story

How fast do you think?

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9:44 AM. Scott woke slowly. No early morning alarm. NO ALARM!? Scott shot a glance at the clock. He checked the wake setting. 7PM! No, no, no, no, No, NO! His final term paper was due in 16 minutes. It was written and it was good. But if it wasn’t turned in by 10AM, it wouldn’t matter if it was Shakespeare. His teacher, Professor Cassel, was a stickler for deadlines. If the paper wasn’t on time, he’d flunk the class. If he flunked the class, he wouldn’t have enough credits to graduate. If he didn’t graduate he would lose his job offer! This was a major life defining – or a major life set back – moment.

9:47 AM. The drive to campus was ten minutes. The run to the business hall was maybe two. Getting to the car… he was already in it.

9:59 AM. Of course there had been traffic. Scott decided to park at the curb and risk the ticket. He sprinted as fast as he could and reached the classroom. But the door was locked. Impossible! Then a terrible memory dawned on him. Professor Cassel had three sessions for the class and the drop off was in a theatre classroom a couple buildings down.

Scott was running again.

10:01 AM. He threw open the doors to the dimly lit theatre. At the front of the room was the professor organizing a giant stack of papers. Scott raced down the aisle and slid to a stop. “I’m not too late am I?"

“Afraid so," said an emotionless Professor Cassel.

Scott’s stomach went into free fall. His future was being snatched from him by this merciless man. Head spinning, Scott raced to think what he could say that would sway the Professor to reconsider. Then, his gaze fixed on the tall stack of his classmates’ term papers on the table in front of him.

In a flash, he knew what to do.

“Professor, do you know who I am?"

“I have too many students to remember all their names and faces."

“Good."

With that, Scott lifted the top half of the stack of papers, shoved his in the middle, and then quickly tidied them again.

“Thanks for everything," Scott chirped.

Professor Cassel stared at Scott like a still frame from an episode of “Punk’d."

Scott strode back up the aisle and out into the sunlight.

Once again, his future was looking bright.

The story above was told to me by a friend of mine about a college buddy of his. He assured me it was a true story, but I often wonder if it’s an urban legend that’s been recounted many times before.

Regardless of whether Scott did the ethical thing or not, it’s a tale about thinking on your feet. Do you think on your feet during the question time after a sales presentation? Do you have your wits about you when discussing price towards the end of a sales meeting? Do you have the right words when you’re confronted with a prospect’s objection? Or do you beat yourself up later when you realize what you should have said?

Read the 7 ways to prepare yourself to perform in those “Think Fast" moments over at my personal blog:

http://www.andyhorner.com/blog/7-tips-to-think-fast/

Slightly Behind - The Best Place to Compete?

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My brothers, identical twins, are a year older than I am. I also have two younger sisters. That gives me lifelong membership to the Fraternity of Middle Kids.

As a middle kid, I occasionally whined to my parents about being overlooked and ignored. They always patiently replied, "Stop being ridiculous, Anthony." I yelled back, "It's Andy!"

OK, OK, that last part's a joke – but all kidding aside, I'm not the only middle kid who ever griped about feeling attention-deprived. Over the years, I've met plenty of others who could identify with me.

In talking with other middle kids, I've observed another shared characteristic. As adults, they're almost all fighters with a strong competitive drive. Just like me, many felt the need to work a little harder to garner the same attention as their first and last born siblings.

Finally, I found some research that backs my observations and may offer insight to help sales managers stoke the competitive fire in the bellies of ALL their reps.

In the latest Harvard Business Review "Defend Your Research" section, there's a reprint of an interview with Wharton School of Business marketing professor, Jonah Berger. He explains that his research reveals people compete harder when they're slightly behind (just like a middle kid). The methods and results of his research were quite convincing.

His findings state, "People who are slightly behind in a competition are more likely to win than those who are slightly ahead." He says, "Bonus structures typically reward the best performers. Our research shows there are better ways to motivate people."

If Berger's research holds up, what are some ways to apply his findings to your sales team?

