Winning the Hearts and Minds

Edition: March 2008 - Vol 16 Number 03
Article#: 2901
Author: Brian Sullivan

Major Ed Croot, part of the Army's elite Special Forces, doesn't look at himself as a hero. While embarrassed at the tag, he appreciates the fact that throughout his short return home in the States, thankful Americans rarely let him pay for a haircut or a beer. And he says this unwavering support and gratitude is given almost everywhere he goes.

I recently had Major Croot on my weekly radio program to talk about leadership, overcoming obstacles, setting objectives, effective communication and of course, a bit about the war. As Croot came into the studio in full camouflage and green beret, I expected a hard-nosed conversation about objectives, overcoming the enemy, never giving up and fighting to the end. Instead, I heard words like caring, listening, loving, helping, showing and giving. While I might have been looking at one of America's most skilled soldiers, more so I was looking at somebody whose supreme objective is to serve others.

I asked Croot to give me one big lesson he has learned during his time in Iraq and Afghanistan "I have learned a lot, and our nation has learned a lot, over the last four years," he says. "My directive as an Army Special Forces Soldier was to kill, capture, destroy, disrupt and deny the enemy. I now realize that is only 20 percent of what I do. Perhaps the more important 80 percent is to help Iraqi and Afghan people live normal lives. We want them to have schools, jobs and be able to provide for their families. If we do these things, we will gain their trust and then be able to help them even more." As Croot spoke about his men, his mission and the people he was trying to help (Afghans and Iraqis), at times he got choked up. This man loves and believes in what he was doing, and it is his caring of others that is the fuel for his mission in the military. The more I listened to him, the more I realized that many of the same principles that he was discussing apply to great salespeople and leaders. Croot was what I call PRECISE.

Competing against the Taliban

For example, let me share with you a story about a "sales call" Croot made. It was Christmas 2004 and Croot was making a call in an Afghan village. That day, he was selling his favorite product he called "trust." He had a huge quota on that product in '04 and knew he had to make a ton of sales calls if he was ever going to have a successful year. But he also knew that many of his customers were buying from the competition known as Taliban Inc. Croot realized that if he came across as too pushy with his new prospects, they not only wouldn't buy from him, they might even tell the competition what he was up to in their territory.

But Croot wasn't alone. His amazing sales administration director (his wife Tracy) thought that he could win over some customers with a little TLC, so she mailed some books and toys for Croot to hand out. With sales objective and product in hand, Croot stepped out of his car (HumVee) and approached an important prospect. There was immediate interest in what he was doing as many of the younger customers seemed happy to see him. The gatekeeper (an older Afghan man), however, was a bit apprehensive. He had never done business with Croot's company before and wasn't sure what to expect. Croot handed the man some toys and books to give out to his employees (kids) with hopes of making the gatekeeper look good. He thought it might be helpful to develop a "coach" in the organization who might tell others how Croot and his company weren't so bad. The gatekeeper accepted and let Croot "come on back."

As Croot got past the gatekeeper, he got an appointment with key decision makers in the village (teachers). He knew that if they bought his product, then they would tell all the future decision makers what a good company he worked for. That day Croot had to overcome some common objections that Taliban Inc. had planted in the marketplace, but with great preparation, he felt confident that he could. He knew if he wasn't well versed on his product, he might find himself in serious trouble in that sales call.

Croot didn't get the order that day, but he did get an invitation to come again. He got back into his vehicle, confident that he would some day have a good customer, and then continued to his next call. He knew that to make his quota, it would mean long hours in the territory, great preparation, and perhaps more importantly, a genuine interest in serving the customer. Because he knew that once they truly believed that he was there to serve them and not "sell" them, he would have a customer for life.

Croot did such a good job in his territory that he was promoted to a middle management role and was accepted to attend a top sales and leadership university (U.S. Army Command and General Staff College) where he will learn to teach others the art of selling a difficult product. In June, he goes back on the road , to his team of sales champions, to his band of brothers.

Croot realizes that while his company may have recently gained some market share, to secure the long-term viability of his company, he and his team need to keep selling. He knows they will carry out the mission, because they are doing it for the right reasons.

So what can salespeople and business leaders take away from Major Croot? Think of the lessons he has learned. It is difficult to force anybody into anything. A "kill, capture, destroy, disrupt and deny" attitude in dealing with colleagues and customers only fortifies their defenses and makes it difficult to positively impact their lives. Just as Croot and our nation have learned that "selling" ideas is easier once trust is built, that rule also applies to us regardless of whether we are selling a product or an idea.

So this week, while you are making your sales calls or managing your team, don't forget that Croot and thousands of great salespeople just like him are out there selling a product that will keep our nation and our families safe. Let's say a prayer that Croot and his company meet their sales quota soon and return home safely to the biggest sales awards ceremony this company has ever seen. Oh and Croot tell your buddies we are forever grateful for your sacrifice. We will never forget.

Brian Sullivan is the president of PRECISE Selling and author of the well known sales book, 20 Days to the Top. To learn more about his sales and leadership programs, visit him at