Sprout!: Everything I Need to Know about Sales I Learned from My Garden

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Sales has always been a high burnout profession. These days, with the intense focus on quarterly earnings reports, there is more pressure on sales professionals than ever before. The relentless push for immediate results can leave salespeople exhausted, frustrated, and wondering why they ever got themselves into this business. And it can leave sales organizations with a serious turnover problem. SPROUT! was written by two long-time sales veterans to help their fellow professionals rediscover enthusiasm for their chosen profession and to help sales organizations retain top talent. Vengel and Wright use a page-turning story to outline a new strategy for sales, one that will make salespeople better able to cope with the inevitable ups and downs and take a more effective, long-term approach. As the book begins, Marsha Molloy has had it. Once a top pharmaceutical sales representative so crackerjack her nickname was Marsha Money, she's been laid low by a tough economy and just plain exhaustion. The once-hungry top producer has seemingly lost her touch and grown indifferent to a sales culture that appears to value faxes, emails, and cell phone chats instead of the relationship building that had been her forte. An avid gardener on a visit to her local nursery, Marsha runs into Bob Rawlings, the store's new owner and an ex-sales professional himself. They begin to chat, and Marsha mentions her career frustrations. Bob replies that he'd had the same problem, but found that the more he began treating his business like his garden, the better his business grew - and a happier, more relaxed salesman appeared. Marsha is intrigued but puzzled - how could sales be like gardening? Bob takes Marsha under his wing and, with the assistance of several other salespeople he's mentored, teaches her the secrets of his sales garden. By using the authors' sales garden metaphor to change their whole way of thinking about sales, and by adhering to the easy, practical steps outlined in SPROUT! salespeople can beat the career blues, increase their sales, and sustain themselves for the long term.

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One: The Sales Garden

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Tired.

Flat-out, bone-weary tired.

Thats how Marsha Molloy was feeling, eight years into a sales career that was losing steam fast.

A successful medical-supply sales representative whose nickname in her salad days was Marsha Money, she had hit hard times, laid low by a tough economy and a declining interest in the profession she had embraced since starting out as a catalog sales rep right out of high school. The once-hungry top producer had seemingly lost her touch and grown indifferent to a sales culture that appeared to value faxes, e-mails, and cell phone chats instead of the relationship building that had been her forte. Worse, shed lost her passion for the sales business and forgotten the reasons why shed entered the business in the first place: the face-to-face interaction, the thrill of closing a deal, the satisfaction of building long-term relationships.

It was a strange feeling for someone who had always felt at home in the sales world, Marsha thought.

After all, she had the classic sales background, didnt she? She had started in grade school, selling candies door-to-door, buying them for a quarter and selling them for 50 cents to kids who had allowance money that was burning a hole in their pockets. She became more involved in sales in high school, where she took a part-time job after school selling baby pictures to proud parents—especially mothers—in her town. She learned, through trial and error, that she could package the pictures in such a way that people usually purchased the set she wanted them to buy. By asking a proud mom whether she wanted the bargain package or the value package, she found that the mom would usually opt for the more expensive value package. Nobody wanted to skimp on her baby pictures, and Marsha learned that people buy on emotions.

 

Two: Planning a Sales Garden

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The week passed without Marsha feeling any boost in energy. But as she got ready for her trip down to Rawlings Garden Supply to meet Gardener, she noted that things hadnt grown worse, either.

Ill take my victories wherever I can get them, she said to herself, reaching for her keys and heading out the door.

First stop was for coffee, and then straight to the garden store. At 8:55 she strode in, sipping some hazelnut-blend coffee with one hand and carrying a bag containing doughnuts and another cup of coffee in the other.

She spied Gardener with a customer, showing her a variety of garden hoses and sprinklers. The customer peppered Gardener with questions, but Marsha noticed that he answered each one patiently, with a friendly smile. The woman laughed in a delightful Oh right, I should have thought of it that way manner as Gardener walked her to the register with a spray nozzle and a new sprinkler head. She paid for her purchases, and Gardener smiled and waved at her as she gathered up her goods and walked out of the store.

 

Three: Persistent Seeding

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The third Saturday morning of April broke windy and colder. The warm weather that the region had been enjoying recently was a memory. The weather had begun to turn the night before, but Marsha had spent about an hour in her garden anyway, carefully removing some debris that had disturbed a seeded area and making sure that everything was getting enough water—she did this most evenings after getting home, especially in the fragile early growing season.