Here are a few ideas:

Leapfrog incentives. 

Typically, sales incentives are awarded for reaching defined milestones or being the top performer. Imagine if sales managers incentivized sales reps just for outselling the rep in front of them. That way, your 20th place performer might be more motivated to improve based on the achievable goal of beating the numbers of your 19th performer.

Weeklong Contests.

Every once in a while, hold a weekly contest. Whoever closes the most business that week or whoever is the first to land a sizable contract before the week's end gets a big prize. Make sure the prize is good - an iPad, football tickets, or a Kindle Fire. This type of contest levels the playing field so under-performers have the chance to dig it out for a week and win.

Incentivize 2nd Place. 

Challenge your 2nd and 3rd place performers to overtake your top seller. Offer them a special incentive if they dethrone the leader in the specified period of time. To make it fair, inform your top seller that if they remain the leader after the challenge ends, they get the bonus instead.

Alternative Incentives.

Shake up your top leader by offering incentives for those who are first to a new vertical, capture the most twitter followers, or deliver their personal ezine first.

Target a Nemesis.

Offer double commissions for a period for stealing work from a competitor. This incentive puts your top performers, some of which may be on cruise control, in the slightly behind position and may kickstart that competitive drive again.

Professor Berger's research makes sense and may have some practical and powerful applications to sales, though I wonder how much his research cost the university. To discover that those who are slightly behind compete harder, all he had to do was to ask a middle kid.

Do you think Jonah Berger's research nails it? What ideas do you have for pumping up your competitive drive? Post your comment!

Man Skirts and Mechanic Shirts

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How do you create a personal brand that stands out? Let me start by taking you back to 1996 when a band named "Nalu Love Dragons" lit up the Richmond, VA college party scene with a sound no one had ever heard before. (Mostly because we never practiced and made up our songs on the fly.)

I was the lead singer. On lead guitar was Rick, who shredded his twelve string with a flaming pick and slayed the audience with his wicked smile. He had a Slash-like presence on the stage - guitar hung low, legs wide apart, long hair whipping as he banged his head. He was electric!

Rick and I haven't kept in touch since college, but back then, we were inseparable. I was continually impressed by his fearless sense of his own personal brand. There was one key way he manifested his uniqueness.

Rick wore skirts.

No, he wasn't a cross-dresser. Actually, he was a very macho guy. The skirts he wore were ugly, brown, floor-length, thrift store skirts. He called them his "old lady" kilts. I simply called them "man skirts."

They were the ugliest things I've ever seen. But somehow, on his tall, lanky frame and with his Birkenstocks, tattered t-shirts, and musician attitude, the skirts looked perfectly cool on him. In fact, they ROCKED! They were his signature and no one questioned it (with an exception of the frat boys whose heads exploded when they saw him).

Just like Rick stood out in the college scene, Jeffrey Gitomer stands out in the corporate scene. At his seminars, hundreds of business people mingle - all looking alike in their suits, blouses, and ties. And then there's Jeffrey in his bright red mechanic shirt more appropriate for a garage than a ballroom. If you wore a mechanic shirt to a professional sales event, everyone would think you were in the wrong place. But on Jeffrey, nobody questions it.

How does Jeffrey pull it off? Why does it work?

To develop your standout personal brand, do you need your own edgy look?

Do you need to find your version of man skirt or mechanic shirt? Maybe a yellow rain hat or purple, horn rimmed glasses you always wear?

ANSWER: No.

Jeffrey's mechanic shirt works because it fits with everything else that makes Jeffrey who he is. It works because it's authentic.

If you look around for something to make you more interesting just to draw attention to yourself, chances are it won't feel right to you (or any one else). It will appear contrived and insincere. You're better off wearing the suit.

Then how do you stand out?

ANSWER: To create a personal brand that stands out, your goal can't be simply to be noticed. It must be to help people by fearlessly expressing your own thoughts, beliefs, and skills in your own instinctual style regardless of criticism.

Do this and you'll stand out. Do this and your personal brand will evolve on its own.

