Welcome to yet another episode for the Best Sellers in History series. For this episode, we are featuring one of the most influential individuals in our century. She isn’t only known among the African-American community. Her fame reaches worldwide and this individual is now worth over $3.5 billion. She started from nothing but didn’t let that stop her as she overcame obstacles all the way to success and influence. She is Oprah Winfrey
Sales Spotlight – Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey was born on January 29th, 1954 and her parents are Vernita Lee and Vernon Winfrey. She grew up in a humble community where she was raised by her grandmother on a farm. Oprah entertained herself by playing and acting in front of an imaginary audience. She had her first speaking gig in front of the congregation at church, where she spoke about Jesus and how he rose up from the dead on Easter Sunday. It was the beginning of her knowledge that this was something she could do.
She’d listen when sisters in the congregation would tell her grandmother how talented and gifted Oprah was. Oprah heard it over and over again and she eventually believed it. Her grandmother was strict and forced her to learn how to read by the time she was three. When she was in kindergarten, she wrote a letter to her teacher telling her why she deserved to be in the first grade. She eventually skipped another grade in third grade when she had to move to Milwaukee with her mother.
Growing up in a difficult environment
It was difficult as they lived in some poor and dangerous circumstances; however, being Oprah, she didn’t focus on the negative things. She kept moving, living, and enjoying life. When she turned 12, she moved to Nashville, Tennessee to live with her father. She began writing speeches for social gatherings and churches. At one point, she earned $500 for a speech! It was then Oprah knew that she wanted to become an orator and get paid for speaking. Unfortunately, she had to go back to her mother’s home and the dire circumstances strained the mind of young Oprah. She became disobedient and problematic.
At 9, Oprah was being sexually assaulted by men she knew, even family. This eventually led to early pregnancy and losing a baby. She was around 14 years of age when she was sent back home to her father.
Having structure and expectation
Oprah’s father was very different from her mom. With her father, Oprah was given structure and the expectation that she would not perform below what she was capable of. She became an excellent student and participated in several school activities. Her track record helped her get a scholarship to Tennessee State University. She was invited to the White House the following year for a youth conference.
Oprah would also be crowned Miss Fire Prevention by a local Nashville radio station, WVOL. She didn’t think she’d win because there were other girls that looked more like “typical” pageant girls. At one point, they were asked a question about what they would do if they received $1 million. Oprah’s answer was authentic and from the heart and the judges took notice.
Oprah then went on to study journalism and worked for some radio stations. People liked her so she was then brought over to do television and eventually had her own talk show. Through all these experiences, Oprah Winfrey is the woman she is today.
Oprah Winfrey was successful because of five key elements:
- Relatable and knowing how to build relationships
- Creativity and willingness to act in difficult circumstances
- Hard worker
- Thinking big and pushing herself
- Being selfless
Relatable and knew how to build relationships
When Oprah first got into the industry, she wanted to be like Barbara Walters. Oprah would imitate Barbara and wanted to be as great at her job. It would take practice. In one situation, she was reporting a story and reading from a script. Oprah was reading the names of places and read Canada as “kah-nay-da.”. On air, she acknowledged her mistake and corrected herself. Oprah was told not to talk about her mistakes on air but Oprah did the opposite. She made fun of herself and made herself vulnerable. Oprah knew that she couldn’t be perfect and there was no point in trying to pretend she was. She wanted to be real with her audience.
Oprah was also empathetic to the people she was asked to interview and chose not to pressure people who were going through a difficult time. Producers were upset because she wasn’t interviewing people like other reporters. She would see them in their humanity, grieving over the loss of a family member or how they’d their homes in a fire.
Oprah also didn’t have a fear of embarrassment. Because she didn’t have that fear, she was able to do what she needed to do. She was comfortable with being vulnerable and it made her easy to connect to. People could relate to her and that encouraged people to listen to her and to talk to her.
When her story of abuse was released by a family member, Oprah used it. Instead of being embarrassed, Oprah leaned into the story, and it made Oprah even more human. People felt like they knew her on a personal level. She wasn’t just a TV host, she was Oprah, a person like them, and she had troubles too.
As a sales rep, it’s impossible to be perfect in everything you say and do. Making mistakes is part of the process and when you do, some buyers may not want to work with you anymore. Or, it may be the very thing that draws them to you. Being honest about a mistake is going to be infinitely better than trying to fake an answer. Your buyers will know you don’t have their best interest at heart. You’ll lose their trust and their confidence that they are safe in your hands. Be honest and be vulnerable. Be okay saying you don’t know the answer and then be quick to do the research. People need to see that you are a human being but still ready to work hard. Connect with them on a personal level.
Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. People will never forget how you made them feel.”
Be creative and be willing to act
At one point in her career, Oprah was demoted. She was removed from her position of being in the main anchor position and was given a five-minute slot during the early morning show at 5:30, not a popular time for their viewers. Instead of resigning herself to a tough situation, Oprah took the position and dove in headfirst. The segment was a cooking show and while she didn’t have a particular interest in cooking, she was creative. She brought in awesome guests and made something amazing out of a slot that had been previously considered a dead end.
Oprah didn’t sit back and complain. Instead, she took action and turned things around. This can be used in B2B applications. You may be in a position where you need to sell in a difficult territory and it’s not as fruitful as the top territories in your organization. Maybe you’ve inherited a team that doesn’t perform well. You may have been given a situation that has been historically difficult but this is a situation that can present some great opportunities for creative thinking!
The current situation may not be difficult in its own right. It could just be that previous employees or managers didn’t have the imagination to make it work. You could break that trend! Just like Oprah, you need to take action and be proactive.
Oprah worked hard but she wasn’t an overnight success. She didn’t start speaking in her teenage years or her college years, she started speaking when she was two. Oprah started speaking at a very early age with farm animals as her audience. She read books, memorized poems, and started to share them. Oprah worked and she hustled.
She exemplified hustle when she went to all the churches in Nashville and offered to give sermons she’d memorized. This served her when she was working on a set and could pick up a script and read it right away without having the need to study it.
Sales representatives need to have the same mentality. You need to master speaking and articulating your message. There’s no need to be flawless and perfect but you need to be able to speak with confidence. Master the principles beforehand, know how to ask effective questions, master how to listen, do the research, polish your look, and more. Anything to keep you at the top of your game, do it.
Think big and push yourself
As a kid, Oprah wanted to become an actress but she ended up in journalism. When Oprah talked to someone close to her and shared she wanted to be an actress, that if she’d really wanted to be an actress, she’d already been an actress. She had become a journalist. Oprah was told to have a vision for being an actress and start doing things that would lead her towards her goal of becoming an actress.
Oprah eventually became an actress and debuted in the film, The Color Purple. She’d previously read the book and started to share it with everyone. Oprah related to the story and became her character in the book, long before she got the part. She already felt like it was hers before she was asked. Eventually, she was asked to be in the film and won Best Actress in a Supporting Role.
Oprah began her own TV show, bought the rights, and created her own production company. Still, that wasn’t enough. Oprah thought bigger and said she wanted to create her own brand, start a book club, and more. When she wanted to retire from doing TV shows she created her own network. It started rough but eventually pulled it off. Because she was willing to push herself and didn’t become complacent, she’s now valued at $3.5 billion.
Speak and act
As a sales representative, you need to speak and act. Some say they want to be the top sales rep but they aren’t doing the things to close the big deals. These are the complacent sellers. If you want to play bigger, start with a morning routine, have a vision, and act accordingly.
Sales representatives need to have big dreams, push themselves, and get outside their comfort zone.
Oprah is famous for being selfless. She’s helped a lot of people and has given away millions of dollars. She even founded a school and organization for young girls in South Africa who have lived in very difficult situations.
Last year, Oprah went to Tyler Perry’s studio celebration and stopped by Morehouse College to donate $13 million for the Oprah Winfrey scholarship program she helped create back in 1989. There have been about 600 students helped by the program.
Sales representatives may sometimes feel the need to give things, with strings attached, in order to get ahead. You can also choose to act selflessly and do things without asking for anything in return. When you do, you’ll notice doors start to open you didn’t know were there. You could even see your referrals increasing and your customer base start to widen.
Bob Burg has a book that discusses the concept of an endless giving mentality called Go-Giver. The book talks about giving and being selfless. Be like Bob Burg and look for ways to be a Go-Giver.
The Best Sellers in History Series 10 – “Oprah Winfrey” episode resources
Oprah Winfrey became a successful woman because of these five things: she’s relatable, creative and willing to act in difficult circumstances, she works hard, she thinks big and pushes herself, and she is selfless.
Sales reps like you can be successful too by imitating the good example set by Oprah Winfrey.
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