By Tom Reilly

While talking to my publisher at McGraw-Hill about Value-Added Selling, he said, “Tom, what we really like about Value-Added Selling is that it is an evergreen topic.” This is a publisher’s way of saying that the book has a viable shelf life. I’ve thought about that a lot over the years and what it means to advocate for a timeless philosophy.

On a practical level, my roots in selling reach deep into commodity products. We had to sell more than price or a generic product. We had to sell value—the total impact of a relationship with our company. It made sense, but, I knew at the time that there was something deeper at work.

Before becoming a professional speaker and author, I encountered a simple concept that would help synthesize my business philosophy. Wesley Henderson wrote a story about his father, Nelson Henderson, the son of Irish immigrants who landed in Canada during the great famine in Ireland. In this book, he shared something his father said to him on Wesley’s graduation day, “The true meaning of life, Wesley, is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”

That quote resonated with me. It stuck. It guided my efforts. It became a mantra and a mandate: I must plant shade trees under which I will not sit. It helped me to formulate a philosophy of giving, not just receiving. This idea was fundamental to my thinking when I conceived of Value-Added Selling as a philosophy and a sales model.

I directed my focus to creating something of value for others. With customers, this meant that I should spend more time thinking about what’s in it for them and less time thinking about what’s in it for me. Coming from the commodity chemical business, that was a revelation. As a rookie salesman, I was trained to get the order at any cost; we practiced the ABC’s of selling—always be closing. I never felt good about that philosophy because it was too me-oriented.

Planting a shade tree under which I would never sit meant that I had to challenge myself to define success in business in broader terms than closing a sale. If I truly believed in planting shades trees under which I would not sit, I had to quit thinking about myself and begin thinking in terms bigger than me and bigger than a sale. It was humbling and necessary.

After stumbling and experimenting with this notion, Value-Added Selling began to take shape. I shared this message with others and they liked it. They liked it so much that they wanted more of it. In 1984, I decided to put these ideas on paper, and that resulted in the first edition of the book, Value-Added Selling Techniques. Since then, I have had the privilege of sharing this content-rich message of hope with a global audience.

I was thrilled when my son Paul joined us five years ago as an advocate for Value-Added Selling. He brought a wealth of sales experience and quickly became a specialist in Value-Added Selling. He had been doing it all along; he grew up with it. For him, it was natural.

Little did I realize that in 1984, my young son would one day help me take this philosophy to a new level. This year, Paul co-authored with me the fourth edition of Value-Added Selling. I am grateful to McGraw-Hill for their passion for the message and their faith in the messengers.

For me, it seems that this tree is casting a long shadow. For you, please consider how your solution creates value for customers and enthusiastically share that message with them. You, too, can plant trees under whose shade you will never sit.

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