The road to sales success happens one step at a time

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Darryl Slim (my husband) and Kiowa Gordon (teen star in The Twilight Saga)

I just got back from the award ceremony for the American Indian Chamber of Commerce in Phoenix, Arizona. My husband Darryl won American Indian Small Business of the Year.

Standing on stage next to him when he accepted the award, I felt deep gratitude for the acknowledgment of his hard work from his community. And I reflected on the many lessons learned watching him work on sales in one of the most challenging economic times in our country’s history.

The context

Our daughter Angela was born in October of 2007, right before the Phoenix construction market took a huge crash. At the time, business was still booming in the Phoenix metro area, and Darryl was very busy working as a subcontractor to a large number of general contractors.

Then, in what felt like a week’s time, it all fell apart. Year-long contracts were canceled. Large development projects ground to a halt. People stopped returning calls. No one could find work anywhere.

The strategic shift

With the local construction market virtually demolished, Darryl had two options: completely re-tool his skills (he has been working with heavy equipment since he was fourteen) or find a new market.

He chose to shift his focus away from local commercial and residential projects and toward infrastructure and public building projects on the Native American reservations in Arizona.

One slow step at a time

If any of you have ever worked with Native American tribes, you know that there is an entirely different pace and process to building a business. Darryl spent the first year criss-crossing the reservation in his truck, attending chapter house meetings, visiting with elders, attending every single Native/Minority Business conference offered, and knocking on the doors of larger general contractors who wanted to do work with the reservations.

Despite meeting with hundreds of people and submitting hundreds of bids, nothing happened. For a really long time.

Search out advocates

Knowing he was in for a huge challenge, Darryl looked for help. There are many kind, generous people and organizations who provide support and assistance to small businesses. Darryl sought council from all of them, with special help from the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development, Associated Minority Contractors of America and Arizona Department of Transportation’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise.

In those organization, he found champions, people who took the time to help him fill out mountains of paperwork, who introduced him to their network of contacts, and who offered encouraging words when he felt frustrated and ready to give up.

He found great partners who were willing to teach him how to run a full-scale contracting business.


I wish I would have kept all the shoes Darryl went through in the last two years. Every pair would start off clean and sturdy, and within a couple of months would be caked with dirt and have a large hole in the bottom from walking across so many miles of reservation land.

Each day he got up, Darryl would say his morning prayers that his grandfather taught him, releasing negative energy from the previous day and welcoming in a clean, fresh start and new possibilities.

There were many, many dark days and sleepless nights for both of us. Keeping the faith in the absence of proof is one of the hardest things to do as a business owner. But it was essential.

Stop telling yourself you don’t know how to sell

Darryl admits that he hated school. He grew up speaking his first language, Diné, and never really felt comfortable in the standard school systems. He is dyslexic, so reading and writing are a slow process for him. When he graduated from high school, he never had the interest to continue in college.

But he sure knew how to run heavy equipment and manage jobs. His clients told me that he is an artist on vast expanses of dirt. He knew how to run jobs, how to get team members to work together, and how to quickly and safely get work done.

He had no idea how to sell.

By nature, he is a very quiet and introverted person.

He knew that in order to grow his business, he had to go meet with decision makers at large companies. He told me that he drove to the office of an important construction company, and spent three hours shaking with fear in his truck until he worked up the courage to walk into the office and ask for a meeting.

He was promptly rejected. The Vice President shouted to the receptionist (within earshot of Darryl) “Tell him I am busy and to come back next Winter.”

In a strange way, this empowered him. He made a goal to reach out to 20 new contacts a week, and got used to the discomfort of introducing himself to strangers.

Know the sales cycle of your market

There were many, many days when Darryl felt like giving up. He bid on numerous projects and missed selection by a few thousand dollars. He would work on a key relationship with a contractor for many months, and when  big job came up, they would award it to someone else. He got tired of driving hundreds of miles a week, sometimes sleeping at truck stops, getting stuck in the mud and in snowstorms.

Yet he could see that there was good work to be done. Roads, schools and hospitals needed be built in his own Navajo Nation. He knew he had the skills, capabilities and deep cultural understanding to be able to do the work effectively. And he really enjoyed the people he talked with, and knew that they were slowly beginning to trust him.

So he kept going, convinced that sooner or later he would be given a break.

Slowly, the business comes

Small projects began to drip in. Due to the competition in the market, many had virtually no profit margin, since everyone was underbidding just to stay alive.

With each small successful project came the opportunity to do more. Larger companies began to see the special relationship Darryl had with the tribe members, and began to approach him wanting to bring him in as a partner.

The Vice President who refused to meet with him came up eagerly at a construction conference and told Darryl he would love to do a joint venture.

“Maybe we can meet up next Winter,” Darryl said, smiled broadly, and started talking with someone else.

The lift

If you are discouraged with your own lack of sales, I hope you gain some courage and strength from Darryl’s story. I empathize so deeply with your frustration, and know it can bring you to your knees at the end of long, fruitless days.

I do not wish glacial sales cycles on anyone. May your sales come fast and furious.

