responses to my calls were abysmal. Not only were merchants disinterested, they all but threw me out the door.
One of my routines was to stop for lunch at a certain diner. Discouraged, I felt I had no reason to wait until lunchtime, so I stopped early. I took my normal seat at the counter and, without asking, Linda poured my first cup of the day.
I must have looked pretty down, because unlike her normal perky self, she said nothing, leaving me to contemplate the blackness of the brew.
The diner was still busy from the breakfast rush, yet the counter was empty except for an older gentleman seated three seats down. As I stared at my cup, he looked over and said, "You look like someone whose dog just died."
Without even looking over, I said, "Just not a great day." I hoped he would go back to whatever he was doing and allow me to drown in my failures. Instead, he slid over to the seat next to me and said, "Bad days don't look like you. Bad months maybe, not bad days."
I hadn't thought my misery was that obvious. I looked up from my coffee and studied my new "friend." He had gray hair and a graying, well-trimmed beard. His face had one of those smiles that gives the appearance
of contentment, not arrogance.
He seemed interested in my predicament. I dropped my self-imposed wall and began to talk. "Yeah, bad month may be an understatement," I said. "I feel like a failure. I used to be successful, but I guess things have passed me by."
He responded, "So you're in sales?" I had to laugh, as it must have been obvious. He then asked what had happened to change my results.
"It seems like I'm falling behind my competition," I said. "There were a ton of changes in the industry this year. We have new laws and new programs with new acronyms that are both confusing and frustrating for my clients. They ask me for answers, and I don't have them - neither does anyone else."
He paused and seemed to ponder his response. "I used to be in sales, too," he said. "I led my company in sales every year. I was straight commission and was making a nice living. Then I, too, had the floor fall out. One week I didn't make a single sale.
"That had never happened before, so I took it as the exception. It happened again the following week. I began to panic. I doubled my efforts and did everything I'd done before that had made me the best, but at the end of week three, I still hadn't made a sale.
"I was at a point where I was thinking I would lose my car, my job, and that my family would be living on the streets - all because I was failing. I began that fourth week like you, sitting at this same counter, when a gentleman about the age I am now sat down beside me."
I could relate to his story and told him more about my woes. He listened and asked, "Have you done all you could possibly do? Have you made your calls and talked to all of your returning clients? Have you been the best you that you could possibly be?" I said yes to all three questions.
He responded, "Then where have you failed? You can't make people buy from you. You can only do the best you can do." He then paused and said, "Let me give you a gift. It's free."
As low as I felt, I figured his gift couldn't hurt, so I said yes to the gift. "OK, it's simple," he said. "How would you rate yourself on a scale of one to 10?" I thought for a minute. I had a great family and was likeable; that was worth something. I knew I certainly wasn't perfect, though, so I said I was a seven.
"That's the problem," he replied. "There is only one you. We play many roles in life: parent, child, teacher, student, buyer, seller and so on. Sometimes we succeed; sometimes we fail. However, our roles don't define us."
He paused and then asked, "How can you be less than a 10? The key is to stop thinking about how you may be affected by these roles and start thinking about how no one is better at being you than you. No matter what you do, you are always the best you. Understand?"
I didn't get it, so he asked, "What defines you? Is it the people you meet? Is it the work you do or the sales you make? Is it your family? We all want to be the best, but I can't hit a baseball thrown at 100 miles an hour. Does that make me any less of a person? Of course not."
I nodded in agreement, and he continued. "If you don't change how you see yourself, your prospects will see you as you see yourself, which is less than worthy, and they won't buy from you," he said.
"Until you think of yourself as a 10, you won't succeed, period. You have always been a 10; you just haven't acted like it when times were tough.
"Now, get your head out of that mug and realize who you are - and what your value is to others."
I saw that he was right. It wasn't my inability to sign merchants that was dragging me down. It was me - and the expectations that I set for myself.
If I thought I was failing, I was, and the negativity fed upon itself. Even so, I wasn't sure how to put this insight into practice, so he added one last thought.
"This is my gift to you. You can use it or not, but if you do, you have to promise to share it one day with someone just like I am doing now. If you decide to use it, start practicing right now. Why not call Max over and talk to him?"
Max owned the diner, and I had never thought of selling to him. "Before you call him over, make the change," my friend advised. "No pitches, no presentations. Just have a conversation.
"Remember, you're a 10. No matter what he says, that won't change, so just talk to him."
I called Max over, and instead of starting my standard spiel, I said, "I come in here every day, and was wondering why we've never done business together. I don't know if I can help you, but let's talk."
To my amazement, Max began explaining what type of processing services he had, what he hated, and before he was done, I had made my first sale in a long time.
After signing the contract with Max, I looked for my friend to thank him, but he was gone. I asked Linda about him. She said he'd been coming in at about the same time on the same day every week for a long time. I came back the next week, but he wasn't there. Sadly, I never saw him again.
But his gift changed my attitude, and that resulted in my success. I left our impromptu meeting and returned to my office to find more referrals than I'd ever had in one month, let alone one day.
I turned most of them into sales, realizing I didn't need to know everything. I just needed to know where to ask. I needed to be the best me.
It's been 20 years since that chance encounter. I'm now retired; have a happy, healthy family; and know full well that I'm a 10. I've been coming here each Tuesday since my retirement, waiting to share this story.
Then one day I looked over at the guy a few seats away. He looked like he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Linda had long since retired, and Max had passed away, but the diner was the same as always. I looked him over and said, "Let me give you a gift."