I’ve always wondered about the life-story of a rainmaker – someone with the ability to close deals with their back against the wall. Mind you, I’m talking big deals here not holiday-club memberships. Recently I got my chance to find out. And so I met with Kevin Pearman for lunch.
When Kevin welcomed his first customer to the showroom of a Toyota branch in Durban, he didn’t exactly have the credentials for the job. How did a 19-year-old with no training or experience get here?
He knew people. And he knew that life doesn’t throw you any favours. Growing up in a tiny apartment with 7 other people, he was streetwise and determined to build a better life for himself.
You use what you’ve got
“People buy from people”, he explained as he threw a hand sign to the manager. A few minutes later two caffè espresso stood on our table. “If you don’t have much else, your network is your biggest asset. I was a bodyboarder and knew everyone that came to the beach. In my neighbourhood, I got to know the crooks on the street. They respected me and so didn’t cause us any trouble.
“When I started at Toyota as an apprentice mechanic, it wasn’t long until the branch manager noticed my knack for people. I enjoyed chatting, listening and helping – went way beyond my duties. I even brought through customers from my own network, all the way down to the South of Durban. The boss then promoted me to work in the service department, and within a matter of months, I stood on the sales floor.
Regress follows success
These weren’t just fond memories for Kevin. The fast lane to fame also led to loneliness and disappointment. “Because I got promoted twice in such a short space of time, the guys from the workshop stopped talking to me”, he said. “They thought I was a spy, checking up on their work.”
“I didn’t understand what was happening. I mean, these men were old enough to be my father. I was hoping they’d be proud of me. But maybe I also stopped treating them like before. When I joined the sales squad, I was more worried about impressing my new colleagues than spending time with my old crew.”
The more downbeat turn in Kevin’s story reminded of that essential balance between IQ and EQ. Knowing and doing the right things is just one part of the equation. The reality in front of us is just as much a reflection of our inner world – how we navigate our thoughts and emotions.
“No matter what people said, I just kept going”, he continued. “I tasted success, and I wanted more. I was overcommitted. From Toyota, I went on the break sales records at Landrover. Life was good. For my age, I had it all. But then I became reckless and arrogant. Got into serious trouble that would’ve cost me my job. Instead of facing the music I packed up and left for the UK, started all over again, working my way to the top.”
Is the answer round?
Being immersed in Kevin’s astonishing life-story, I happened to notice the time and started feeling edgy. I didn’t want to leave the interview without some practical advice for aspiring sales champions. But Kevin had alighted on the intrigue of his sales accolades only to illustrate a larger point, about the interconnection between self-awareness and effective selling.
“You’ve probably heard about the sales cycle. If you don’t know at which stage you’re at with a customer, you won’t win. If a customer doesn’t know me from a bar of soap, I first make sure I win their trust. If I’m not 100% clear what their problem is and how I can solve it, I won’t hit them with a random brochure or premature proposal. I spend ridiculous hours doing my homework, asking the right question, getting close to everyone with a stake in the deal. Also timing is critical. If you’re late to the party, you eat outside.”
Kevin now runs a performance academy, teaching businesses and sales teams how to compete against luck. But what he can’t teach is self-awareness.
“You start by finding your feet outside the comfort zone. As your hard work pays off, you become more confident. With confidence comes arrogance – which is a sure way to tell that sooner or later you WILL be humbled again. And then you’ll start all over again.
You see, the cycle never vanishes, but being able to recognise it within yourself makes all the difference in the long run.
“Like, if you being arrogant, you’re not paying attention to the customer”, Kevin said. “You think you know exactly what they need and how to win them over. Big mistake. When you’re more self-aware, you see it for what it is much sooner, which puts you back on track. As a young lad, I would just hammer on, getting strung along by customers, wasting time.”
When nothing seems to be working out, and life is shit, Kevin reminds himself that this is precisely where he needs to be, because that’s how he remains humble. And from what he knows now, these phases WILL pass.
After the meals, I asked Kevin whether there were some final nuggets of wisdom to share. To this, he just smiled and replied: “Make sure you get it in writing.”