The Chili Dog Epiphany
The below is an unedited excerpt from the almost completed book, The CAP Equation.
I have received many unexpected lessons over the years and this story describes one of them. This conversation led to the way I coached and trained and eventually, (recently) led to the working title of my upcoming book. Enjoy!
What if I told you that your survival in commission sales or leadership was a simple math problem and nothing more? What if solving that mathematical calculation could place you in a position to earn millions and live the life you desire? What if I’m willing to give you the answer to The Equation and show you how we got there? Would you listen?
The CAP Equation©, as a label and concept, was an unintentional thought, an out of the blue observation, albeit a powerful one. It arrived in my coconut about the time I was done with the first draft of this very manuscript. I unsystematically recalled a long lost conversation that only lasted less than 30 seconds and occurred more than 34 years ago.
By March 2014, I’d been interviewing, hiring and training commission salespeople for over thirty-five years. I decide to jump off the wheel, I checked out of my corporate V.P. gig. I was embarking on a speaking career. I was also expanding my practice of coaching high-level sales leaders and consulting with start-up entrepreneurs. I worked hard coaching them, imploring my charges to refocus on the things that always worked, while pointing out to them the faulty strategies that rarely did.
Along with coaching and training, I had also begun putting some of my thoughts and philosophies down on paper. Not an easy thing to do after thirty-five years of just doing it. You see, when you’ve spent your entire career in the heat of battle, it’s almost impossible to be conscious of exactly WHAT you are doing as you’re doing it. It’s equally difficult to know WHY it’s all working. The best and brightest in sports, entertainment and business do most of their finest work unconsciously, almost instinctively. They usually can’t tell you how they did it.
My self imposed hiatus allowed me the rare opportunity to decompress and recall the lessons I’d learned over the thirty-five years I’d been in the game. The quiet time allowed me the chance to begin to create prescriptions for success in outside sales, ones that could be easily duplicated and applied. The original manuscript of this book was a solid first draft. It contained a lot of practical content, but the material wasn’t quite as cohesive as I would have liked. It was missing something and I wasn’t quite sure what it was. (I’ve learned that writers are famous for second-guessing themselves.)
I sat quietly, staring at my screen, waiting for inspiration. I simply wanted to tie things up in a neat little bow. Then that ancient 30-second conversation popped into my brain.
I was 19 years old, a new sales trainer for Penn Life. We sold $39 accident plans to self-employed business owners. I was out in the field shadowing our top producing sales manager. Every new trainer spent a day with John Jamelkowski. It was a requirement. He was a machine, the most intense instrument of commission sales death I’d ever seen. John piloted F-4 Phantoms in Vietnam, which, obviously, requires a great deal of concentration and attention. After he retired he applied all of that same focus, all of those disciplines to, his chosen field of insurance sales.
He was meticulous in his preparation and approach to his work, just as if he was going through a flight checklist. We didn’t talk much during our field time, I was afraid to ask him too many questions. We marched from business door to business door, his eyes always sharply focused on the person in front of him. When his work was done with that prospect, win or loose, he’d smile, shake hands, turn, and walk out the door. Within minutes he was locked onto and engaged with the next target in his crosshairs.
We stopped for lunch after a grueling, but profitable morning. He chose an outdoor hot dog joint near his office in Camarillo, California. He ate all three of his chilidogs in the time it took me to take down one. Somewhere between chomps I choked out a question about training and retaining new agents—what his philosophies were on the subject. I didn’t expect a long dissertation, but I didn’t anticipate his extreme brevity either. His answer came fast, it was succinct and unadorned, and another dog jammed in his mouth followed it. John said to me:
“If you hire a new agent and they’re failing to produce, it’s one or more of only three causes. They’re not saying or doing the RIGHT THINGS, or they’re not saying or doing them the RIGHT WAY, or they’re not saying or doing those things to ENOUGH PEOPLE. It’s as simple as that buddy boy. It’s foolproof. This whole sales thing is a simple math problem.”