You may end up with your own version of a red mechanic shirt. Perhaps it will be purple, horn rimmed glasses. Or, what makes you stand out may be a style of speaking, a recognizable quote, a radical book, or an industry-changing idea.

The point is that the signature elements of your personal brand will be natural, they'll fit you perfectly, and they'll draw the right kind of attention to you - the kind that builds respect, admiration, and a loyal following.

I once asked Rick why he wore the skirts, thinking he was just doing it to be different or rebellious. His answer: "Have you ever tried them? They're insanely comfortable."

Don't miss my free, live webinar this Wednesday on the topic of creating a strong personal brand. Details & Registration

Customer Loyalty and My Bradford Pears

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When I bought my home, the one-acre yard was fenced by a graceful colonnade of Bradford pear trees. Their idyllic elegance sold me and my wife on the property. In the spring, I beamed with pride as their white blossoms created an elvish arcade of gleaming perfection. In the fall, they were the last remaining torches of autumn while my neighbors' trees stood ashamed by their nakedness. Sadly though, in the three years since we moved in, all but a few of our Bradford pears have fallen, snapped in half by windy nights and icy storms.

Bradford pears, I've learned, are extremely fragile.

As I sawed up the latest casualty from my once perfect gallery of beauties, I pondered a comparison between my delicate Bradfords and the delicate loyalty of modern customers and consumers. (Come on! You don't ponder business mysteries while sweating in the yard?)

Blind duty and time-honored devotion are relics of the twentieth century. It's a buyers' world out there and they're not afraid to change their minds, choose another, and drop you without a passing thought. Your connection to your customers is as fragile as the trunk of a Bradford pear.

Product quality, feature depth, and customer service excellence are all areas that help prevent customers from breaking away. But after a sale is made, what can you do as a sales professional to make sure the loyalty of your customers remains strong?

That which keeps a customer relationship strong is the same as that which strengthens a Bradford pear - regular skilled attention.

Too late, I discovered that Bradford pears are up to 75% less likely to fall when they're topped, pruned, and thinned routinely. If there's a crack in the trunk, an almost invisible metal brace can help it heal and remain sturdy.

I couldn't save my trees, but I share the following to help you preserve your book of business and grow your strong colonnade of customers.

1. Thank them often.

Check in with them through the fullfillment process, after the product is delivered, and randomly throughout the year just to share your appreciation. Add a gift for emphasis. Random check-in's are perceived as the most thoughtful and therefore have the most impact.

2. Be their tenacious advocate.

Fight for your customers. Battle your own company's policies and ambivalent staffers - if that's what it takes - to guide your customers to victory.

3. Apologize switfly.

Don't say you're sorry. Just call and apologize quickly with no defense or excuses. When you do, your customer will be disarmed and you can get to resolving the customer's issue and restoring their loyalty to 100%.

4. Share your expertise weekly.

Every week, the minds and memories of your customers reset. Send a weekly email to offer helpful tips, timely advice, and insightful ideas. You don't have to create a full blown ezine. A couple one paragraph articles with a line between them in a nicely designed email is enough. (Ace of Sales makes it a snap! www.aceofsales.com)

5. Connect with them daily, socially.

Use the same info you send in your weekly email update in your tweets, blogs, and Facebook posts. Release them throughout the week in sound bites, questions, and tips to offer your customers a chance to dialogue with you when it's convenient for them.

6. Let your personality shine.

Remove all corporate speak and marketing language from your emails, proposals, and social media posts. When you write and speak with your own distinctive, genuine voice, your customers grow in their connection to you and the company you represent.

7. Create a memorable hook.

I used to draw whimsical caricatures of my customers that were usually framed and hung above their desks. I'm an illustrator, so it worked for me. Find something from your personal skill set that you can employ to create a one-of-a-kind experience for your customers.

8. Help them in off-hours and overtime.

When a vendor works a weekend or emails me late at night, I always appreciate their dedication to me, the customer. Never bring it up that you're usually off at five but you're willing to stay at work a little longer. Just do it and they'll love it.

