Planning a Sales Garden

The week passed without Marsha’s 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 hadn’t grown worse, either.

“I’ll 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.

“People,” he mused. “They never plan things out. They never have a vision.” Gardener glanced over at Marsha. “Why do you suppose that is?”

“I think they’re afraid to; it means they might have to think big, and people don’t want to do that-sometimes they want someone to do the big picture for them,” Marsha answered, handing Gardener the bag. “Careful,” she said, “there’s hot coffee inside.”

He deftly took out the coffee and placed it on the counter. “There’s something to that,” he said, blowing gently on it before taking a sip. “Come on, it’s a beautiful morning outside. Let’s take a walk out back and see some unusual new azaleas that just came in.”

Outside they went and headed down a path. They walked in silence for a moment, and then Gardener spoke. “Let me ask you something. You’re in sales. Ever hear much about ‘planning’ to sell?”

Marsha shrugged. “I don’t think so. You might have mentioned something last week. But prior to that-no.”

Gardener nodded. “Planning is a big, and often overlooked, component to the sales process. All it really means is to plan your personal vision for your garden and your sales career.”

Sales Seeds
A successful sales career, just like a successful garden, needs a plan.

“Planning, huh? You’ve really thought about this gardening thing, haven’t you?”
Gardener mulled over Marsha’s question. “Thought about it? I’ve lived it during the last twenty years of my sales career. In fact, I’ve always approached my career like a gardener approaches a patch of land,” he said. “You evaluate the landscape and really examine things. You don’t simply start digging where you happen to be standing.”

He held up a pot of deep pink azaleas for Marsha to admire and then gently placed it back down. They walked farther down the path toward the camellias. “Like a good gardener, a salesperson should research the area for a location that’s easily accessible, has good light and good soil, and is close to a water source. She shouldn’t passively or carelessly adopt a sales strategy. She must lay the foundation and build a blueprint for selling, just as a good gardener chooses a good location to grow his vegetables.”

“She-meaning me?” asked Marsha.

“You’ll do for this example,” he said.

“But what does all that have to do with planning?”

“Everything,” Gardener replied. “You can’t have passion for something if you don’t respect it, if it doesn’t challenge you and make you play at the top of your game, using everything you have. I believe planning is meaningless without vision.”

Marsha shook her head. “I don’t know. I mean, I know I’m feeling burned out, and I recognize that I’ve lost my passion for sales. But ‘personal vision’ … I’m not sure I fully get it.”

Gardener laughed. “What have you got against envisioning what your garden looks like, or what your career might look like?”

“Nothing, I guess. Honestly, I don’t think about vision or planning too much. It’s just a little out there for me … I’ve always gotten through on common sense and hard work!
Gardener grinned. “Fair enough-it’s probably better that we start from scratch, anyway. That way we don’t have to, ah, unlearn anything.” He paused to straighten out some pots of perennials in a wheelbarrow and then move it back until it was out of the way. He wiped his hands on his pants and turned back to Marsha. “OK, so what’s your definition of vision?”

Marsha was perplexed. “I’m not sure where you’re going here.”

Gardener sighed. “OK. Do you have an idea of how you want your future to be? Have you ever thought about what you want to create with your life-with your sales career? Have you ever thought about why you are in this game?”

“Not really,” she answered, staring down at the ground. “Just give me my sales goals and cut me loose-that’s been my career!”

Gardener nodded. He was beginning to understand where she was coming from. “That’s the norm. So many salespeople go right to goals and forget what is really driving them. Heck, it’s easy to get burned out this way. Anyone would.”

Marsha looked up. “Yeah, but you’re asking all the questions here. Now it’s my turn. What’s your idea of vision?”

“I’ll tell you like I used to tell my colleagues at work. Vision is more than a vague idea of your future, or some pie-in-the-sky unachievable goal. Strong vision has details that are so real you can see it, taste it, and smell it. It’s one of the most real things you can have.”

Sales Seeds
For a vision to be motivating, you must be able to see it in detail.

Marsha looked at Gardener quizzically. “Keep going.”

“Once you have clarity about your personal vision, you should write it down and put it someplace where you can see it every day. It’s so exciting and so invigorating that just having it around on a yellow legal pad somewhere in your office will inspire you!” Gardener was quite animated now. “Isn’t that what a vision should mean?”

