At the beginning of the 1994 movie Clear and Present Danger, the US Coast Guard has captured a couple of Colombian drug dealers who’ve commandeered a luxury yacht in the Caribbean and murdered the family on board. It turns out the yacht owner is a close friend of the President of the United States, so the CIA is brought in to investigate, and Jack Ryan is put in charge of the case.
As the investigation begins, Ryan is laying out the details for the assembled security heads and advisers. “What are you seeing here,” one of the advisers asks, “a hit on a respectable business man and his family?” Ryan casts a penetrating glance and replies, “You’re assuming he’s respectable.”
If you’re not familiar with the movies inspired by the Tom Clancy novels, Jack Ryan is a former marine war hero and young CIA analyst whose know-how, allegiance to the greater good, and penchant for making connections that uncover the bad guys’ plots save thousands of lives and win everyone’s admiration. His ability to see beyond the obvious is just one of the qualities that make him such a compelling hero.
Those qualities also place him firmly in the field of great sales champions. Not only is Ryan courageous, savvy and dedicated, he’s also masterful when it comes to winning friends and influencing people.
We appreciate heroes like Jack Ryan because they inspire us to recognize our own heroic qualities and train further in bringing them forward.
No doubt that everyone reading this is more involved with making cold calls and winning new accounts than in fighting cold wars and defeating terrorists. But the skills that bring success in business and sales are the same qualities that bring Jack Ryan his own triumphs.
Sales champions are good at understanding what others think and feel. That attunement gives them the ability to communicate with real power and effectiveness.
When the advisors tell the President to sidestep questions from the press about his relationship with the murdered yacht owner, Ryan suggests he go in the opposite direction because being evasive will only draw them on: “Tell them you were lifelong friends.” And indeed, Ryan’s social intelligence and good advice lets the President avoid that potential cloud of suspicion.
Jack’s mind is open to anything, so he often sees connections that others miss. He’s good at figuring out people’s motives. In sales as well as tradecraft, you need to get behind the reasons people make decisions.
In The Hunt for Red October, Ryan has an aha moment when he realizes that Sean Connery’s character, a Russian admiral, is planning to defect to the US, not torpedo us, when he realizes it’s the exact anniversary date of Connery’s wife’s death 23 years earlier. That sudden epiphany alters the course of the whole story.
Ryan is always observing and learning. As an analyst, he investigates people and places. He learns the history behind current events. He learns what’s happened in the past and how that’s contributed to the way things are now. He knows people’s habits, standard operating procedures, and he gets to their emotional drives, strengths, and weak spots.
Sales champions also understand the value of doing their homework and learning about the companies and people they interact with and sell to.
Learning who everyone is and who they report to before a sales meeting lets sales people focus on the key decision makers. Understanding the issues and values — cost, efficiency, flexibility, timeliness, etc. — that drive buying decisions, gives sales champions the perspective they need to be on point in winning accounts.
There’s plenty more than these three qualities that contributes to Jack Ryan’s extraordinary analyst/field op persona. And your sales tradecraft doesn’t need to stop there either.
Drive, resilience, passion, and enthusiasm are all part of the mix. So are self-discipline, strategic planning, and a sense of purpose. The more we notice and appreciate qualities like these in our mentors and heroes, the better we can see them in ourselves and continue to bring them forth.