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The Essential Triangle of Sales Success w/ Robert Terson [Episode 10]

Robert Terson is the author of a great sales book, Selling Fearlessly, that everyone who is new to sales should read. He is an immensely respected sales expert. But, don’t be fooled by his genial demeanor. When he ran his own business, Bob was by his own admission, a “sales machine.” He killed his numbers.

And yet, he only worked 4 days a week and took 12 weeks of vacation every year. Listen to this episode as Bob reveals his highly effective triangle of sales success, and the sales habits that he religiously followed. Any sales rep or entrepreneur should memorize and build on these to become a sales machine in their own right.


Hi, I’m your host, Andy Paul. Join me as I host conversations with the leading experts in sales, marketing, sales automation, sales process, leadership, management, training, coaching, any resource that I believe to help you accelerate the growth of your sales, your business, and most importantly, you.

Let Us Introduce You to Our Guest… Robert Terson!

Welcome. Today, the guest on my show is Bob Terson, noted sales author and blogger, author of one of my favorite sales books, Selling Fearlessly. Bob, how are you doing today?

I’m doing great, Andy. How are you?

Good. So, rather than have me read some standard biographical information about you. Take a minute and introduce yourself. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background and what you are currently doing?

Well, I’m currently retired. Bravo. I’ve been retired for five years. Everything I do with sellingfearlessly.com is under the heading of my retirement gig.

You are the busiest retired person I know. Yes. Although lately, I want you to know I’ve been kind of taking it easy. I seem to do most of my work in the morning and sometimes late at night. But lately in the afternoon I’ve been cruising. Taking it easy.

How Robert Terson Got Into Sales

You had a long career in sales. You’re still quite involved in sales and especially… And we’ll get into some of that a bit later. But tell us how you got started in sales and what you sold? What tussle about the company you had for a long time?

Well, at first I started in real estate and I was very young.

And why real estate? What drove you in that direction?

Nothing, really. I just answered an ad one day, and then six months after that, I went into the Navy, and then I came back out of the Navy, and I went back to real estate for a couple of years.

But I was still young and not focused. I didn’t do very well. I hadn’t learned discipline yet. And I wasn’t all that enamored. Then when I was 25, I went to work for an advertising company, selling advertising to small business people. And I met a man who really kind of figuratively grabbed me by the throat and taught me how to be a salesperson.

And who was this guy? His name was Bob Trudeau. I wrote about him in my book, Selling Fearlessly. He taught me the selling triangle, mental attitude, work habits, salesmanship, and knowledge. And from that point on, everything changed. Everything just clicked. And I learned that when you’re mentally strong and you do the work without any exception and you really know your stuff, you know your business, you know selling, there isn’t anything that can stop you. And I just took off like a rocket.

Tell us a little bit about these ads you’re selling.

It was a company that produced a soft vinyl jacket that fit over a yellow page directories. And they had calendars, and community numbers, and personal numbers sections. And we’re advertising to local business people in an alphabetized guide.

Six months after I started, I was made a regional sales manager. And then a couple of years after that, I just form my own company. And the rest was history. I had my own company for 38 years.

Wow. So your customers were primarily small businesses?

Yes. The real estate broker, the funeral director, the insurance agent, et cetera.

Work Days

Describe a typical sales day for you during that time.

There was no typical. I had different stages of my career where I worked differently, but I’ll grab on to the last 10 years. I would fly out on Sunday to the area that I was working in. I made my calls on Monday over the telephone, setting up appointments. And I would set up four appointments for Tuesday and four appointments for Wednesday. And I would give somewhere around eight presentations during that time.

Sometimes it was, one didn’t hold, one led to two. It was a little give or take. In the years prior to that. I also work Thursdays. I never work for Fridays.

Right. Throughout your entire career.

Right. Never.

And what you do on Fridays?

I had fun.

That’s a great lesson for salespeople, right? I’m sorry. It’s a great lesson for salespeople. Take them, accomplish your numbers on Fridays.

Yes. That’s the point that if you work hard on the days you work, you can do that. I took a 12 to 17 weeks a year off throughout my career, not because I didn’t want to work in it because I was traveling and I wanted to spend some time at home. I took a lot of time off. But when I worked, I was a machine.

When you were making the cold calls on Monday, to people making the phone calls? Tell us a little bit about that. I mean, that’s so much a big part of what you’re hearing about sales these days with its whole function with the sales development. Whether that’s doing the hunting and so on. Setting up appointments for the account exec, like you’re really the sales development rep and the accounting exec all rolled into one.