Marsha nodded. “Yeah, I see your point. You’re saying that by having a vision-a tangible one that I can sink my teeth into-it will inspire me and help me regain my passion.”

Gardener grinned. “And what else?”

“Well, propel me to action, hopefully.”

“Not hopefully,” Gardener replied. “Definitely.”

Marsha traced a circle in the dirt with the toe of her sneaker while she listened to Gardener. Passion, she thought, he had in spades. Probably vision, too. But she wasn’t sold-not yet. “Hey Gardener, what about my company’s vision? They’re the people who sign my paychecks, right? Shouldn’t they have a vision that I could use?”

“Don’t you know what your company’s vision is, Marsha?”

“Yeah,” she joked. “Churn and burn, baby.”

He laughed. “That’s good-but not what I meant exactly.” He thought for a moment, and then his face brightened. “Let’s try this: what’s your vision for the garden you’re starting? You know, how will everything turn out?”

“That’s easy,” she said, warming to the task. “I see a gorgeous panorama of color on a calm July morning. There are rows of deep green plants, tomatoes, carrots, and peppers. The soil is dark and rich. There are also the fire-engine-red roses that I planted last year. The aroma is wonderful as I stroll through my garden. It’s all beautiful, every square inch of it.”

Sales Seeds
Envision how you want your garden to grow, draw it, and put the drawing someplace where you will see it every day.

Gardener clapped his hands. “Now we’re getting somewhere! I can see your excitement coming through loud and clear as you describe it to me. But let’s take it up a notch.”

“How so?” Marsha asked.

“Tell me, how do you see yourself using that beautiful produce from your garden? And what do you see yourself doing with those vegetables? How will you use your new roses?”

Marsha cupped her chin in her hands, thinking a moment. “My husband and I love to entertain at small dinner parties, where everyone is involved in the cooking,” she said softly. “We’re all standing around in the kitchen talking and sipping some really good merlot. And on the table is a beautiful vase full of my red roses, with that wonderful aroma.”

“What happens next?”

“My guests love the roses and ask me how I grew them. They ask me how I grew such luscious red tomatoes and such succulent peppers. And you know what I tell them?”

“What’s that?” Gardener asked.

“That I had so much fun growing them, I hardly noticed how hard it was.”

Gardener let a moment pass for that point to resonate. ”So imagine if we could translate that breathtaking vision you have of your real garden to your sales garden. What would we have, then?”

It was like one of those cartoons Marsha used to watch as a child, where a lightbulb popped on over someone’s head when he got an idea. “Oh, yeahhh,” she said, “my sales territory.” She bit her lip and mused for a moment. “Let’s try this: friendly, accessible customers who return my calls in ten minutes. Customers who buy 100 percent of their medical supplies from me and me alone.”

Gardener shook his head. “I said ‘vision,’ not ‘nirvana.’ Having perfect customers would be a little like taking your seeds in April, blindly scattering them to the four winds, and having everything come out perfect with no work or thought from you. How realistic is that?”

“Not very,” Marsha admitted.

“OK,” Gardener said. “So wouldn’t you get bored with such an easy life? Isn’t it the hard work and challenge of beating off the competition and really driving home a great customer solution that makes it fun for you?”

“That’s it,” Marsha thought. “The thrill of the chase.”

Gardener went on. “What if you were to build a sales activity plan that supports your vision to accomplish those tough tasks, easily and profitably?”

Sales Seeds
Positive pictures give you energy and create optimistic feelings that will carry you through the day.

“I know what you’re driving at,” she said. “I’ve gotten so focused on the big-ticket sales in my top five accounts that I’ve almost stopped going for the building-block sales in my second- and third-tier accounts. After all, you need some of those in your garden, too. Solid, steady plants that consistently produce over time.

Gardener chuckled. “That’s what having a vision is all about. I remember a guy in my company-another territory-who was cruising along at 110 percent of sales quota with four major accounts. No worries, right? But then the bottom fell out when two of his accounts went through acquisitions and spending got really tight. He dropped from number six to number ninety-seven in the company sales rankings; it took him two years to recover. Why did this happen? Because he became so enamored of his results and numbers at his four key accounts that he completely neglected the rest of his garden. Then, when the big yielders failed to produce, he was in trouble. All because he forgot-or never had-clear personal vision.”

