The Sales Wisdom of Tony Hsieh

“Tony Hsieh”, by Nan Palmero, licensed under CC BY 2.0

The tragic and sudden death of Tony Hsieh, the visionary tech entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and cofounder of on-line retailer Zappos, was a shock to the business world. Here in Las Vegas, home to Zappos and their more than 1,500 employees, the loss has been particularly devastating. Since moving to Las Vegas from San Francisco in 2004, Zappos has been an integral part of the community, and their 2013 move into the old City Hall building, in the historic downtown district, was the centerpiece of the area’s much-heralded revitalization. Though he sold the company to Amazon in 2009 and stepped down as CEO in August 2020, the Harvard-educated Hsieh will be remembered for the family culture he envisioned and exemplified. In honor of his legacy, here are a handful of Tony’s business quotes we think sales professionals, managers, and organizations should remember to achieve success:

“Customer service shouldn’t be a department. It should be the entire company.”

This should be the mantra written over the entrance of every sales organization. From your most junior reps to those in the C-suite, everyone in a sales organization needs to treat customers as a priority. In sales, building relationships is essential. Every sales rep should know that a one-time deal is never the goal. Sales professionals should gauge their success not only by the number of deals they close but, also, in the happiness of their clients. More than opportunities to upsell and cross sell, solid relationships and satisfied customers are key to sustained growth, for your reps and the organization.

“For me, the most fun is change or growth. There are definitely elements of both that I like. Launching a business is kind of like a motorboat. You can go very quickly and turn fast.”

True, it’s not every day one launches a multi-million-dollar tech company, but for many sales organizations, change is something to be feared. They live by the adage, “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.” Here, Tony Hsieh’s wisdom sees change as part of the fun. Indeed, as sales organizations and reps scrambled to adjust to virtual selling, an aspect that was often not seen as a priority is how much fun it was to try new things. For many sales reps, creating an effective virtual stage was exciting, and learning to engage customers on video allowed them to be creative in ways they never imagined. Sure, change came quick, and required a steep turn, but admit it. Like Tony’s motorboat analogy, it was kind of exhilarating.

“For individuals, character is destiny. For organizations, culture is destiny.”

In sales, one’s character can be their defining trait. More than anything else, clients want to deal with people they trust. Just as sales pros must prove themselves trusted advisors, the culture of an organization is paramount to success. After all, an organization’s culture is the accumulated character of its employees. At Zappos, Hsieh and his employees worked every day on their ten core values: to deliver wow through service, embrace change, have fun, be adventurous, pursue growth, build relationships, create a team spirit, do more with less, be passionate, and, finally, be humble. How many does your sales team achieve?

“It’s more important that we make an emotional connection with the customer.”

For salespeople, forming an emotional connection is vital. As deals get increasingly complex, they are comprised of many moving pieces. Any number of things can derail a sale. However, those sales pros who bond with prospects or clients position themselves to be more than just sellers. No matter what happens in the deal, the connection will be remembered. Let’s face it. It’s easy to be an order taker. Effective sales pros build trust to guide a client through the sales process and provide solutions to problems they didn’t know they have. Sales pros who master this do much more than just sell products.

“The best leaders are servant leaders. They serve those they lead.”

To inspire loyalty, leaders must prove they serve the needs of their people. Whether leading sales reps, clients, or an entire business, leaders whose actions satisfy their own needs or the needs of a select few invariably lose their power through defection, attrition, or lack of respect. Sales reps need to know managers value their contributions and provide the tools they need to be successful. This is often labeled sales enablement and encompasses coaching, training, compensation, etc. For clients, it is the unwavering belief that their sales rep and the organization they represent has their back like a true partner. From countless stories of local Las Vegans who knew and worked with Tony, he lived this every day, building up and bettering the lives of his employees, customers, and the Las Vegas community.

One thing about revolutionary business leaders is, in addition to the products and services they gift the world, they also usher in changes to the culture. To the list of Walt Disney’s movies and theme parks and Elon Musk’s vision that electric cars can be seductive, we must include Tony Hsieh and his dedication to community and an unrivalled customer experience. For each, much will be written about their success, wealth, and even personal failings, but none of that should tarnish the legacies of these titans of industry, and may their achievements continue to inspire the next generation of innovators to do more. On behalf of Janek Performance Group, we thank Tony Hsieh for his unique contributions to our Las Vegas community and the reminder than successful selling is more than mere numbers on our bottom lines.

Photo attribution: “Tony Hsieh”, by Nan Palmero, licensed under CC BY 2.0