Michael O'Grady
Michael O’Grady
While attending college in the 90s, I worked a part-time job with my brother Jim at a furniture store. Wall Furniture Outlets was a small store on busy Route 22 in Union, N.J. To save money for law school, Jim was managing the store after graduating college. I was primarily working there for beer money while enrolled in college, but barely making my classes.

At the time, I had no clue why I was going to college as I had no real direction in life. Jim was quite the opposite. Three years my senior, he always knew what he wanted — to become a lawyer.

One evening, Jim and I got into a discussion about life and our futures. This conversation was most likely prompted by me, since I really had no clue about my future or what I wanted. Jim asked me, “Have you ever thought about going into sales?” I replied, “Sales? Why would I want to do that?”

Jim told me that I sold more than him in the few part-time hours I worked than he did working full-time. “People always seem to just want to buy things from you. You have a way of just getting along with customers,” Jim explained.

Growing up I figured out how to get along with lots of different people. At a young age, I was spending a lot of time with my grandparents and great-grandmother. They were always very entertaining to me and included me in their conversations. Maybe this upbringing helped to instill in me an interest in people and conversation.

I’ve always had an interest in learning about people and finding out what makes people tick, why they make decisions, and how they become successful.

Are You Practical or Analytical?

I recently finished the book Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. He defines an outlier as a person who stands out from the rest. People who are extremely intelligent, wealthy, or famous because of achievements made in life. Gladwell uses Bill Gates and the Beatles as examples of outliers.

He points out that outliers have “practical intelligence” — which is the ability to get far in life by getting along with people. Practical intelligence has to do with your ability to communicate well with many different types of people. This ability, under very specific circumstances, can make all the difference when presented opportunities in life.

Gladwell also defines another kind of intelligence based on book smarts, which is analytical intelligence. People who have analytical intelligence, yet no practical intelligence, are less likely, according to Gladwell, to stand out.

The difference in standing out from a crowd, Gladwell points out, is not your book smarts or how well you perform on your SATs or IQ tests. What differentiates you from the rest is your ability to communicate and get along with different types of people. This leads to my question for many of the skilled tradespeople I know in the HVACR industry:

How Well Do You Communicate and Get Along with Customers?

Sitting and talking with a customer requires a personal connection and rapport. Many of the skilled tradespeople with engineering minds likely have a great deal of analytical intelligence. They might impress their customers with their engineering or technical knowledge. But those with little practical intelligence may be unable to build a connection with their customers.

Practical knowledge is especially crucial to your success if you’re responsible for sales in your company. I've seen many people over the years try to make the transition from an analytical or technical role into a selling role with a great deal of struggle.

So how do you connect with your customers if you’re highly technical and analytical, but you’re lacking practical intelligence? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Gather insight. Use each and every sales opportunity as an educational experience. If you make a sale, review why you made it. If you didn’t close, take time to review what you could have done differently.

2. Use your time well. In sales there can be a lot of driving and/or travel time. Use this time to listen and/or read books from experts in your field. Open yourself up to learning from their experiences and adapting them to your selling style.

3. Attend seminars and training. You may think you know much of what you learn from sales trainers. Rather than saying, “I know this,” ask yourself, “How well do I know this?” Open yourself up to learning from their experiences and adapting them to your selling style.

4. Improve your people skills. Learn how to get along with every type of person — even the “difficult people.” You can practice this while getting your coffee in the morning, getting a haircut, at family gatherings, shopping, and any other day-to-day human interaction you choose. You might also want to take a look at my article “Sales Psychology 101.”

5. Set Goals. Remember the 80/20 rule? Eighty percent of the sales are done by the top 20 percent of the salespeople. If you are already in the top 20 percent, congratulations. Maybe you want to try to get yourself listed in the top 20 percent of that group, which would be top 4 percent.

These techniques will help you improve your practical intelligence and your people skills. They’ll even help you and your business stand out from the crowd.

Michael O’Grady’s book, Selling at the Kitchen Table: A Contractor’s Guide to Closing the Deal, is available at www.SellingattheKitchenTable.com.