Marsha nodded. ”Got it.”

“Good. So let’s try that vision again. This time, really see it, smell it, taste it.”

After a moment he asked, “What are you doing? What does sales success look like?”

This time Marsha was ready. “Well, let’s see-I’m sitting with a good customer, having lunch at one of my favorite restaurants. We’re talking really easily; she’s asking my opinion of a new product. It’s not my area of expertise, but she values my point of view anyway. We finish our meal, and as we linger over coffee she tells me about someone in her network who could use my expertise. She suggests that I call this person and offers to introduce me by making a phone call first. That’s the kind of relationship I have with my customers. I’m more than just a salesperson-they see me as a valuable consultant, a problem solver, someone they depend on.”

Sales Seeds
Sales is not just about numbers, it’s about people. Take care of the people in all your accounts, and their sales will bloom for you later.

Gardener chuckled. “Now you’re getting it. Keep working it-how do you feel about that picture?”

“Really good; it has meaning for me,” Marsha replied.

They continued walking. At the top of the path a young woman waved at Gardener and Marsha. “Oh, that’s Maddie, my daughter,” Gardener said, waving back. “She helps out on weekends when she can get away. She’s pretty busy with her friends and school, but she loves the place. The day I bought it, she called and said, ‘I want to be employee number two in your new gardening empire.’ Just like her dad with the jokes.”

They walked back up toward the garden store. It was warm for mid-April-about 60 degrees and it wasn’t even ten o’clock yet.

“Let me tell you a quick story, Marsha, because I really want you to understand this sales garden concept of mine,” Gardener said. “About fifteen years before I retired, I was on a sales call one day. It was a big customer with great name recognition, and I really wanted the sale. After about an hour and a half of rapport-building, presenting, questioning, and empathizing, I left the customer’s office with a lukewarm response to my closing questions. I felt discouraged and frustrated. Another wasted call-and half a day to boot! But what I had begun to develop, and what has saved me from dejection after such sales calls, was a new mind-set: that I had just planted a seed, that I was not after a sale as much as I was after another opportunity to plant a seed. I really did not have to brace myself any longer. I knew that if I followed up on that call-really took care of the freshly planted seed-the business would turn my way. Sure enough, I lost the original sale, but two years later this account became the third most productive in my territory.”

Sales Seeds
Love the sales process, each sales step is just another seed that needs to be nurtured and followed up on over time.

They reached the top of the hill and Gardener greeted his daughter warmly. He introduced her to Marsha and briefed her on what had to be done before the midmorning rush. As Maddie walked away, he turned back to Marsha and indicated two chairs in the shade outside the door.

“You see, with the gardening mind-set, I repositioned my disappointment in the lack of an immediate closed sale with the knowledge that I had planted a seed,” he said after they had sat down. “Having done so, I knew I had to take care of that seed so that it would grow and mature into my vision of a thriving plant in my garden. I discovered that I was beginning to love the process again.”

“I’d love to feel as if I loved sales again,” Marsha mused aloud.

“Everybody would,” Gardener agreed. “I also learned that I did not need to have a ‘me against them’ mentality anymore-an affliction that I’d wager you’re suffering from these days. After all, gardeners don’t. While gardeners know that it won’t be easy, they welcome the challenges of growing things. Sales professionals need to be ready to accept and face those challenges. Their primary problem is that they don’t know how to articulate the overall philosophy of growing great relationships. The good news for you is that we can help you do that.”

“Sounds like I’m not alone,” said Marsha. “I mean, plenty of salespeople face those challenges.”

“That’s right,” answered Gardener. “And that’s why it’s a good idea to come down here on Saturdays. Believe it or not, I wasn’t kidding last week when I said that I’ve helped other salespeople with the sales-garden approach. The ones who get it are just like you-they understand gardening and they love sales. So it’s easier for them to accept what I’m trying to get at-you know, like the planning and vision and passion themes we’ve been talking about today. Some of them are regular customers. They come down and shoot the breeze just as we’re doing, and we talk about weather, weeds, fertilizer, and pests. But we could just as easily be talking about sales as we are about planting tomatoes.”

Sales Seeds
Many salespeople face the same challenges that you do-find them, share with them, and learn from them.

“I hope I get to meet some of these ‘sales garden’ friends of yours,” said Marsha.