Yes. Plus I had to manage other people, I had to run a business. I wore a lot of hats. And sometimes on Friday I had to do a little bit of work running the business. But ball games were more fun.

 Making a Successful Appointment

Yes. Tell me about these Monday calls. How would you do with those to make those successful appointments set up?

I’ll just get a phone and call businesses? If I had a name, I used it. If I didn’t have a name, I tried to get one. I didn’t always get through. Once I had the name, I would go back.

Sometimes I had to ask for the owner of the business. And I always had a card that I had with me every day, an index card. And the categories on the card were ‘C’ for calls, ‘O’ for owners, ’A’ first successful approaches, ‘P’ for presentations, ‘S’ for sales, and then a ‘$’ for dollar volume.

Every time I dial the phone, I’d make a mark on that card so I can track how many calls I was making. How many times I spoke to an owner, how many times I have made a successful approach, how many presentations were set up, how many sales were made, and what the dollar volume was.

I had in my book, I actually could cite the figures of what every call was worth. For example, just picking a number out of the…  perhaps every call was worth $60. Figuring it out that way. Right. So I knew every time I dial the phone, that’s what I was earning. Not literally, but that’s how it plays out.

And I would make these calls and I would engage with people who really didn’t want to talk to me. Small business people are inundated with salespeople. Especially, advertising salespeople. And the first thing I want to do is get rid of you. So I had to be intriguing.

And what was your secret to that?

Well, I had a set approach that I used and I had certain rebuttals that would attract attention or would get someone to think or engage with me. And I tried to be disarming. I tried to be different. When someone would tell me, for example, they weren’t interested, I would say, of course, you haven’t had a chance to hear what I have to say.

But let me ask you something. If I could show you something that would truly make a significant difference, a significant profit difference, would you at least take a few minutes and look at it with an open mind? And maybe we’d go back and forth on this a number of times, but I would just hang in there and keep reaching for the individual to display an open mind.

And often after a sale was made, Andy, I would have someone tell me. I hope this doesn’t sound too self-serving, but I would have someone tell me. You know, I don’t know why I let you in here. I never let anybody in. I heard that countless times. It was a matter of knowing my material. Knowing what to appeal to. Right. And being relentless. That’s really what it came down to.

One of my favorite things to say to someone, I know you get 20 calls a day and you want to get rid of about 19 ½  of 20. But let me ask you something. If there was something that would really, really make a difference, that one out of 20 things that are really worthwhile, don’t you want to know what it is? And at the very least, you’d know what your competition is going to use against you.

If you translate that into a lesson. It’s been incredible growth on the inside sales business, if you will. Companies that are adopting inside sales for doing the initial outreach to clients or sometimes even the entire product sales life cycle in opening doors. So important. What’s the lesson you’re providing to the inside sales guy today? What’s the most important thing they can really focus on to get past that gatekeeper, to get to somebody that they can have a substantive sales conversation with?

Well, first of all, you have to believe in yourself. You have to believe in the value of what you’re providing people. You almost have to feel a responsibility to bring this value to them because they’re not aware of it. And you have to really feel that viscerally. And then you have to always present yourself as the prospects equal.

You can’t be afraid of the individual. You have to meet them eyeball to eyeball. Even if you’re on the telephone as an equal, as someone who he should want to spend some time with because it’s in his best interest. You have to make him feel that it’s in his best interest. And you do that by knowing your material, by appealing to his better judgment and by being persistent to the nth degree.

Selling Fearlessly

The title, your book, Selling Fearlessly. Where’s the fearless part come in? Is it that acting as an equal?

Well, not acting as an equal. Being an equal.

Being an equal.

And yet you’re entitled to that. If you’re someone who has true value and you’re making money for people, you’re bettering their lives, are you not entitled to respect that individual’s attention, is it not in his best interest that he pay attention to you? I think so. So, yes, it all starts with how you see yourself.

I love that. That’s a great approach. We’re going to take a short break here. When I come back, I’m going to ask you about the subtitle of your book in terms of the “One-Call-Close.” Okay. With me is Bob Terson, author of Selling Fearlessly. We’ll be back in just a second.

Okay. I’m back with my guest today, Bob Terson, author of Selling Fearlessly. He claims he’s retired, but as someone who talks about frequently reads his writing as blogs, very active and very respected and sales community for someone that says he’s retired. You just introduced an online training package, right? Yes. So tell us a little bit about that.

