“I have not yet begun to fight!” | What Did John Paul Jones Have in Common with Today’s Elite Sales Pros?

John Paul Jones house, Portsmouth, NH

John Paul Jones house, Portsmouth, NH

In a former role at a start-up, I worked closely with the Sales team, feeding them leads we generated from our marketing efforts.

Up close, I got to see the anxiety over cold calls, the agony of rejection, but also the exhilaration of landing a big deal after a long sales cycle. I don’t pretend to know how they do their job, but I did learn a lot about what separates elite sales professionals who keep driving away at a goal, from those that barely make quota.

In Portsmouth, NH, on a recent weekend, we came across the “John Paul Jones House” on Middle St., where the famous Revolutionary Naval War hero lived between 1777 and 1782.

John Paul Jones is most famous for NOT giving up, even as his own ship, the U.S.S. Bonhomme Richard, sank around him.

As the legend goes, after conducting sea raids on the coast of Britain, he took command in 1779 of a rebuilt French merchant ship, renamed the U.S.S. Bonhomme Richard. On September 23, 1779, Jones engaged the British frigate Serapis in the North Sea, daringly sailing in close, lashing his vessel to the British ship, and fighting the battle at point-blank range. During the fight, two of his cannon broke, and the British Captain asked Jones if he was ready to surrender. Replied Jones: “Sir, I have not yet begun to fight!” as he rallied his team for yet another assault.

The American crew finally boarded the Serapis after the British had surrendered her colors, and from the deck of the Serapis they watched their own ship sink into the North Sea, having won the battle and captured the Serapis.

So, what did John Paul Jones have in common with elite sales pros of today?

  • He had a good team;
  • He thought highly of his abilities;
  • He took risks;
  • He assumed he would win the battle, even as his ship was sinking around him;
  • He never gave up;
  • He psyched out the competition, who must have thought he was crazy for not perceiving his own imminent defeat; and
  • He inspired his team with his stated confidence in his and their abilities.

Who knows which of the above was the key to Jones’ victory….was it his belief in himself and his team, or did he intimidate the competition with his loudly proclaimed self-confidence? Or both?

Today’s sales pros face similar odds: According to a recent CSO Insights report, only 52.4% of sales reps at the companies surveyed made sales quota last year. As a point of comparison, that number was 61.1% the year before.

So what do you do? Think like John Paul Jones….get together a good team, take risks, think positively, psych out the competition, and above all, as the ship is sinking, yell out, “I have not yet begun to sell!”