Many owners of Bradford pears are unaware that their trees, with proper attention, can be protected to flourish for years and years. The same is true of your customer relationships.

Happily Ever After?

Whether it's a pitch, a presentation, a lunch meeting or bedtime story, make the ending magical!

I have four boys all under the age of six. (Yes, I'm insane.) Their favorite thing in the whole wide universe (as they put it) is story time with Daddy.

My kids are the Pixar Generation. They don't want rehashed "Goldilocks" or "Jack and the Beanstalk" garbage! They demand original Oscar-winning tales each night.

I usually do pretty well. But not last week.

I arrived at the climax of the story. Bottoms - on the edge of their seats. Eyes - as big as dinner plates. They were clearly expecting a fantastic finale. I went blank. I had nothing. I wrapped it up with something lame and they groaned, "Daddy! That's the worst ending ever!"

If your ending bombs, your entire story is a failure. Selling is storytelling. Make sure you nail the conclusion. Take the time to think through the last sentence, the last slide, the last word. Practice it. Perfect it. Test it on your sales manager, your spouse, and on the most difficult audience of all... your kids.

Visionary Leadership - Part 1

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I exited college like many – without a job.

The custom at the time, which I believe is still being upheld, was to retreat to the basement of my parents' home. So I did.

I wasn't a deadbeat though. In fact, I've always been a hard worker and an optimist. (I'm only allergic to bee stings and negativity. If I have to choose, I pick bee stings.) Until I landed a job, I considered my dad to be my employer and fixing up his house to be my project.

I decided to start with the terraced flower boxes I had promised to build for my Mom before she passed away a few years prior. But I needed an assistant. I contacted my buddy, Karl, who was also gainfully unemployed. He said no. His excuse (or "sales objections" for you Sales Caffeine readers) was that it was too far to drive and he was too out of shape.

That wasn't good enough for me. I emailed him a drawing of the terraced flower boxes and included the promise I made to my mother. I told him how we'd build them, how long it would take, how beautiful they'd look, and how great the beer and pizza would taste when we sat in the shade of my dad's maple trees enjoying the finished product.

He came.

The flower boxes turned out fantastic.

He took pictures to show friends.

He ate lots of pizza and drank lots of beer.

Before he left, he looked me dead in the eye and said, "Dude, after your email, I would have driven from California to build this thing!"

Though I already instinctively knew it to be true, Karl's words helped crystallize a major lesson in leadership. It's one everyone in business needs to know. And in the new economy, where innovation dominates, it's become a prerequisite for success.

People follow leaders who can conceive and clearly communicate a compelling vision.

Visionary leaders awaken hope and excitement. The promise of their vision prompts investment. And like the Pied Piper, it inspires all who hear to join the march. A powerful vision leverages action.

When you learn to convey such a vision, you get your way.

(Caveat: No one follows a selfish, foolish, or hateful visionary for long. In the end, the goals of such a person always end in ruin.)

Visionary leadership wins presidential elections, closes million dollar deals, overthrows regimes, and sells 40 million iPads.

It also helps you accomplish less grandiose achievements, like getting everyday proposals signed, your manager's buy-in, a first round of investment, your kids' good behavior, and your spouse to OK a vacation in the mountains over the beach.

Ever wonder why no one follows you or invests in your ideas?

Learn how to conceive and clearly communicate a vision that resonates and they will dance behind you wherever you lead.

--

Look for my follow up Sales Caffeine article in three weeks titled, "Visionary Leadership - Part 2" that addresses how to conceive and communicate a vision that prompts investment and action.

iPad-Locked

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Has your car ever been towed because you parked in a reserved spot?

It happened to me the other day while I was out of town. Let me just say that it's about as much fun as being mugged, and I know because that's happened to me too. (I was raised in the suburbs. Can you tell?)

The stamp-sized sign by the parking spot detailed the fee to be paid ($120), the impounding location (a great place to get mugged), and that a photo ID was required to recover my car.

See, that was going to be a problem. My 2 year old enjoys throwing things into the trash, including my wallet a week prior.

