Chuck Robbins, Cisco

Five Principles of Selling


Interpath at the Cisco SJC CPOC

I met Chuck back in 1997. He had just joined Cisco and was assigned as a new Account Manager for Interpath – a local Internet Service Provider. I was the Sales Engineer for the Interpath account.

Kathryn (the previous AM) & I had been working on a million dollar sale of dial-up access gear for months. Chuck came in as the new AM and drove the sale to close within weeks. After that I saw Chuck repeatedly close sale after sale. Undoubtedly, he is the best salesperson I’ve every known.

Over the years I’ve known Chuck, I’ve noticed a few things:

  • He’s a great sales person
  • He understands technology
  • He’s sincere & honest
  • He’s smart
  • He’s a born leader

(Update: When I asked him for the thoughts you see below, Chuck was the Senior Vice President for U.S. Enterprise, Commercial and Canada with Cisco. In 2015 Chuck became Cisco’s CEO & Chairman. From Account Manager to CEO in 18 years ... not bad.)

Five principles of selling

“As a senior executive at Cisco, every quarter I’m responsible for making sure my North American team closes thousands of sales, generates hundred-million-dollar revenues, and guarantees every customer we come in contact with is a satisfied customer. To do that, I lead a team of sales partners and sales professionals that numbers into the thousands.

What I’ve found is that the same sales skills my former colleague Doug Foster and I have used for years are just as effective now that I’m leading a team.

Here are my five principles for effective selling.

Motivate your buyer

The biggest mistake you can make is to not find out what motivates your buyer. Personally and in business, it comes down to understanding what motivates the person you are selling to and how you help them achieve success.

Paint the big picture

Most sellers miss stepping back to understand the big picture. Ultimately, your goal should be to focus on long-term needs and wants, not just today’s problems. Begin to sell like that and you differentiate yourself from the competition in a very big way. When you and your buyer plan for the big picture, you become his or her partner, not just someone trying to sell something.

Build trust and credibility

Selling is all about influencing outcomes and knowing how to do it. Whether it’s with your family, with customers, or with your own career – and it is selling – your influence is created by the degree of respect that people have for you.

Whether selling to your constituency, your boss, or your staff, a seller without trust and credibility has no chance of influencing an outcome. These character traits let you focus on building a long-term relationship, not just closing a one-time transaction.

Listen more than you talk

People like to talk, but the best sellers know when to talk and when to listen. Listen first, talk second. Listen more, talk less.

I’ve seen salespeople jump straight into telling a buyer why their product is the right answer, even before they had a good understanding of what the problem was. As a rule of thumb, give your buyers two-thirds of the air time. If you really want to get at what will motivate your buyer to buy, you need to ask them — then listen, listen, listen.

Short stories

At Cisco we use stories that talk about who we are as a company and what partnering with us means to our customers. Telling stories makes you human, particularly if you begin humbly, then close with the fact that we can do this.

In the early days, Cisco connected offices; today we connect people. We sell tools like web conferencing, video telepresence, and unified communications that help people collaborate. We also use what we sell. When you’re part of a company that walks the talk, your best stories, humbly told, will always be the ones about how you and your customers partner for success.

Some people say selling is more of an art than a science. I agree with Doug: selling is a life skill that you have to constantly develop. Watch successful sales people and learn how they operate. Read different approaches, like Doug’s, and consider their merits. Most importantly, every day that you sell, keep these five principles at the foundation of your approach.”

- Chuck Robbins