Looking at a couple photos of me in a suit at three or four years old, my uncle predicted my destiny: “Randy Kenworthy is going to be either a salesman or a politician.”
I ended up succeeding in business as a salesman.
I was the child of working-class parents. My father was a machinist, and my mother was a bank teller. Even at ten years old, I understood that I could make money by finding a need and filling it. I mowed lawns in summer, shoveled snow in winter, and got up at the crack of dawn to deliver papers.
When I was sixteen, I wanted a car, and I knew a job was the quickest path to my goal. I went to work at McDonald’s. My father paid fifty bucks for a 1963 Comet Supersport, a real junker, and I used my Mickie D’s money (with a little financial assistance from my grandfather), to get it running.
I became a manager by eighteen. I went on to college hoping to play basketball, but I had an accident on the court that broke every bone in the right side of my face and tore the retina in my right eye. Unable to play ball or read for more than ten minutes at a time without significant fatigue and headaches, I had to take a break from school. That’s when I went into sales.
It wasn’t an auspicious start.
I took an aptitude test at Sears and tested high in sales and management skills, so a woman in the human resources department hired me to sell shoes. It sounded like one of the worst jobs on the planet—selling, touching peoples’ feet, rummaging through boxes, selling—so I didn’t show up for the final interview. I didn’t call—I just didn’t show up.
I was staying with my aunt at the time and her phone number was on my application. The woman who hired me called my aunt and said, “You’ve got to get him in here because he has a chance to be something.”
How to Succeed In Business
My aunt convinced me that sometimes things you don’t want to do can be stepping stones to better things. So, I went to work for Sears where I discovered that selling shoes wasn’t as miserable as I thought it would be. I earned nine-percent commission, and it didn’t take me long to figure out that the harder I worked, the more money I made. I became the top salesperson in my division. That’s where I also learned the first of many lessons about succeeding in business as a salesperson: If you want to make more sales, you must qualify people out.
You only have so much time in any given business day to talk to clients and close sales. It’s important to learn as quickly as possible that not all customers are created equal. Not everyone wants to buy, so you must ask the right questions to figure out who’s interested in buying what you’re offering, and (more importantly) who isn’t. For example: What are you buying shoes for? What do you want out of the shoe? What is the most important quality to you in a shoe?
It took me about two weeks to figure out that even though the guy in $150 work boots might not look as spiffy as the wealthy-looking woman in the heels faced with tons of choices, he was going to take less of my time and he was going to buy.
I determined my target market at Sears was the Craftsman user, you know, the guy who makes his living with his hands. My father was a machinist, my grandfather was an amazing mechanic who could literally fix anything, so I really understood this market. I learned everything I could about work boots, and focused almost exclusively on the Craftsman man!
At the time, I had no idea I was creating an ideal customer profile or segmenting a market, or matching needs to feature and function, or thoughtfully qualifying-out women looking at high heel dress shoes. I just knew that in the three to four hours I had each day on the floor to sell, I could move more pairs of $150 work boots to Craftsman men than women looking at dress shoes.
Soon I moved on to selling appliances where I perfected my skills at qualifying buyers by determining what they wanted and why; whether they were just gathering information or were ready to buy; what would motivate them to buy; and whether they were the person with the authority to make the purchase.
After appliances, I spent five years selling personal computers at the dawn of that industry and became one of Sears’ top three salespeople in the country. During that time, I developed another habit that I highly recommend. Then and now, I read every quality book I lay my hands on covering the subjects of sales, negotiation, communication, presentation skills, and entrepreneurism.
From reading, I discovered that the biggest mistake salespeople make is not asking for the sale. The second biggest mistake is, if they do ask for the sale, they don’t shut up.
I was just young and cocky enough to not fall into either of those two traps. I didn’t worry about what people thought of me, so I didn’t fear asking for the sale. I didn’t want to waste time trying to sell to people who weren’t interested, so once I asked for a sale I shut up.
I was making $60,000 a year, but money alone wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to be excited, to be part of something big, to be inspired. When I left Sears to become an entrepreneur, it wasn’t money that attracted me as much as it was opportunity. When I followed opportunities, the money followed.
At twenty-seven, I knew I had what it took to come up with a sure-fire training program for computer sales personnel, so I co-founded ConX Corporation. There I custom developed two advanced training courses to train 7,000 sales and sales management personnel at such major companies as Apple, Hewlett Packard, Computerland, Compaq Computer, and Sears Business Centers. ConX was named to the Dallas 100 (top 100 fastest growing companies) for two consecutive years, before being acquired by a large third-party support and services company in Florida. Yet ConX almost didn’t make it out of the starting gate, thanks to what I didn’t know. I’ll be sharing that story in an upcoming blog.
After the sale of ConX, I went on to become CEO, president, or vice president of sales or marketing at several tech startups. At Customer Insight Company, a database marketing software and services provider, I led the sales staff to triple revenues in three years, to more than $100 million. At that point, the company was acquired by Experian and Great Universal Stores.
At Service Metrics, an Internet performance measurement firm, my sales team booked one million dollars in my second month, though the company had realized only $200,000 in revenues the previous thirteen months. Service Metrics sold for $285 million.
I’ve raised a billion dollars of venture financing during my career, including $23 million in venture capital as CEO of Deuxo, Inc. during the 9/11 crisis. In 2006, I partnered with a mentor and friend to found a private equity firm to provide access to alternative investments for high-net-worth individuals and families. That opportunity led to me venturing on my own to provided high-net-worth individuals access to alternative investments in the domestic energy production space. The company is now expanding into an exciting new sector called Energy Spectrum Investing, which includes traditional oil and gas development, waste-to-energy, and software, Artificial Intelligence (AI), and production enhancement technology.
Today, I’m excited to share more of my story and sales methods on my executive leadership blog. By sharing what I’ve learned across nearly 40 years as a successful entrepreneur, I hope to help mold a new generation of leaders.
You won’t always get a second chance to do the right thing, but when you do, take it.
Time is a salesperson’s worst enemy.
Ask for the order…then shut up!
Be excited, be inspired.
Selling people on your dream is, by extension, selling people on you.