But if your business is worth fighting for, if your big idea pulls at you deeply and will serve a market that needs what you have to offer, maybe you just need to keep taking one small step at a time.

Building a business is not for the faint of heart.

I am honored to have witnessed the tremendous hard work and courage displayed by my husband.

Well done Darryl!

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44 Responses to “The road to sales success happens one step at a time”

  1. […] Maintaining a sense of your own value amidst a constant stream of rejections is a huge challenge for contract workers. Slim recommends hitting the reset button each morning. Start by reminding yourself of previous successes and your bigger purpose. “That is a practice. That becomes the tipping point that separates people who survive from those who don’t,” Slim said, one that she saw illustrated through her husband, who spent two years working through rejection. […]

  2. […] finally, one of the more heartwarming success stories I’ve heard since the world economy crashed down around us, starring Darryl Slim, husband of my beloved pal, […]

  3. Ngee Key says:

    This is truly an inspiring story about your husband Darryl.
    The journey might seem very challenging and is normal for people to quit if they do not have the perseverance and a goal in mind.

    Your sharing shows that if there is a will, there is a way. It’s about our determination and attitude that differentiates between failures and successors.

    Thanks for such a powerful story about achieving our set goals. The zealousness of your hubby proves to overcome all the odds.

    Great couple, both of u… learned so many valuable lessons from you all.

  4. I find my self drawn by two observations.

    Your faith in your husband.

    Your husband’s faith as evidenced by his humility to get on his knees in the morning and ask a power greater than himself for guidance.

  5. Seanna Bergin says:

    Thank you for whowing me what real determination looks like. You are inspirational and I wish you all the best with your endeavors. May you continue to inspire more people!

    Seanna Bergin

  6. Congratulations Darryl (and in my best Dinenglish “Goot won!”)
    And congrats to you Pam for distilling all of that frustration and hardship into a beautifully written lesson for us all. You’re both touching so many lives and inspiring us to keep on despite the challenges.


  7. Ned Rios says:

    Dear Pam
    I always know when I feel down and out that I can go to your website for some direction, support and encouragement…I just saw the article you wrote on your husband and a few things popped out for me: ” Building a business is not for the faint of heart and keeping the faith in the absence of proof is one of the hardest things to do as a business owner. ”

    I feel like I have been in a place of confusion due to whether or not to continue my coaching business or begin looking for full time work to help my family financially.
    I haven’t really arrived with answers but reading the article helps me realize that I’m not alone.

    And that things are possible even when you can’t see anything concrete.

    I thank you dearly for writing a great post and sharing the story. Ned

  8. Samuel says:

    Awesome post! Yeah, an inspiring post. I’m glad he stayed faithful to the process. Great job Daryl. Thanks for sharing. Have fun.

  9. Daryl Gerke says:

    What a great story, particularly in these times! Bravo, Darryl.

    By the way, it occurred to me that your Darryl and this Daryl share something very special (in addition to our names.) We both have spouses that are always there to cheer us on and support us (and in my case, to also provide gentle prodding as needed…) My success over the years also belongs to Mary. So, hearty CONTRATULATIONS to the BOTH of you!

    Best wishes in 2011. And nice seeing you again at the book signing.
    Another Daryl in Mesa

  10. Thanks for sharing that wonderful personal story, Pam. As entrepreneurs, we all need to remind ourselves, especially during the toughest times, to keep moving forward. A great quote: “Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” – Calvin Coolidge

  11. This article is exactly what I needed to read and exactly when I needed it…..Synchronicity, undoubtably!!! I can sooooo relate to his experience. Congratulations to Daryll and his success, congratulations to your whole family. Thanks for sharing!

  12. […] You want to do that, because that’s where you need to be for your investment to be worthwhile.The road to sales success happens one step at a time by Pamela Slim on Escape from Cubicle NationQuote: …if your business is worth fighting for, if your big idea pulls at you deeply and will […]

  13. Lisa Guida says:

    Thanks so much for sharing Darryl’s incredible persistance. I especially like the reality of wearing out so many pairs of shoes. Hearing about it helps me to know that the shoes I’ve worn out will also pay off. Contunious small steps can lead to amazing things.

  14. Jen Trulson says:

    Having met both of you I smile.

  15. Lyndon Baugh says:

    It is always a pleasure reading something about Darryl — I first discovered you in the 2007 Pursue the Passion tour entry which described Darryl as “possibly the most compassionate man I’ve ever met.”

    As someone who is quiet and introverted by nature, I especially appreciate Darryl’s persistence and (quietly) applaud.

    Thank you both.


  16. Melanie Marx says:

    Thank you so much for posting this, Pam. I am filled with admiration for Darryl and you both. Your sharing is inspiring, empowering and deeply reassuring. I am basking in the incredible power of this story, letting it inform me on many levels.

    Yahoo, Darryl!

    Again deepest gratitude!

  17. Susan says:

    Congratulations to Darryl and to Pam, for sharing such tremendous inspiration.

    There are so many take-aways from this piece I won’t try to count them — I’ll just be referring back to them to push me on on those toughest of days!

