Last week I shared a video about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. But what about the little things we do that can have an amazing impact on other people as well?
I had an experience like this one time early in my professional life that cemented two concepts in my mind ever since.
- The first is that little things do make a difference.
- The second is in the power of a simple thank you.
Early in my sales career I was presented with an opportunity that drastically changed my outlook on the world. I was coming off of my first professional defeat. You see, I had taken my first sales job on a car lot in the middle of January.
I knew that I wanted to get into the work of professional sales even while I was finishing my degree at University of Oregon. As a young guy, I found myself on a car lot every now and then and out of curiosity I’d ask the salespeople details about their job.
Inevitably I would be met with the bravado that salespeople on a car lot many times develop and I’d hear how they were just crushing it – making big money and life was good. Well, that sounded pretty good to me.
So I got married in December and moved up to the big city during the week between Christmas and New Years. Needing to pay the rent that would be coming due, I immediately went out to apply for a job. Amazingly enough, I got hired at the first car lot I applied to! What luck!
I started the next week, dressed in a suit and ready to sell. Then I found out how few people were on a car lot in January. In fact, there were less customers than there were hungry salespeople…..and the veterans were pretty clear that they were entitled to every one coming on the lot. I also found that I just wasn’t comfortable with the shark-like sales tactics and hard-sell approach that the auto industry required.
Needless to say, within a week I was leaving the car lot with my tail between my legs. My hopes were dashed. This was my first big failure.
Seeing as how I needed to still pay the rent and our savings would soon be vapor, I looked in the paper to get a job. I found a classified ad listing a sales position for a small spa and stove store paying $8 per hour. Plus I’d get a $50 spiff on any spa or stove I sold!
After taking the job and working for two weeks I got my first paycheck. After taxes and fees it was just under $300. Believe it or not, I sat in my car and cried. My hopes and dreams were shaken and I was scared that I’d never reach the financial goals I had set, let alone some financial stability for myself and my new wife.
The Opportunity is Presented
Late one afternoon a gentleman came into the store and asked about a pellet stove. We had a number of models on the floor and I went about showing him the benefits of each one. In the course of our conversation (and using the personal persuasion and sales skills that I’d been reading about) I found out that Kenn and I went to the same high school in a small town a few hundred miles away. Using that point of commonality to build some rapport, I successfully sold Kenn a stove and he asked me what I was planning to do when I finished school.
“I want to get a professional level sales position”, I told Kenn confidently.
“Have you ever considered mortgage lending?” he asked.
Now, at 23 years old I’d never even looked into buying a home, let alone knowing anything about mortgage lending or even what a mortgage was! Since I was totally unfamiliar with the industry, and I’d just come off a devastating experience in the auto industry, I made some excuse about “needing to finish those few classes and wanting to keep my current job until then.”
After Kenn had left the store, I sat down to call in the 90 Days Same-As-Cash financing application that he had submitted for the stove. He was clearly successful. He had a six figure income, drove a Jaguar and lived in a very nice home on acreage – kind of a gentleman’s farm. He had a prestigious title. Vice President of Mortgage Operations. As I looked at that application and pondered my $8/hour and pending $50 bonus, I immediately remembered something my father told me starting when I was a little kid.
“Mikel,” he said, “if you ever want to know how to do something in life, just go find someone who’s already done it and ask them for advice. They’ll usually be happy to share it with you. Then do what they say, and more importantly, do what they do. That’s the surest way to success.”
Well here I was with the offer to learn from someone who had the results I was looking for and I’d just passed it up for the security of my hourly wage!
I made a decision then and there that I should call him back and take him up on the offer. After a few weeks of interviews and paperwork, I got the job as his executive assistant with the agreement that after three months I would be able to transition to become a full-fledged mortgage loan officer.
I spent the next three months learning everything I could. I listened to the conversations at the office. I traveled to the sales meetings to hear everything they were talking about. I went to industry functions to educate myself. And I asked for more responsibility every chance I got.
When my three months were up, Kenn called me into his office. “I have a proposition for you, Mikel.” he said. “This has been working out so well I’d like to keep you on as an assistant. How about I give you a raise and a nice bonus schedule and you can stay on as my assistant for another year?”
Although I was thankful for the offer and a little bit proud of my performance, I thought to myself “Here’s your opportunity again. Are you going to go for it, or take the safe route and possibly miss out?”
“Thanks Kenn,” I said, “but I really think I can be a good loan officer and I want to take a shot. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll come back and be an assistant for you. Would that be O.K.?”
Kenn said “Of course! And I’ll help you in any way that I can.”
So I started the next week on my own.
The next months became a blur as I learned more and more about the mortgage industry and how to sell effectively. It really was the training ground that led to the next decade and a half of a very successful career.
And this leads me to the two lessons that I mentioned before.
A number of years later, after I’d left my original company for a growth opportunity in management, I was reflecting on how I got started on the career path and how influential Kenn was to me and my mortgage business. It had been a few years since we talked and I decided to pick up the phone and give him a call.
“Mortgage Market, This is Kenn. How can I help you?” came his voice after he answered the phone.
I have to admit that I was a bit nervous since it had been so long since we last talked.
“Hey Kenn, this is Mikel.” I said. “How are you doing?”
We went on for a few minutes catching up and the conversation was great. It was good to re-connect with him.
Toward the end of the call as the conversation was coming to an end, I nervously said,
“Kenn, there is another reason that I wanted to call you today.”
“What’s that?” he asked.
“Well,” I said, “the mortgage business has been really good for me and my family. I’m very thankful for everything I’ve been able to accomplish throughout my years originating loans. And I just wanted to call you back and thank you for sharing the opportunity with me. Your leadership and friendship changed my life in a profound way and I thought you should know it.”
Silence on the other end of the phone seemed like it lasted for days.
“Wow,” Kenn said. “I’ve trained hundreds of loan officers getting started in the mortgage business over the years and you know what? You are the first person who has ever called me back to just say thanks. I really appreciate it.”
The conversation ended shortly after that, and Kenn and I have been friends and have maintained a professional and personal respect for each other for nearly two decades now. I like to think that the simple act of a thank you was critical in forging that long term relationship.
So it comes back around to the fact that little things DO make a difference. It was a simple phone call that took just minutes. It was the simple act of offering someone thanks that cost nothing and yet made a lasting impression.
And it will work wonders for you if you just employ this simple strategy too!
Leave a comment below if you have a special story about someone who’s made a difference in your life.
Share something simple that has made a profound impact on you, or something you’ve done that might have cost you nothing, but made a profound impact on someone else.