Ray Makela is an author, speaker, and business executive with 25 years of management, consulting, and sales experience. He is the CEO and Managing Director of Sales Readiness Group, a Seattle-based professional training and development firm that delivers industry-leading sales and sales management solutions. Ray oversees all client engagements and the delivery of sales and sales management training programs.
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?
I grew up in South Seattle, across the street from Lake Washington. Once my parents ensured we were competent swimmers, we were turned loose to explore in, on, and around the lake. This shaped my childhood because we had a great playground outside our front door and were never at a loss for fun areas to explore and things to do. It fostered my lifelong love of swimming and water sports and helped me appreciate the beauty of the Pacific Northwest. Now middle age, I still find comfort and personal therapy by immersing myself in the outdoors doing things like mountain biking, open water swimming, or trail running.
What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?
I wish I had realized that sleep is a legal, performance-enhancing bio-hack. In other words, when I was playing sports in high school, or just training for a marathon or triathlon later in life, I didn’t realize that sleep was an equally important part of the training schedule. In business, getting a good night’s sleep is such a huge competitive advantage that it’s surprising more people don’t make it a priority. It’s easy to “burn the midnight oil” – but it has many short and long-term detrimental effects.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
As a sales trainer, I often still hear the philosophy that salespeople should “Always be Closing.” This quote is now such a cliché and is patently wrong. I would reframe this as “Always be Consulting” – meaning the most successful salespeople should always be working to understand the customer’s problems and how they can help them. The most successful salespeople realize that the better they understand their customers and help them achieve their goals, the more they tend to buy. Always be Closing comes across as pushy, aggressive, and only focused on the salesperson, not the customer. These are the kind of tactics that give salespeople a bad reputation.
Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?
My mom got terminally ill when my kids were very young and I had just started working at a new company. We were fortunate to have her come live with us during the last few months of her life, which was a blessing for all of us, but extremely challenging. At the time though, I didn’t realize how special and fleeting this was. I continued to work full time, while my wife and I cared for my mom and boys. I wish I realized that there were other options (like taking a leave of absence or a reduced work schedule). We often spent late nights and weekends providing care, sandwiched between two different generations of family obligations. It was exhausting both physically and mentally. I just continued trying to do everything but felt like I wasn’t doing any of it very well. I cherish this time with my mom, but it was a very difficult time and one that I could have managed differently. I’m sure if I had taken a break, my job and career would have been there a few months later.
What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?
Being the youngest of four siblings, I learned a lot from watching and listening to my older family members. I would often just stay quiet and take it all in, as they debated, argued, or defended their positions. What I realized later is that being a competent listener can be a huge advantage in business and especially in sales. I feel that being curious and listening to my colleagues, employees, and customers have given me the advantage to learn from them, and also to be able to help or support them more effectively.
What is your morning routine?
I don’t have any magic bullet for morning routines, and it can vary depending on the commitments of the day. Typically get up about 5:30 AM and start my morning with a strong cup of coffee. I like having some time in the morning to read the news online, catch up on email and prepare for the day. I often do writing and creative work early in the morning when I am fresh and without distractions from co-workers or family. Depending on the day’s schedule, I will also get in a workout on the stationary bike (#peloton) or strength training. On the weekends I will head out on a long bike ride or trail run early in the morning before the family is up for the day.
What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?
My average commute to the office (pre-Covid) was about 45 minutes each way. Several years ago I started listening to podcasts and audiobooks instead of listening to the morning radio news. I find I have not missed much in the news, but I have learned so much and listened to so many inspiring, amazing people that I feel I’ve grown as a person as a result. The opportunity to learn from exceptional minds and hear about others’ stories and perspectives has never been as accessible as it is today.
What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?
I manage my day using Microsoft Outlook and find that scheduling meetings, work time, and key priorities for the day help keep me focused and productive.
Another productivity improvement I’ve worked on over the past few years is related to notetaking. I have never been especially diligent about organizing or filing my client and company notetaking. I’ve used many different approaches over the years, and it took me a long time to figure out a system that worked for me. I finally invested time in learning and setting up Microsoft OneNote. OneNote has been a fantastic way to capture my general project and client notes in an organized, searchable way. I now have meeting notes, blog ideas, client discussions, and employee one-on-one all organized online in OneNote. It’s been a big productivity improvement for me instead of relying on notebooks, scrap paper, file folders, and yellow sticky notes.
What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?
I read The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People by Stephen Covey very early on in my career, and many of the “habits” are still top-of-mind 30+ years later. It’s amazing how many of these concepts have become common language in everyday business and personal development language (like “Start with the end in mind,” or Think Win-Win, or Seek First to Understand, Then To Be Understood”). The book has stood the test of time for sure and influenced me in many ways.
Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?
“Grit is more important than talent or IQ.” I’m a big fan of Dr. Angela Duckworth’s research on Grit. She suggests that success comes from Grit, which can be defined as “The Power of Passion and Perseverance.” Passion by itself isn’t enough because there are a lot of people passionate about things that don’t follow through. Conversely, there are a lot of hard-working people who persevere but hate what they do. That’s called drudgery. The combination of the two creates real success. I’m fortunate to work in a field that I am truly passionate about and I feel that working hard to help our clients doesn’t feel like hard work.