I had no ID and it was getting late. How would I get my car back?

I got a ride to a money machine and to the towing lot from my business partner. As I got out of his car, he said, "If you can convince them to give you back your car with no ID, you really are the Ace of Sales." I took a deep breath and headed into the graffitied office.

The man behind the counter intimidated me for two reasons. One, he was snarling before I even said, "Hello." Two, he had a pistol tucked down the front of his pants. (You can't make this stuff up.)

As you can imagine, without my photo ID he wasn't about to give me my car. When I pushed him harder, he approached the window and hissed through rotten teeth, "Without proof that you're Andy Horner, you get nothing!"

I looked down, dodging the stench of his breath, and noticed my iPad was picking up a wireless signal. Thinking fast, I looked up and posed a challenge to the man. "I'll make you a deal. If you google the name Andy Horner and my photo is on the first page of the image results I get my car back."

He laughed hard. "Deal!"

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Andy-Horner

I think he just wanted to touch my iPad. I showed him how to open the browser and type my name. He tapped the search button. A second later he was staring at my photo - the very first result! It even had my name on the image.

He looked up with a smile on his face. "How'd you do that? What, you some kind of famous singer?" I replied, "Open the gate."

A minute later, I drove up alongside my partner, who'd been waiting for me. He held up both hands as if to ask, "How did you pull it off?" I said, "He found out I was a famous singer."

It's a fun story to tell but there's also a lesson to learn.

Your presence on the internet is now a determining factor in your success. Customers, competitors, and everyone you do business with are going online to research and evaluate you.

Are you on the first page?

If your customers find articles you've written, expertise you've tweeted, photos of you networking, and videos of you expressing your ideas, they will perceive you as important, active, relevant, and valuable. It's the hard proof that will seal their decision to trust you, work with you, and pay your full price.

If they search and find nothing, your business goals may remain... locked away.

Two huge tips for getting ranked in search results:

1. Tag everything. In the description and tag area for a blog post, YouTube video, and your LinkedIn profile include your full name, the name of your business, and other key words that someone might search for when looking you up.

2. Add your name to the image file with a hyphen. When using your portrait as an image in a blog, Facebook, or LinkedIn post, title the image file like this: "andy-horner.jpg" (Use your name of course.)

The Curse of Competitiveness

"The curse of competitiveness can not be lifted by always winning. It can only be soothed by continual improvement."

Every day in my senior year of college, I played racquetball with my roommate Jeff. I never once beat him. A few friends who listened to Jeff's boastings asked, "Why do you keep taking that beating?" I answered, "Because I'm improving."

Years later, I met a racquetball player in the corporate building where I worked. He bragged about how good he was and others at this company testified to his prowess. As the most competitive person I know, I couldn't help but challenge him to a match.

He was good, but I destroyed him. Sweat drenched, he mumbled as we left the gym, "How did you get so good?" My shirt still dry, I said, "By spending a year trying to beat the best."

The thrill of winning can be euphoric, but euphoria doesn't last.

If you're competitive, you'll find your contentment by continually improving – not always winning.

The Value of Thingamabobs

Military Service Medails My father has always been old... at least to me. He was about 50 when I was born and already pulling senior citizen discounts when my brothers were in braces (my teeth were perfect, by the way).

Having an older father had its advantages though. He had a lifetime of lessons to teach, one of which was how to hold the attention of an easily distracted audience. Sound like anyone you know? Your customers, perhaps?

My dad was a Presbyterian minister. After church, he liked to question my brothers and me to see if we had listened to his morning message – a tall order for rambunctious tweens. He wrangled us into his bedroom and while he traded his suit jacket for his Mr. Rogers sweater and slippers, he pulled tiny relics from his sock drawer. He had many, but our favorites were a silver football charm, his ruby-topped college ring, and his colorful military medals.

He placed them in our hands like papal jewels. Seated on the edge of his bed, we turned the treasures over and over in our hands, riveted to his voice. He told us the story of the objects and subtly wove in key points and questions from his sermon. We listened. We answered his questions. It was genius.