“If you keep coming down here you will,” answered Gardener. “In fact, here comes one of them right now.”

Sure enough, wheeling into the parking lot toward a space next to several pallets of shrubs and trees was a big truck with “Carson Garden Supplies” on the side. Coasting the truck to a stop, and raising a bit of dust in the process, was the proprietor of Carson Garden Supplies, Jake Carson. A burly bear of a man, Jake got out of the truck and ambled over to Gardener and Marsha. “Fertilizer Man, front and center,” he said, a big grin crossing his genial, moon-shaped face. “How ya doin’, Gardener? And who’s the lady you’re keeping time with?”

Gardener laughed as he stood up. “Don’t mind Jake, Marsha. He’s something of a kidder. Only guy I know who still tells ‘knock-knock’ jokes.”

Marsha laughed at the thought of a big fellow like Jake relaying kindergarten-level gags. She rose and extended her hand. “Hi, Jake-my name’s Marsha. I’m a customer but Gardener’s been kind enough to help me with some of my, ah, career issues.”

Jake took off his John Deere cap and wiped a meaty paw across his sweatshirt before shaking Marsha’s hand. “Don’t tell me you’re another student at Gardener Sales Garden University?” he asked with a laugh.

“Looks that way,” she said. “Are you in sales, too?”

“Sure thing!” he replied. “Sold auto parts to Ford and GM dealerships for twenty-five years. Took early retirement and invested in my own company. Now I sell fertilizer to folks like Gardener here. Get my hands dirty and breathe in all that fresh air that Gardener keeps raving about.”

“Yep,” said Gardener, winking at Marsha. “You might say that Jake is the fertilizer king around these parts. In more ways than one.”

All three chuckled at the good-natured ribbing, Jake most of all.

“Awww, I give Gardener a hard time and all, Marsha, but he’s a real prince-and a real smart guy, too,” said Jake. “I knew him way back when through the chamber of commerce. He helped me through some dark times, when I couldn’t make a sale, nor did I care to.”
Gardener looked embarrassed. “I didn’t do anything, Jake. You had it in you the whole time. I just helped draw some of the passion back out again.”

“Bull,” said Jake. “Gardener’s too modest for his own good. He’s never gonna get his own gardening show on TV if he doesn’t blow his own horn once in a while.”

“Now, Jake,” Gardener admonished, “I was only kidding about the TV show. You know that.”

“Ahhh, you could do it, no problem,” Jake asserted. “Better than ‘The Victory Garden,’ I’d wager.” He turned to Marsha.

“Ya see, Marsha, Gardener came along at the right time for me, when I was in the sales slump of all sales slumps, and I was losing the will and energy to fight my way out. I’d been top producer at my company for years, but I sort of drifted a bit after the ownership changed and the new managers restructured the territory a bit. They took away some of my territory, and my sales suffered as a result.

“Instead of thinking like the top biller at the company-like I’d always been-I began losing confidence and started thinking like the low biller at the company,” Jake recalled. “I started eating more and stopped taking care of myself. My wife recommended gardening as a way to get up and move around some after work and on weekends. Before I knew it, I was hooked.”

Marsha nodded. “So what happened?”

“A few months later I was at a chamber of commerce breakfast. Who was sitting next to me but Gardener. We made small talk, found out we were both in sales and both into gardening, and began hanging out at the chamber breakfasts every week. Lots of potential customers at the chamber breakfasts-eh, Gardener?”

Gardener nodded, amused at how easily Jake could take over a conversation. “Soon enough, Gardener started telling me about his sales-garden philosophy. I was, ah, skeptical at first, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made to me.”
Jake paused to make sure that he had Gardener’s and Marsha’s attention. “So I started in on the planning part of it. I planned everything-just like I do when I’m planning my garden-starting with my personal vision. Before, it had revolved around being top biller in the company, but since my territory had shrunk, I didn’t think I could do that anymore. With Gardener’s help, though, I created a new vision, one that not only renewed my energy but was a much more sustainable one!”

“So, what was it?” Marsha asked.

“I had always defined my success on size of territory and number of customers,” Jake replied. “When my territory got cut, suddenly my scorecard was all out of whack.”

“What did you do?”

