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Honoring Zig Ziglar, master of positive attitude

Zig Ziglar, the iconic motivational speaker of our time, passed away Nov. 28. In his honor, I am updating and annotating an article I wrote in 1992 after I had the privilege to meet him for the first time and interview him.

An icon has died, but his message will live on forever.

“I almost failed as a salesman,” Zig Ziglar said as he stood beside me an hour before delivering his motivational message to 2,700 Ziglar disciples. “I had struggled for two and a half years. I was on a losing streak, but I never saw myself as a loser.”

What verbal poetry. I was standing with the best motivational speaker of our time.

“I still had the fear of rejection,” Ziglar said. “I didn’t understand that prospects weren’t rejecting me; they were only rejecting the offer I was making them.”

Sales wisdom of the first order.

If every salesperson could grasp that philosophy, problems like cold call reluctance and fear of closing would evaporate.

“If it wasn’t for some words of encouragement from my company president, P.C. Merrell, I would have probably found another job,” Ziglar said. “Merrell said, ‘Ziglar, you have real ability. You’re champion caliber; I’m looking at you as a future officer of this company.’ Those words inspired me to become the No. 2 salesman in a company of 7,000 in one year.”

He said of his mentors, “Bill Cranford (the man credited with training Ziglar) got the salesman ready. P.C. Merrell got the man ready.”

That was a long time ago. It’s hard to count the years or the millions of dollars earned since then by this legendary salesman and speaker.

It’s Tuesday, and today he will deliver an inspirational message to a Charlotte audience he has delivered to 300 times before. He told me he had rehearsed in his room last night for three hours. Talk about practice what you preach.

Ziglar is a classic example of focus, dedication and self-discipline.

Ziglar has been a sales and speaking inspiration to me for two decades. Now I’m standing next to him as he greets every one of the 125 VIP breakfast attendees as though he or she were a long-lost relative.

“Hi, I’m Zig Ziglar. Glad you could join us this morning,” he said to each person as he shook their hand.

People brought books to autograph and cameras to take photos, and all had something nice to say about this man who walks and talks with grace.

Now we’re live on stage. Ziglar has the entire audience in the palm of his hand. Bouncing across the stage, down on one knee, arms expressing the words he wants to punch, all in total control. A master of the spoken word.

There were close to 100 ideas I took away from Ziglar’s presentation — wisdom like:

• You can get whatever you want, if you help enough people get whatever they want.

• You were born to win, but you must plan to win, prepare to win, then you can expect to win.

• I wasn’t born in Dallas, but I got there as quick as I could.

• It’s not where you start, it’s where you go.

• Money: You like the things it can buy, but you love the things it can’t buy.

• We hear or say the word "no" more than 116,000 times in our lifetime.

• The health club is packed the first few weeks in January from people making New Year’s resolutions, but the crowd thins out in less than 30 days.

I left the hall feeling inspired, motivated and ready to conquer the world. So did everyone.

When someone who you admire dies, you immediately recall what they did for you, or how they impacted you, or both. I was fortunate to have met with Ziglar many times, see him speak many times, and got to talk with him “off the record.” He was a man of character. He was a man of faith. And he was a man who helped millions of other men and women, including me. Like Napoleon Hill and Dale Carnegie, Ziglar and his message of hope, faith and encouragement will live on for generations.

My favorite image of Ziglar was one morning several years ago on "The Today Show." Ziglar was on to promote his book and was the last guest. The interviewer sort of talked to him as a sideshow attraction — a salesman and motivational speaker. At the end of the interview (literally the end of the show), Tom Brokaw said, “We’ve got 30 seconds left, Zig. Sell me some insurance.” Ziglar went into a 25-second pitch that was creative and sharp. Brokaw was somewhat impressed, but turned to the audience and said triumphantly, “See, I didn’t say yes.” Ziglar instantly snapped back, “Yes, but you didn’t say no,” and they went off the air.

Positive attitude is not hearing no.

Ziglar was the master. He will live on.


Gitomer is the author of "The Sales Bible" and "The Little Red Book of Selling." President of Charlotte-based Buy Gitomer, he gives seminars, runs annual sales meetings, and conducts Internet training programs on selling and customer service at trainone.com. He can be reached at salesman@gitomer.com.

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