Right. It’s put out by Wagmob.com and it goes sales training. And if people will go to Sellingfearlessly.com or to Apple, they can find it.

What’s the content that you’re providing for people with the training system?

Well, it was designed so someone could watch these videos and really be inspired before going into a sales presentation.


Got it. So speaking of which, I got in your subtitle in your book, talking about the “One-Call-Close.”  So it was that specific to a particular type of product you’re selling or you’re saying almost any product could be sold to basically get that customer commitment.

No, no, no. I would never claim that. There are certain businesses that are applicable to the one-call-close and businesses that are not.

What’s the secret? If you’ve got a product that could be sold in one call, like your product, I presume the advertising you’re selling. What was the secret?

It’s a product that somebody really needs to or a service that someone needs to look at and decide on. He has all the information he’s ever going to need from that initial presentation. He’s the decision maker. And if he isn’t going to buy it, then he isn’t going to buy it more than likely.

But if you’re selling a major software component to General Electric and 40 different people have to sign off on it, they have to have multiple meetings about it. And it’s got to take somewhere between six months and 18 months to make this major decision. That’s not going to be a one-call-close.

And anybody who claims that it can be is ridiculous. However, each step of the way in that pipeline is a one-call-close. You always have to have that next step ready.

And a commitment from the customer to take it.


In your career, in terms of learning experiences, what was the biggest failure you had as a salesperson? What would you learn from it? And what’s the lesson you could impart to the other people to learn from their failures?

Well, Andy, would you mind if I read something from my book? Sure. A short passage. We’ve got a couple of minutes.

Well, there’s a story I tell in the book about the dumbest thing that I ever did as a salesperson. And what was that? Well, I made a statement to an individual that I’m not sure that I’ll be able to find the darn thing. Well, let me tell you the story.

Sure. Just tell story.

Yes, I walked in and I was about to present to a guy who ran a retail business. He was very gruff, very strident. He wore a gun on his hip. He was not an easy individual to deal with. He was very intimidating. And down near the end of the presentation. I just remember that he gave me his reason for not buying. And ignorantly, I said, but that’s selling.

And he picked up my briefcase, my five inch briefcase. And he did like a shot put across the store and materials from the case were flying everywhere. And I thought the guy was going shoot me. I remember. Silly. Silly. Why you ask. So be when he pronounced all the words

Right. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. And as I said in the book, I never used that silly rebuttable again.

All right. Pun intended. Right.

What’s the lesson then, to pass on to?

Don’t you ever get so nervous that you say something stupid. I was so intimidated and so nervous that the guy just threw me off my horse.

If you get in that situation. And you’re not at the point where you’re saying you’ll be equal to the people you’re talking to. And you have this nervousness. Do you have any tricks that you use to serve calm yourself down?

No.  The truth is I was normally just usually on top of even the most difficult situation. That was just an exception to the rule. And it always stayed with me, of course, because I was so embarrassed about how I handled it.

Yes. Well, embarrassment can be a great motivator.

Yes, to not let you do the same stupid thing again?

Rapid-fire Questions

Yes. Absolutely. When I ask a few questions, these are sort of rapid-fire questions. You can give us a short answers too.

When you were selling, what was the most powerful sales tool in your arsenal?

  • Sincerity, a great product, and fear of loss. Yes. Some sell it to one funeral director and he wasn’t going to be the one that meant his competitor was going to have it.
  • Fear of loss is a great motivator for salespeople. And always, I hated losing when I was selling.

Who was your sales role model?

  • My father.

Tell us about that.

Well, I grew up with the salesman around me all my life. He sold everything. You sold cookware, he sold sewing machines. Door to door? Well, no, they would have leads from television ads and sold cutlery. He sold garbage disposals. My father was an old warrior.

He was a salesman. And so I grew up around this. So there was it was almost an instinctive quality to my own career that came from my father. I was exposed. I was exposed to the sales environment as a child. And I and I really lapped it up.

What do you think was the single biggest lesson you learned from your father about sales?

  • Well, that’s a good question. I’m not sure how to answer that one, Andy. What’s the best? I mean, he taught me so many things. I’m not sure that I can pick any one out. And even though he taught me things, I still wasn’t ready to be successful until a true hero got his hands on me. I think what he didn’t teach me was discipline because I don’t know whether he was disciplined himself. When I look back at his life, I think he probably wasn’t as disciplined as he could have been.