“That’s where the sales garden mind-set helped so much-I just redefined my personal vision. With the old scorecard, I was so focused on gaining more customers that I was not really developing the business potential of my best customers. So I had to rethink my approach. Gardener helped me to see myself as kind of a Johnny Appleseed. Now I know that must sound a little corny to you …”

Marsha shook her head and said, “Not so much-I’d like to hear more.”

“Well, as I said, I imagined myself to be like a Johnny Appleseed,” Jake continued. “My job was not so much being a salesperson as being someone who planted seeds everywhere he traveled-seeds that could be watched and cared for over time. I wanted to develop a wonderful valley of green trees and beautiful flowers. The more seeds I planted, the happier I felt. I was spreading the word about my products, getting deeper into my customers’ business. I wasn’t after a sale as much as a new friend and a chance to plant a seed. It really took the burden off my shoulders, and I came across to my customers in a more relaxed, natural way. I think they enjoyed talking with me more, and that’s what it’s about for me-enjoying the process.

“So, I started targeting my best opportunities, taking time to assess my customers’ needs carefully and planning two or three calls per day instead of six so that I could really explore their needs in depth. These activities surely beat my old routine, which had been reduced to a daily accounting of where I stood in the last sales contest, or calculating my commissions over and over based on different product combinations.”

Jake stopped for a moment to make sure that Marsha was following him. Then he said, “Before I knew it, I was doing it on a regular basis and my customers were responding to it. I felt like I had really found something different, and I began to get the old magic back.”

Sales Seeds
Get to know your customers on a deeper level. Be observant. Pay attention. Every customer, like every plant, will need a different approach and way of nurturing.

Marsha was enjoying the conversation with her new friends. Still, she wasn’t sold on the sales garden concept just yet. “OK, I’m starting to get this. I see how the vision refocus helped you redefine success … that’s what I need to do. This ‘sales garden’-it’s a philosophy of sales, a mind-set, that can be applied to any other approach to sales, am I right? And it deals with the bigger picture of how to keep yourself fresh and energized in your career, right?”

“Whoa, you must have been a philosophy major,” Jake exclaimed. “You picked that up real fast.”

“Faster than you did, Jake-that’s for sure,” said Gardener.

Another car pulled into the parking lot and stopped near them. Gardener had begun moving some of Jake’s inventory into the nursery yard. Ah, there’s Brenda Cobb. Haven’t seen her in a while.”

Brenda got out of her car, peeling the lid off of her orange juice container and carefully dropping it into a trash can.

“Morning, Brenda. How’re you doing?”

“Fine, Gardener. You the same?”

“As always,” he replied, angling a dolly full of birdseed bags against the wall near where Marsha and Jake were standing. “What brings you all the way down here? They don’t have a garden shop in your town?” he asked playfully.

“Oh, they do,” Brenda answered. “But not one owned by a real live sales sage like Gardener Rawlings. And such a nice shop, too.” She turned to face Marsha and Jake. “Hey there, Jake, how’s the fertilizer biz?”

“You can smell the success,” he answered, to much laughter. He gestured toward Marsha.

“This is Marsha Molloy. She’s the newest addition to the Saturday Morning Sales Club.”
Brenda shook Marsha’s hand warmly. “Glad to meet you. In sales?”

Marsha smiled. “Yep. Medical sales.”

Jake waved to the group. “I’d love to stay and chat, but I’ve got some runs to make. I’ll leave these bags with Maddie.” He hustled over to his truck and unloaded the last few bags of fertilizer. Gardener, Marsha, and Brenda waved to him as he drove off.
Gardener turned toward some bags of birdseed and began moving them onto a pallet. He looked at Brenda. “So why the visit?”

Brenda sighed. “I don’t know. I need a little rejuvenation, I guess. The economy stinks and nobody’s buying stocks-not from me, anyway. I seem to be losing steam faster than I should be, and losing some business as a result. Got anything for me?”

“Hey, it’s Saturday morning, isn’t it?” Gardener replied cheerfully. “That’s what the Saturday Morning Sales Club is all about.” He took a break from the birdseed and sat down on a pile of bags.

Brenda sighed, this time in relief. She’d befriended Bob Rawlings a few years earlier, when she’d sat next to him at a sales seminar in New York. Brash and bold, Brenda had been a high-powered stockbroker for years until the dot-com bust hit in 2000. Most of her customers’ money was in high-tech stocks, and they all took a bath. Many customers left Brenda and got out of the market. She’d mentioned that to Gardener, and he was kind enough to help her pick up the pieces and regroup. Now her business was growing again, but not as fast as she’d hoped.

