30 years, 30 top business influencers. The list so far.

December 21, 2016

America’s Return Inc. turns 30 in 2017.  In the first 30 weeks I’ll recognize each of the 30 most influential people in the history of my business.

1987 – Michael E. Gerber

1988-1989 – David Packard and William Hewlett

1990 – Larry Wainscott

1991 – Dave Luke

1992 – Al Powell

1993 – Julie Mantis

1994 – Peter Romness

1995 – Kathleen Schaub

1996 – Dina Haase

1997 – Laura Honeycutt

1998 – Deanne Bergevin

1999 – John Costas

2000 – Marc Sarazin

2001 – Bob Hartz

2002 – Guy Cournoyer

2003 – Pat Donovan

2004 – Chris Swahn

2005 – Mary Alice Rau

2006 – Nicole Desmarais Lee

2007 – Peter Larocque

2008 – Gary Shottes

2009 – John Hackley

2010 – Rich Stratton

2011 – Brian Vincik

2012 – Zachary Tyler

2013 – Honorable Mention – George Uema, Frank Brady, Phillip Privett, Phil Woudenberg, John Paget, Jon Bennett

2014 – Peter DiMarco

2015-present – Michael Schwab and Dan Schwab

The full list.





How to teach a man to fish while getting a horse to drink.

September 28, 2009

Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Sales Engineers tell me their biggest frustration is having to give fish to their junior Sales Reps. The Sales Engineers get dragged into deals that Sales Reps haven’t qualified yet. The Sales Engineer ends up doing the Sales Rep’s pre-sales work under time pressure because it’s faster to just do it than to teach the Sales Rep how to assess the opportunity properly.

Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime. That is what sales training is for, usually aimed at newer team members. Top Sales Reps and seasoned Sales Engineers SHOULD be involved, so the new team members can observe role models of profound skill. But these masters already know how to fish, so they resist participation. The Sales VP can lead the vets to the class, but how do we get them to want to help teach?

Give a fisherman a better tackle box to organize his lures and he’ll catch more fish. I enlist the vets to help me package their knowledge in the simple and flexible S.A.L.E.S. format. The veterans rarely can succinctly say all that they know. Or they’ve drifted from some fundamentals they believe in. I get them to understand that there may be a gap between what they do and what they wish they did. The S.A.L.E.S. tool gives the vets an indexing scheme to quickly select the right words and actions from their career’s worth of tactics. As the vets practice in the classes they helped design, the new Sales Reps observe masterful techniques. And all get their limits raised.

Promo sapience. How I learned to sell better than a monkey.

August 29, 2009

Research on the brains of humans and monkeys shows we have similar circuitry. Monkey babies start out smarter than humans for a few weeks. Adult chimps negotiate trades with other monkeys. In fact, these primate deal-makers are team players: in empathy experiments, when monkeys face a choice to share rewards with other monkeys, they repeatedly do so, rather than selfishly reward themselves while watching another monkey go banana-less. Some people have called my business attire a monkey suit. I now see they were complimenting me.

But monkey behavior is bounded by limits – empathy disappears when monkeys cannot see other monkeys; in those circumstances, they think only about themselves. Further, if they see that another monkey’s gain is greater than their own, they cease sharing. These limits may sound uncomfortably familiar to those of us on commission.

Human salespeople can surmount these limits. I learned by watching really good models. With no customers in sight, these masters recited reminders to themselves to think about another’s needs (like, “nobody buys quarter-inch drill bits, they buy quarter-inch holes”). In front of the customers, my mentors shaped their words to express the others’ self-interest borrowing emotion-packed phrases the customers had uttered moments earlier while the veteran patiently listened. And they worked to maximize the others’ gain because my models had learned that the surest route to make more money was to create even greater value.

Those were behaviors worth aping.

You feel lost, but you’re not.

August 29, 2009

During this economic crisis of confidence, you might wonder, “What do I do now?” One of my colleagues feels professional malaise. Another rep questions her future in sales. A third wonders how he can attain his quota. These folks have two things in common: a sales pipeline jammed with stalled deals and imagination run amuck due to fear.

Here’s something that helped restore a rep back to a position of resolve and action: I asked her to pull out her laminated S.A.L.E.S. chart and think about the very next meeting that she wants to have with a stalled major account. This S.A.L.E.S. guide asks 3 questions. The answers are as graphic as the red dot on a map that says, “You Are Here.”

– Question: WHICH MEETING ARE YOU HAVING? To find your answer, select one of the 6 stages of an opportunity, each containing a S.A.L.E.S. meeting.
– Question: WHERE ARE YOU IN THE CUSTOMER’S BUYING PROCESS? To find your answer, locate your place in one of the 4 major phases the customer progresses through, and track your connection with the 3 company roles who will make decisions in these phases.
– Question: WHERE ARE YOU IN THE MEETING? To be ready for that moment, sketch out the chart’s 5-step call plan for the next meeting.

The rep systematically moved her fingertip from one little S.A.L.E.S. blue box to another. The methodology pinpointed her position and defined what action she needed to take. Reassured, she looked up and confidently said, “I am here.”

When you know where you are, you’ll know what to do next.

Don’t yet have the 2009 S.A.L.E.S. program chart? Send me an InMail note or an email at rchambers@americasreturn.com and I’ll forward your pdf or laminated copy immediately.

Never stop improving, even when you’re the authority — that’s the lesson I recently learned from a role model.