The lesson: During one-on-one meetings, occupy your customer’s hands and eyes with an unusual object and their ears are yours.

Here’s the winning hand of examples to captivate customers:

Ace of Hearts: Hand your customer a Rubik’s Cube solved, except for the last twist. After one turn, they’ll glance up to you as if to say, “Well, that was easy." Relate their experience to your sales message of simplicity.

King of Hearts: Buy a copy of the board game “Life." Pop out the distinctive spinner and bring it with you to customer meetings. They’ll start spinning it without prompting. Casually pose the question, “What outcome in your life would you not want left to a spin?" Their answer will help you bypass the small talk and reveal what matters to them. Consider it your “relationship spinner."

Queen of Hearts: Bring with you a small trophy from your past. It might be a varsity jacket pin, a first place medal, or a game ball. Briefly share the story of its importance to you. Then ask your customer about their most-prized award. Their answer will reveal one of their cherished accomplishments. With a bond established, ask about their current business goals and the accomplishments they’re pursuing.

Jack of Hearts: Go to www.sumocookies.com and order 30 bucks worth of gourmet fortune cookies. (They even come chocolate-dipped with crushed Butterfingers®.) You can customize the fortune inside with a value message. With your customer’s hands and mouth full, their attention is all yours. Leave them a handful to share with others. You’ll be the talk of the office for days!

Ten of Hearts: Gift a thingamabob. Buy a $6 staple-less stapler that’s useful on anyone’s desk. (It slices and tucks the papers to join them together.) Bring a few white papers about your products and let your customer staple them together. While they ooh and ahhh, transition from the ingenious device to the innovative solutions you offer. The stapler is theirs to keep while the new customer is yours.

Maybe you have a thingamabob that works for you! Share it with me: andyhorner@aceofsales.com.

The Value of a Little Adventure

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In third grade I had a choice – walk home from school alone or ride the bus for an hour (my house was the last stop). I chose the shorter path even though I despised “The March of Boredom" more than brushing my teeth or washing the dishes. So... I did what any imaginative eight year old would do. Each day as I headed home, I pretended I had a fatal stomach wound inflicted on me by a gunman atop the school. The goal was to survive until I made it to the hospital (my house). Clinging to life, I staggered up Lynn Dell Road. I reached the Powell’s yard and could go no further. Clutching my abdomen and wailing in agony, I crumpled into the soft green grass to die.

The first time I “pulled this little stunt," Mrs. Powell burst from her house slippered, bathrobed, and screaming hysterically. From then on, I was only permitted to “die" in my own yard. It worked out pretty well, because my mom fit perfectly into the fantasy as an angel sent to resurrect me with a Little Debbie snack cake.

Though I no longer “die" in my neighbors’ yards anymore, I still combat the vanilla moments of life by adding the chocolate syrup of adventure. I find it doesn’t take much to transform monotonous exercises into more enjoyable experiences.

Guess who else prefers life topped with a little extra excitement? Your customers!

Add touches of adventure to your customers’ experiences to strengthen your relationships, create memorable moments, and build a personal brand that’s “to die for."

End result: Customer loyalty and referrals that are very, very real.

Here are 5 tips to add a little adventure to customer experiences:

1. Book a training excursion with a top customer.

It could be a half-day event in your locality or a full-blown mini-vacation to an event neither of you will forget. Jeffrey’s Boot Camp in Vegas anyone? Pay for their ticket and they’ll pay you with undying gratitude.

2. Mail a treat to a customer only they would appreciate.

Recently, a customer of mine named Bob reminded me how well this works. While cleaning out his house he found a vintage sticker featuring Superman, my favorite comic hero. He mailed it to me with a nice note. I’ve only showed it to about 5,000 people.

3. Host your own networking event somewhere unusual with just a few business friends.

Another customer of mine recently used Ace of Sales to send out a chocolate tasting invitation to a select group of customers. They met at a local premier chocolate shop to get away from the unsweetened tedium of the week and enjoyed casual conversation over dessert.

