The ‘practical’ art of the sale
Nashville Business Journal - by Linda Bryant Nashville Business Journal
Tom Black’s life began in the tiny town of Nickerson, Kan., a long way from the corporate offices in Middle Tennessee where he served as CEO of two public companies — Private Business and Open Solutions.
Black’s parents weren’t members of the local country club. They were dropouts who worked low-paying jobs and were so destitute the family lived in a railroad boxcar.
Surprised that he even made it through high school, Black got his first introduction to selling at Nashville’s Southwestern Co., where he peddled books door-to-door in the summer while he worked his way through college at Southwest Missouri State Teachers College.
Thus began his escape from a hard-scrabble life.
Black’s journey from poverty to wealth has become more public since he stepped down as CEO at Open Solutions Inc. in 2003. He frequently talks about it at sales training and public speaking events, and he writes about it in his book, “The Boxcar Millionaire.”
The self-help sales guide was published in 2007 by the Tom Black Center for Excellence, the small Brentwood-based company Black started after retiring from the echelon of corporate life in 2005.
Black, 49, started the company to satisfy his urge to help small businesses succeed, not to grow a company in the traditional sense.
He made $330,000 last year, a pittance compared to the fortune he’s amassed, but that’s not the point.
“When you’ve decided you’ve accumulated enough money,” he says, “then you should ask yourself what you can give back.
“I’m doing this because I didn’t want to retire and because I love teaching.”
Black says there’s a lesson in it for others like him who’ve reached a career pinnacle and might be at a loss for what to do next.
“Focus on what you know you do best and on what helps other people,” he says.
Black has offered sales training to the agents at Fridrich & Clark Realty LLC, a Green Hills-based residential real estate firm.
Steve Fridrich, managing partner of the agency, says he’d shied away from hard-core sales training before tapping Black to talk to his staff.
“A lot of people do motivational speaking, but Tom gives more than that,” Fridrich says. “He gives sales people something they could work with every day. He’s pretty convincing.”
Practical techniques Black shared with Fridrich and Clark agents included tips on effective communication with clients in the moments before they make a decision, breaking down goals in manageable bits and using simple, effective language in sales interactions.
The bottom line, Black says, is that sales gets a bum rap because there are so many people who are either bad at it or unethical in their approach.
“No long-term success will come from anything but honesty,” Black often says to participants at his workshops and seminars.
In recent years Black has found more time to travel and network around the globe. In the process, he’s linked with some well-known entrepreneurs and high-profile inspirational speakers.
Earlier this year, he was a participant in Mark Victor Hansen’s “Building Your Mega Success” event at the Opryland Hotel, and he has teamed with the author on other projects.
Hansen, a friend of Black’s, is the co-author of the mega-successful “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series, which has sold more than 144 million copies.
Joining Black on stage at the Nashville event were famed TV personality Art Linkletter, sports psychologist Denis Waitley and financial strategist Loral Langemeier.
Such alliances illustrate another post-corporate career lesson for Black — seek out your heroes and join them.
Black is unashamed of his belief in positive thinking. He surrounds himself with inspiring people and motivational material. Last year he self-published a book of inspirational quotes.
“I’ve been to every motivational seminar I can find,” he says. “But I have also found out something in the process. You can’t just be inspired. You have to act.”
In September, Black spoke at a large conference in Japan where several internationally known motivational speakers gave presentations. He was inspired, but felt something was missing.
“They offered a lot of hope, but I realized they didn’t talk about the importance of having a plan,” Black says. “I want to give people a plan for their hope.”
Fridrich says Black’s approach is practical.
“A lot of people do motivational speaking, but Tom believes in giving sales people something they can work with every day,” he says.
“His message is that consistent work pays off.”
But it’s not all about work in Black’s post-CEO world.
A wine connoisseur, he has a wine cellar with over 30,000 bottles, considered one of the best in the world.
He also has a charitable fund managed by The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee that specializes in helping those impacted by poverty.
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