August 29, 2009

I bumped into John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, on the expo floor of his recent worldwide conference, right after his brilliant keynote presentation. My immediate reaction was to raise my “Richard Chambers” name badge and remark how attentive his employees were when they saw my last name. Even though John Chambers has never attended any of my S.A.L.E.S. presentations, what followed was his 60-second masterful example of my own system, used on me.

He quipped a brief folksy anecdote (Smile) about long-lost relatives, ending in the question: “…and can you guess what his name was?” (Ask), to which I happily replied the punchline, “John Chambers” (Listen). Noting my engagement, he made sure to point out a video conferencing demo in the booth we were in (Educate). While his assistants were eager to move him on to his press conference, he knew he had one more step to do, pausing to find one of his business cards to plant another seed for action between his company and mine (Start).

As I gazed at John Chambers’ card, it dawned on me what had just happened. It felt good to observe that the methods I preach are used by the masters and they work. And I was reminded that practicing excellence is a never-ending process.

Your 7-unit brain in a 24×7 world

August 29, 2009

We all have a functional limit to the amount of information we can actively keep in our minds at any given time. When I was a psycholinguistics researcher earlier in my career, we referred to this cognitive capacity as “M-space” — mental space — a figure that increases until adulthood, when it reaches a maximum of about 7 units. Try saying a ZIP Code backwards if you want to get a feel for it. If you still need convincing, have someone read aloud a UPC number under a bar code and try reciting those 10 digits backwards. Even if you succeed, your face will look really funny as you do it.

Now imagine yourself at your desk on a sales call with a new prospective customer. Just the first minute contains enough information to flood your cognitive capacity, if you are not prepared. What if there were 3 people on the other line, each with different needs, while at your desk, your email, IM and cell phone texts are all actively competing for your attention. Maybe you take pride in multi-tasking, but without a disciplined sales process – including a simple mental map for your sales call — you are at best winging it, like Icarus attempting his ascent to the sun until his waxen wings melted.

“S.A.L.E.S.” didn’t start as a cute acronym. The underlying short, simple structure for a call plan came first – a 5-node model that fits within our M-space, allowing us to listen better, and to stay on track as we navigate complex information to reach the objective of the call. You may function in a fast-paced, demanding world, but you are not exempt from human limits to deal with it. On your next call, write out a S.A.L.E.S. call plan – even if just on a Post-it – and tell me how it works for you.

For the latest 1-pager S.A.L.E.S. pdf, send me an InMail or email, rchambers@americasreturn.com.

The other sales “numbers game”: lower your error rate for higher net profit.

August 29, 2009

“Sales is a numbers game” — only a percentage of sales calls will succeed, so make enough calls and you’ll be OK, right? This strategy is the heart of a Sales VP’s activity plan to hit quota.

But what if the CEO or CFO is looking at Sales expenses on a P&L with shrinking gross profits, flat revenue, or worse, negative numbers at the bottom? What reductions would one expect for the Sales organization? Cut heads? Chop marketing funds? Reduce travel? You may have already taken these hits. What else can you do to lower your expenses? I’m suggesting that you consider the numbers game to be more than just “at bats”. By also lowering your “error rate” — through a better sales process – you will reduce your selling expenses and make more net profit.

As a professional in The S.A.L.E.S. Network, you are probably part of a solution sales organization that requires collaboration among a variety of positions: Marketing, Inside Sales, Field Sales, Sales Engineers, Professional Services, to name a few. When your company started, one person may have worn many hats. Over time, new hires took on specialist roles as the company scaled up in size. How well they all communicated together had not been the top priority. A bad economy changed all that. Now the attention is on doing more with less.

If your team doesn’t have a common language you may be part of an inefficient, pricey operation that makes these errors:
– 5-minute huddles turn into 90-minute conference calls;
– Ambiguous statements of work require re-do’s and wasted cycles;
– Unqualified opportunities drain resources before being discovered as fruitless.

SOLUTION business models require COLLABORATION made efficient through a COMMON LANGUAGE. Whether you MAKE or BUY a common language, just do it. Without it you are already paying for the inefficiency with a higher error rate.

In my research, I’m measuring the costs of NOT having a common sales language….similar to measuring the cost of your computer network crashing. So if you have horror stories, or success stories, I’d like to hear them.

Selling from A to B

August 29, 2009

At the center of S.A.L.E.S. — Smile, Ask, Listen, Educate, Start — is the L for “Listen”. What we are listening for are two main points: Point A and Point B.

Point A is the current, frustrating condition from which someone seeks relief.

Point B is the desired outcome someone wants to achieve.

We then “Educate” the customer on the merits of our solution – not the whole A-to-Z we might be fully capable of – simply how we can get them from A to B, including a specific next step towards which we can get a “Start”.

-Listen – Point A, Point B
-Educate — A ——–> B

Of course, no one will give us sufficient detail to listen to unless we “Ask” the right questions, and no one will give us the time of day if at our “Smile” step we haven’t broken down the barriers to get permission to “Ask”. More about these matters later. For the latest one-page pdf of The S.A.L.E.S.® System graphic, send me an email: rchambers@americasreturn.com.

Apply this to your very next call: what’s my customer’s Point A and Point B?

Welcome to The S.A.L.E.S. Blog

August 17, 2009

These posts are from discussions submitted to the LinkedIn group, The S.A.L.E.S. Network.  You can join by going to:


 “S.A.L.E.S.” is a registered trademark of America’s Return Inc.