Brenda had already sat down on another stack of seed bags, and Marsha followed suit. Marsha thought the scene comical-three adults sitting on bags of birdseed talking about sales gardens.

“What have you covered today?” asked Brenda.

“We talked a lot about personal vision being the cornerstone of good planning,” Marsha answered. “I tend to go straight to sales goals and activity, but Gardener won’t let me off the hook on this planning and vision piece!”

“With good reason-planning is a vital component of the sales garden,” Brenda said. “I can tell you, without clarity and commitment to my personal vision around the kind of investor base I want, the last two years of bad markets would have put me over the edge! I come here occasionally for a sanity check. Lately I’ve been having trouble focusing on my plan.”

“How so?” asked Marsha.

Brenda thought for a moment. “When things were hot and heavy in the late nineties, I was taking all comers. I see now that I abandoned my value strategy when I started chasing the tech boom-and in the process I let a lot of my long-term-growth customers down. So, with Gardener’s help, I redefined what my sales garden should look like: real investors who are serious about steady growth over time-people who are interested in a balanced portfolio. And people who don’t go over the top when things are hot or bail out when things are not.

“By reconnecting with my longest-term investors-about 40 percent of my 1999 base-I renewed my personal energy in the business,” she said. “But it’s been hard. My commissions have been flat over the last twelve months, and it seems that fewer and fewer people want to be in the markets in any way.”

Brenda scuffed the ground with her work boot. She looked like a gardener to Marsha.

“That’s where this Saturday Morning Sales Club comes in handy,” said Brenda. “It’s a place to kick around what’s going on in the world of sales and get the positive support I need. It’s like filling up my tank with good fuel for the road ahead.”

Sales Seeds
A sales support group lets you hang out with people who are eager to talk and listen, teach, and learn.

Marsha nodded. “Yeah, I can see that. I’ve been down here a couple of weeks now, and it’s starting to pay off. For example, right before you got here, Jake Carson was telling me how redefining his vision had changed his career back when he was in auto parts, and how it had set the basis for his new business today. That’s pretty exciting!”

“Yeah,” said Brenda. “The vision part of planning really helped me, too. But the rest of it also helps-you know, the seeding and all. The way Gardener explains it, your territory is important and you want it to be the right size, just like your garden. If it’s too big, then you risk not having the resources and energy to keep all your customers happy. And if it’s too small, you risk not harvesting enough business to keep you going. Is that right, Gardener?”

“Well put,” he replied. “But in the planning stage, you have to research what kinds of plants you’re going to grow, as well as how big your garden is going to be. In the sales garden, that means studying your customers so that you’re not selling them what you have or what you think they should have-you’re selling them what they need. You have to find that out first, just like you would learn the likelihood of a good harvest with the seeds you’re going to plant.”

Gardener looked squarely at Brenda and Marsha. “Good planning means knowing what makes you passionate about selling, as well as who you want to spend your time with, in terms of customers. That’s it in a nutshell. Without that clear vision, you’re just selling anything you can to anybody who will buy it-and that’s a recipe for burnout!”

Maddie walked over with a customer who needed help. Gardener got up to answer her question. Then he turned to Brenda and Marsha. “I’ll be right back-I’ve got some perennials to examine.”

After Gardener walked away, Marsha said to Brenda, “I really like Gardener, but does this stuff actually work?”

“It has for me,” she replied. “He’s taught me a lot about preparation and nurturing my customer relationships-things I wouldn’t have normally considered.”


“Like with the planning part we’re talking about today,” said Brenda. “He taught me to make sure that the bigger plants don’t overshadow the smaller ones-you know, like the smaller customers. Someday you want them to be big customers, too. But you have to protect them and nurture them. He also taught me not to necessarily harvest everything at once-not to put everything in one basket. Sure, you can plant one kind of vegetable all at the same time and harvest your crop all at once. But there’s no reason why you can’t plant different varieties and sow the seeds sequentially so that you’re harvesting a diversity of vegetables on a regular basis. That taught me not to rely on one or two big customers but to spread out and have different kinds of customers in case one of the big ones leaves-or in a garden withers up and dies.”

“That makes good sense,” said Marsha.