    Awesome, awesome, awesome.

  18. Thanks for the encouragement Pam! It is frustrating to be working years on a project and still not receive any financial benefit from it all. You have to find value in the experience though, and just keep pushing forward, keep adapting, and be confident that things will being to work out.

  19. Pam and Darryl thank you for sharing such a personal journey that is so inspiring and empowering.

    This line stuck with me “Keeping the faith in the absence of proof is one of the hardest things to do as a business owner.” I used to tell my athletes that “you must believe to achieve.” And this year I had my own tests of keeping the faith instead of a sure thing.

    Congratulations Darryl and keep on persisting!

  20. What an amazing story Pam. We are all more alike then we often realize. From the outside success often looks easier than it is – thanks for sharing the important lessons that can be applied any of our businesses.

    A big congratulations to Darryl’s tenacity. I hope you are both celebrating in appropriate Navajo style.

  21. What an amazing story Pam. We are all more alike then we often realize. From the outside success often looks easier than it is – thanks for sharing the important lesson’s to can be applied to any of our businesses.

    A big congratulations to Darryl’s tenacity. I hope you are both celebrating in appropriate Navajo style.

  22. You and Darryl are such and inspiration–working through the hard times and demonstrating what it means to persevere even in the toughest of circumstances.

    All my love to you!

    You were someone who helped reinforce in me that some days it would be hard to create my dream–even crappy and scary–but to not let the fact it wasn’t going perfectly mean that it wasn’t happening. Thank you.

  23. Deb Droz says:

    Pam, congratulations to Darryl and to you. What an amazing team you are! The love comes shining through this very inspirational story. Your kids are so lucky. 🙂
    Blessings and Love to you both. Well done, Darryl!

  24. Matthew Ray Scott says:

    Loved this post. So uplifting. Take care my friend.

  25. Jen says:

    Very inspiring – thank you, and good luck to your husband and you.

  26. Diane Hunter says:

    Beautiful story, Pam of believing before seeing and on small step at a time. I so feel the love and admiration you have for your courageous, dear husband. Thank you for sharing.

  27. Great story, and I can really relate: my partner Scott is a toy inventor and runs a commercial tiling business. He’s always throwing stuff at walls and seeing what will hit — and he too grew up with dyslexia and can’t stand to write or read things — and he’s no natural salesperson, either.
    HOWEVER persistence is one of his quieter traits. One of his many toy inventions finally hit, and he’s kept his commercial tiling company well afloat across the recession by lowering his bids and competing fiercely just like everyone else. Some jobs were a wash.

    What’s even better about your story is that you are reporting on a native american business-person testing his trade in a new stomping ground — Navajo nation. I wish I could hear more stories like these.

    Great story,

  28. Congratulations to you and your husband. He’s clearly as remarkable as you are. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us & reminding us of the importance of following our instincts, standing by our principles and taking just one more step – even when we don’t think we can.

    Bless you both!

  29. I LOVE the “Maybe we can meet up next Winter” bit.

  30. Chris Horner says:

    Very inspiring! There are so many days when you can start to think “Why bother?” and may get frustrated at others seeming “instant success” but that’s when you especially have to keep pushing forward. Gotta be honest – that’s how I’ve personally been feeling these days even I know deep down there will be a payoff.

    Thanks for sharing this personal family story.

  31. 100% pure awesome. There’s so much goodness + beautifulness here. Thanks for sharing this Pam.

    And huge congratulations to Darryl! Right on!

  32. bahiehk says:

    Dear Darryl (and Pam)!!

    This is amazing. Every small step counts.

    I bow my hat down to you for not having given up, for having pushed through the dark days and sleepless nights. For having held on to hope.

    Many blessings to you both,


  33. Naomi Niles says:

    Aww, this makes me smile. Big time. Thank you (and Darryl!) for sharing his story.

    Some things really are worth fighting for.

  34. Congratulations and well done to you both!

  35. David says:

    It’s exactly these kinds of stories that keep me going.

    I think the amount of success we have is directly related to the size of the holes in our shoes.

    Rock on, Darryl. Congratulations!

  36. Susan Hyatt says:

    Fist pump in Darryl’s honor! Awesome post.

  37. April Holle says:

    Nice to see some great news! I’m in my own dry spell with my business and it’s very inspirational to hear a story like this about taking it one day at a time and continuing to persist! 🙂

  38. Michael says:

    That is so AWESOME! Darryl – bravo. Clearly you’re already a very smart man for having married Pam. And now this – big congrats

  39. Hiro Boga says:

    Well done, Darryl! And Pam–this is such a beautiful love letter to your husband, his courage, determination, commitment and strength. Many blessings to you both.

  40. Lianne says:

    So heart-filling. So glad for your family and for all of us that he stuck with it. As a person with First Nation heritage myself, it means a lot to me that the work being done in the community is involving a talented member of that community. So wonderful – give Daryl a big thank you hug for all his hard work and another one in congratulations on his well deserved award.

    Thank you for sharing this story, Pam.

  41. Rachael says:

    Well done. So very well done.