When Marsha woke up, she could feel the chill in her bones. I wonder if I caught a cold working in the garden last night, she thought.

But after her initial foray into the sales garden the past week or so, nothing short of typhoid fever would keep Marsha from heading down to Rawlings Garden Supply that morning. With her approach to planning reinvigorated, and with a small sale from an old customer, Marsha already felt that she was beginning to make progress with Gardeners sales garden philosophy. She was aware of being more lighthearted and optimistic than she had been in a long time as she hopped into her truck and headed down to Gardeners store. After a quick stop for some coffee and fresh blueberry muffins, she arrived at Rawlings Garden Supply at about five minutes before nine. Gardener was there with Maddie, sticking tags in the soil of some potted plants.

 

Four: Nurturing Pays Off

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Marsha Molloy woke up on the fourth Saturday morning of April feeling better than she had in weeks.

She opened her bedroom window to let some fresh air inside and felt the reassuring warmth of spring drift into her bedroom. Birds were singing, the sun was shining, and some of the boys down the block had already begun playing baseball—she could hear them shouting and laughing. It made her feel good.

Funny thing about baseball, she thought. Here, all the talk between Gardener and the rest of the gang from the Saturday Morning Sales Club had been about planting and nurturing and growing. And that was fine—in fact, shed really enjoyed the visits down to Rawlings Garden Supply and relished the one she had coming up this morning.

But something had struck her while watching an old show on ESPN Classic television with her husband the night before. It was a profile of baseball legend Pete Rose. In one segment the reporters were talking to Rose while he took batting practice. One questioner, noting that Rose needed ninety-seven hits to pass Hall of Famer Ty Cobb as the all-time baseball hitting champion, asked Rose how many at-bats it would take to get the ninety-seven hits he needed.

 

Five: Harvesting and Renewing

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The leaves and stems fell into Marshas basket softly as she thinned out her seedlings. The weather had turned a bit colder, but it was still only April, and after all, she thought, you couldnt expect 80-degree weather this early in the season, could you? The past weeks warm weather had been an aberration, she thought, but a happy one at that.

Satisfied that her vegetables were faring well even with the chill in the air, she picked up her gardening tools and carried them back to her shed. On the way she gathered her thoughts about her meeting with Gardener later that morning. Theyd agreed to send Marsha off that day equipped with a complete sales garden blueprint that she could use in the real world. Theory is wonderful, Gardener had said over the phone earlier that week. But theory thats not put into practice—well, thats not much good at all.

As she continued to discover, most of her customers, who had liked Marsha all along anyway, were thrilled that she had the old enthusiasm and confidence back in her voice. Theyd applauded her efforts and her honesty, and a battery of meetings was set up post haste. She knew shed be very busy in the upcoming weeks, laying the foundation for her sales garden, but she felt good about it. I feel like Im making a fresh start, shed told her manager. Im ready to go, and I have some great ideas about growing my business. Her manager, who had been more than a little concerned about Marshas performance and state of mind lately, was only too happy to have the old Marsha back.

 

Epilogue: New Beginnings

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Marsha Molloy felt as if she were having an out-of-body experience.

She had prepared herself. But when she heard the emcee call her name, all the preparation in the world wouldnt have mattered—she nearly fell out of her chair, anyway. After all, it didnt get any bigger than Salesperson of the Year at the National Sales Meeting Awards ceremony.

Shocked and somewhat humbled, she rose from her seat, accepting a hug from her husband on her way to the stage. She knew the award belonged not simply to her but to her husband, her manager, and, perhaps most of all, to Gardener Rawlings. Marsha also knew that shed been drifting along until she set foot in Gardeners shop. Without that chance meeting, and the subsequent patience, kindness, and generosity of spirit that Gardener showed her in the following weeks, months, and years, Marsha knew deep down that shed be lucky to still have a job today, let alone receive this award tonight.

Shed realized something over the past few years: It wasnt enough to want to be happy again, to have fun again, to regain her passion for sales. No, she needed much more than that. She needed that support system shed had in the Saturday Morning Sales Club. Just as doctors needed to talk to other doctors, writers to other writers, and even—maybe especially—gardeners to other gardeners, salespeople needed to be among their own, sharing experiences, swapping war stories, and bucking each other up when they were down, just as Marsha was before she met Gardener and the rest of the gang.

 

The Sales Garden Model

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