“You bet it does,” replied Brenda. “Another lesson he taught me was not to be afraid to prune where necessary. It’s great to have a lot of customers, but if some are not performing and are taking up too much of your time, you’ve got to learn to cut them loose so that your other plants-I mean customers-can grow.”

Gardener strolled back to where Marsha and Brenda sat talking. His customer had paid for her new plants, and Maddie was helping her carry them out to her car. “See that?” he asked. “She is practicing good nurturing skills with a customer. The customer will remember the extra step Maddie took by carrying her plants out to the car for her. Maddie’s persistent-you gotta respect that.”

Marsha nodded approvingly. “You’re right-but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I’m still working on the planning thing.”

“Of course,” said Gardener. “What I most of all want you to remember walking out of here is that a carefully planned garden is much easier to manage. It’s going to save you time later on, and it’s going to be much more productive than an unplanned garden, that’s for sure.”

“But you should begin planning your garden well in advance so that when it’s time to plant, you’re ready to go,” Brenda added.

“What else should I be thinking about?” asked Marsha.

“You want to be around positive people, and to stay away from office politics, hostile coworkers, and other salespeople who are negative. They are like weeds that will choke the life out of you-if you let them.”

Sales Seeds
Always look for the positives in your sales calls. Choose to be optimistic with people-it just feels better.

Marsha thought about what Gardener and Brenda had been telling her. “This is good stuff, and I can’t wait to try it,” she said.

“You’ll do well if you plan your garden first,” Gardener said, getting up off the stack of birdseed bags and stretching his arms and legs. “Remember, the highest-producing sales professionals are the ones who have clear personal vision and an organized plan they can follow every day. If you have a good plan, you’ll be more focused, and you’ll also find that your priorities are clearer. You’ll start to regain that passion we’ve been talking about, too, because you’ll have a greater sense of purpose and a renewed sense of control over your future.”

Marsha got up and dusted herself off. She had a busy day ahead of her, planning her new sales garden, and she wanted to get started right away. “Thank you so much,” she said. “Both of you. You’ve been so generous and helpful.”

“Hey, no problem,” said Brenda. “Running this stuff by you has been helpful to me, too. It’s a good refresher course for my sales garden. Besides, that’s what the Saturday Morning Sales Club is all about-helping people to learn what we’ve learned. After all, we’re all in the same boat.”

Gardener said, “Oh, and Brenda, maybe the answer to your question of what to do in a tough market is just to go back to your basics, what you do well-increase your seeding from, say, fifty calls to one hundred calls per week. Up that activity level! Something good will happen.”

Brenda nodded. “OK, Gardener, will do.”

“Great job, ladies,” he said. “I’ll see you next week. Call me if you need anything in the meantime. And remember, few things make a gardener as unhappy as a garden that lets her down because she didn’t cover all the bases in the planning stage. So get planning!”

“Yes, sir!” said Marsha and Brenda in unison, laughing, as they walked to their cars.

Gardening Time: Thursday Night

Thursday afternoon-what a break! One of Marsha’s best customers had had an afternoon emergency that was easy to solve, and it left her only ten minutes from home. She would take advantage of the time by getting in an hour in her garden before dark.

As she quickly donned her overalls, she reflected on her week. It had been crammed with meetings all over her territory, so she had already logged about three hours behind the wheel of her car-her “windshield time.”

Usually that time was more than filled by incoming and outgoing mobile phone calls, but a funny thing had happened this week. She just couldn’t get the conversation about vision and passion out of her head, and she had so many questions. Why was her vision of her garden so crystal clear and detailed, while her vision of her sales success was so undefined (other than in money)? Was there some connection between clarity of vision and excitement about working for that vision? And what about Jake’s story of redefining his vision? Was that what she needed to do? “Should I sit back and rethink who my best customers should be instead of relying on the same folks year in and year out?” she asked herself. “Am I short-circuiting the fun of working with some customers for the lure of the big deal? Is that smart?”

As Marsha fed her roses, she made a commitment to herself. In order to be successful, her sales-life vision needed the same level of detail and resolve she had given her garden plan. Now that was something to think about!

Excerpted with permission from Sprout! Everything I Need to Know about Sales I Learned from My Garden–4 Steps to Sales Success by Alan Vengel and Greg Wright (Berrett-Koehler, 2004). For more on this book, please visit