I know years later when I was in business and I was producing numbers that astounded again. He was in all of that. And I think he realized that he could have been so much more if he had the discipline that I was displaying. Work discipline. You got to do the work, Andy.

No, no. Getting around it. Yes.

What’s the one sales book that every salesperson should read?

  • Well, I have a bunch of favorites. Give me one. Well, the book that I grew up on that I always loved was How I Raise Myself From Failure to Success in Selling by Frank Bettger.
  • How do you spell that last name?
  • B-E-T-T-G-E-R
  • Something like that. I may be off a little bit, Frank Bettger. So give the title again. How I Raise Myself From Failure to Success in Selling. And there’s more for the “One-Call-Close.” He was a life insurance salesperson for pipeline salespeople. I love Mike Weinberg‘s book, New Sales. Simplified. Right. Kelly Riggs’ book, Quit Whining and Start Selling.
  • And I love Jeff Shore’s book, Be Bold and Win the Sale. Your books. And I’ve got both of your books with me. There’s so many great sales books, Andy. How can you how can you distill it down to one or two?

All right.

What’s the one non sales book that every salesperson should read?

  • Think and Grow Rich. By? Napoleon Hill.

Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich. Great motivational speaker.

What was your favorite music to listen to, to get yourself mentally ready for a sales call?

  • I used to love the music from Man of La Mancha.

Great. Yes.

That would inspire me.

“To dream the impossible dream.”  Yes. “March Into Hell for a Heavenly Cause.”

What’s the one most important thing a new or inexperienced salesperson should focus on to improve?

I think I know the answer, but.

  • Well, I’d say you have to be mentally strong. You have to do the work, and you have to know your business backwards, forwards and sideways. You have to know the customer’s business backwards, forwards and sideways. You have to have it all. Mental attitude, great work habits. And you have to have the knowledge.

Is there any reason why that would be different today than it was before?

No. No. I always say that they’re making it a lot more complicated nowadays than they need to it. It’s really very simple. Just be tough. Go to work and know what you have to know. So our salespeople born or made? They’re both. There are some people that are born salespeople. They’re that good and they’re that instinctive. I write about that in my book.

But there are people who have to know it. They have to learn those instincts. When I sat across from a prospect, I instinctively knew what he was thinking just from his body language. That’s a born salesperson. But someone can learn how to how to how to pick that up. If you work hard enough at it.


Cubs or White Sox?

  • Both I mean, I started out White Sox. My son became the Cubs announcer, so I went to the Cubs. I am a Cubs fan. I have season tickets, but I still root for the White Sox, too.

One question. This is sort of a last question for us.

The one question you get asked most frequently by salespeople?

  • How do you get in?

That’s the one question. I had a client I was coaching who sold a home improvement and he was driving four or five hundred miles to a call and he couldn’t get in sometimes. I mean, that’s a long way to go to be told you’re not going to be given up giving a presentation. Absolutely. And I I actually worked out a rebuttal for him to get in. And the next day he called me and was just yelling about how it had worked.

Right. So he prepared himself to bail or deal with the rebuttal.

Yes. there’s nothing that a prospect could ever say to me that I didn’t have an answer for. I knew my business that well.

Yeah. And I think it’s one of the areas where salespeople today are least proficient.

Well, they don’t think that they have to work that hard, prepare themselves that hard. What makes a great golfer?  What makes a great tennis player? What makes a great basketball player like Jordan?

Practice. They’re ready when they go out for the big game. They’re not going to wing it. They’re not going to be half of something. They’re the whole package.

Great advice. So last question for you.

What do you consider your greatest success outside of work?

  • My marriage.

How long I’ve been married?

38 years. Congratulations. I think I told you once, I’m so in love with Nicki, I can’t think straight half the time.

Well, that’s fantastic. I want to thank you today, Bob, for joining us. Everyone, please be sure to read Bob’s blog at Sellingfearlessly.com to get a chance. Pick up his book and read it full of great stories. No matter what you sell, there will be lessons in there for you. And remember, make it a part of your day everyday to learn something new to help you amp up your sales. So until next time. This is Andy Paul. Good selling to everyone.

Thanks for listening to the show. If you like what you heard and want to make sure you don’t miss any upcoming episodes, please subscribe to this podcast on iTunes or Stitcher.com. For more information about today’s guests, visit my website at Andypaul.com