4. Add a little personality to your proposals.

Make the buying process a little less ordinary, especially when you’re the long shot. I once tacked on this phrase at the end of a proposal, “The next document you sign for me will be your testimonial." I got the sale AND the testimonial.

5. Boost the excitement of your presentations with the power of show-and-tell.

Before you launch into your next PowerPoint, start off by using a physical object as a story illustration. Have you ever seen Jeffrey’s fake barf used to represent how your brochure sounds to customers? It rallies the room every time!

Life Has No Script

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A Personal Story for the week of Halloween by Andy Horner

Donning the customs and costumes of Halloween was one of the great thrills of my childhood. I was R2-D2 at age 6, Godzilla at 10, and at age 13, when my friends all said they were too old, I went candy hunting alone as a white ninja.

But my lack of real ninja skills became evident between Knowles Drive and Arlington Hills when I was ambushed by Frankenstein and a portly vampire. They pushed me in the mud and made off with my sugary loot – yep, an entire pillow case full!

I arrived back home with tears in my eyes and missing one of my ninja boots (a sock with an insole in the bottom). My mom hugged me but I got no such sympathy from my older brothers, who could barely breathe from laughing so hard.

Truth is, I liked Halloween for another reason. When you approached strangers, you only had to say, "Trick or Treat." As a child, I was terrified of speaking to people I didn't know. Social settings soured my stomach and set my knees knocking. I'd rather face the real Frankenstein or Dracula himself than be trapped in a room full of "people."

The fear followed me through college and into the real world of web design firms, where I shined as an art director with the super power to interpret customers' cryptic requests. One day, my boss said, "Andy, how about joining our sales team? We could use your expertise." The very thought of entering offices full of people I didn't know rattled my bones. But there's only one thing that scared me more than social settings – backing away from a challenge because of fear. I swallowed hard and said, "OK."

I was plunged into the world of networking mixers, meetings with CEO's, and cold calls. However, my relaxed personality and confidence as a web guru was neutralized by my nerves. I couldn't sell because my anxiety and awkwardness was repelling prospects.

Finally, I was asked to speak at a local technology organization about building a strong corporate web presence. Company presidents, regional leaders, everyone would be there. I accepted... then threw up.

After 40 hours writing a carefully engineered script, my plan was to stride to the podium, put my head down, and recite my speech. But when I arrived at the packed event, I couldn't find my note cards. In 30 minutes I was going to be called to the front of the room and I had NO SCRIPT!

I did what any social misfit would do – I panicked! Sweating and trembling, I grabbed the arm of the stranger sitting next to me and whispered, "I lost my notes! What am I going to do?" He whispered back, "You're screwed." I begged, "Seriously, man, help me!" The stranger responded, "Just have fun." Real helpful, pal, thanks!

In a depserate attempt to rapidly recreate my week-long speech writing session, I pulled out a sheet of paper. Sweat dripping onto the page, I stared at the blank sheet. There simply wasn't enough time!

The idea of fleeing the room flashed in my mind, but running away wasn't an option! I would face this crowd even if it meant simply apologizing. I wrote four words: "Life has no script."

"And now, ladies and gentlemen, Andy Horner!" It was the longest two dozen steps I've ever taken. Looking out at the crowd, I smiled. "Hi everyone. Last week I jotted down a short speech which I seem to have lost. It only took me 40 hours to write, so no big loss." The room erupted in laughter. Unlike my brothers, they were laughing with me, not at me. I exhaled and let go. Fear released its grip and my creativity, ideas, and thoughts returned. I interacted with the audience. I drew diagrams. I even pulled a customer up on stage for a testimonial.

My speech was a success!

Now, I'm far more comfortable at networking events and in front of crowds. (I've had lots of practice.) But when my nerves creep up on me – as they occasionally do – I just whisper to myself, "Life has no script." I let go and make the decision to just have fun.

Maybe you've struggled with confidence in corporate crowds. How do you fight off nerves and let go? Let me know: andyhorner@aceofsales.com.