And that was it. He’d distilled his entire coaching and training model down to three root causes for all failure in commission sales. Apparently, that’s what he focused on when he trained new insurance agents. In John’s mind, if those three factors were checked off his flight plan list, then the plane would get up in the air and land safely. There was no luck involved, none was needed. Luck wasn’t what a fighter pilot depended on for a successful mission.
John made sure his agents developed proficiencies. Saying and doing the right things meant that they knew how to present and close. He’d make sure they adopted the right thought processes and attitudes. Those mindsets signified the “right way” that he referenced. He’d then inspect their activity level—enough people—making sure their calendars were full.
John Jamelkowski had abridged the complicated business of sales and sales training to those three factors. Sales and sales management wasn’t some convoluted, emotional, or psychological mystery to him. It was a checklist, a simple math problem, and one that he already knew the answer to.
Those four sentences he delivered to me on that spring day of 1980—that small sound bite between big bites of his chilidog—is probably most of all the wisdom you’d ever need to make a living in sales, even get rich, I just didn’t know it at the time. I heard the lesson that day, but it took me a few weeks to sort through it, fully comprehend it, and re-purpose it in my own style and for my own application.
Because I believe in performing R & D, (robbing and duplicating) I began to claim the first part of his lesson—his mantra—as my own refrain:
SAY the right things
Say and do them the RIGHT WAY
Say them to ENOUGH PEOPLE
John passed on years back from a brain tumor. Our paths in the industry crossed one more time, just before he died, and I had a chance to thank him for his wisdom, the gift he gave me. When I thanked him, he simply shrugged his shoulders. He didn’t even remember the conversation. The only thing he remembered from that one day we spent together was exactly how many units of business we sold and to whom we sold it. He recalled those obscure facts because that’s what he focused on.
This ageless conversation with a man that had long passed entered my airhead space that day as I sat at my writing desk staring at the working copy of this book on the screen. And then, the last little part of his abbreviated lecture slapped me in the face.
“It’s foolproof. This whole sales thing is a simple math problem.”
There it was. The “math problem” line was my clue and provocation to bundle my teachings and complete a final draft of the written material I had sitting in front of me. I could give these concepts a name and articulate something more “cohesive”, a memorable and recognizable formula. My problem of making my manuscript come to life was as simple as codifying the advice I’d always given to my salespeople and sales leaders and making it seem as simple as 1 + 1 = 2. (And it really is that simple.)
And with that epiphany The CAP Equation© was born. I grabbed a yellow pad and began to categorize what the “right things” are. These are the basic skills that a salesperson will always need to learn. I entitled this grouping Competencies.
The “right way” is a less tangible category. I have historically used this term to describe elements that are more or less behavioral patterns—an overall mindset. For this piece I decided to use the tag Attitudes.
“Enough of the right people” denotes lead generation and lead management practices. This is where the rubber meets the road for salespeople after the prior two dynamics are understood. I chose the word Pipeline to label this third and last component.
On the 2nd page of my yellow pad I wrote out the mathematical equation:
C + A × P = Success in Sales
Eureka! I’d been teaching the three critical causes of success in commission sales for 35 years, calling them “the right things, the right way and to enough of the right people.” I’d been teaching them, but in a fragmented manner, more or less independently of each other. I had never connected them in a logical, prearranged manner. When you do connect them into a calculation it demonstrates how vitally dependent these three areas are on each other, just like a mathematical equation! After all said and done 1 + 0 is never going to equal 2!
The John Jamelkowski chili dog epiphany helped me condense all of what I’d ever learned and taught into one neat little platform, the kind I was looking for to make my book more readable. More importantly, I knew that The CAP Equation would massively simplify the perceived gargantuan task of surviving and thriving in commission sales and give a salesperson a great deal more confidence from the inception.
If I could convince a new or struggling salesperson, MLM builder or entrepreneur that all they needed to do was commit to working out a simple three-integer equation, then I could show them how to virtually ensure their own success!
I hoped you enjoyed this excerpt. The book will be out soon. I promise…I mean it this time.