Make it personal. Give yourself life in your writing and you give your writing life.
As part of my series on the “5 Things You Need To Know To Write A Bestselling Book,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Schultz.
Mike is the president at RAIN Group, a global sales training and performance improvement company, Director of RAIN Group Center for Sales Research, and author of several books, including Wall Street Journal bestseller Rainmaking Conversationsand Insight Selling. Mike has grown RAIN Group into a global leader, named multiple times as one of the Top 20 Sales Training Companies by Selling Power Magazine. Along with his books, Mike has written hundreds of articles, case studies, research reports, and other publications in the areas of selling and sales training.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
I started out of college as a sales process and strategy analyst at a consulting firm, focusing on large sales forces. Then, I led a P&L at another consulting firm overseeing a team and 30 sales reps. In 2002, John Doerr and I co-founded RAIN Group, which has grown significantly. Today we have offices in Boston, Bogotá, Geneva, Johannesburg, London, Mumbai, Seoul, Sydney, and Toronto.
I launched the RAIN Group Center for Sales Research where my team of analysts and I study buying and selling relentlessly. We uncover fascinating data that allows RAIN Group to create industry leading programs that help clients achieve great success.
What was (so far) the most exhilarating or fulfilling experience you’ve had as an author?
It’s not so much one exhilarating story, but the places it took me. From delivering keynotes with Neil Rackham in Warsaw, to opening our office in Sydney (our team found us through our publications), to having Rainmaking Conversations Russian edition tweeted to us from Red Square. And little things like walking down an aisle on a plane and seeing people reading one of my books. It’s been a wild ride.
As for fulfilling, being able to share my son’s storyand feel him near me as I wrote has meant the most to me.
What was the craziest, weirdest, wildest experience you’ve had as a bestselling author?
I’ve certainly had them, but crazy, weird, and wild? I think I’ll keep those ones to myself.
What is the greatest part about being a successful, bestselling author? What is the worst (if anything) part?
The greatest part is the speaking requests, interview requests, and general interest in our work. It’s great to be recognized and sought after because of our contributions to our field.
The worst part is the speaking requests, interview requests, and sometimes overwhelming outreach from others. We really appreciate them, but we can’t always interact with everyone, and it’s a wild world out there and not always super positive.
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a bestselling writer?
Definitely the 9 Habits of Extreme Productivity.
While I’ve always been scatterbrained and had periodic trouble focusing, I’ve typically been able to power through it and get some good work done.
But in February 2012 I found myself in a war zone. My son, Ari, was born with a serious congenital heart defect. After having two heart surgeries before he was born, over the course of his first seven months on the outside, he had a series of complex procedures, including two major open-heart surgeries to replace three of the four valves in his heart and to cut scar tissue out of his left ventricle.
Fortunately, I own my own company and was able to be with him through it all, essentially living with him at the hospital full-time.
Unfortunately, I own my own company, so during the quiet times — and there were long stretches of quiet times at Boston Children’s Hospital — I had to work in order to keep the company on its feet and keep us all in health insurance.
During the stretches I worked, I had to, for the first time in my career, figure out how to get a lot done in much less time in an environment actively hostile to getting anything done at all.
I only tried to work during the quiet times when Ari was stable and getting better, but even then, it was nearly impossible. I was distracted and unfocused. Not at all motivated.
I read time management and productivity books and blogs, but I found a lot of them to be cheesy, too complicated, and too difficult to adopt.
Over the course of Ari’s life, he spent 430 nights inpatient at the hospital. The majority of that time Ari was doing relatively well, hanging out with family, playing and watching sports, and waiting long stretches for his heart to get better.
Through those 430 days and nights a system started to emerge where I began to get a little work done, then a lot of work, in short stints of time in an environment in which I’m confident was harder to concentrate than most offices.
When we took Ari home after his first seven months in the hospital and life (sorta) returned to normal — here comes the cheese, but it’s true — my fascination with the art and science of productivity grew. It turns out there’s certainly some art to it, but there’s also a lot of science.
As RAIN Group is an executive education company, I started to see a tremendous opportunity to help our clients not only build skills that would serve them as sellers, professionals, and leaders, but also be more productive when applying these skills.
Thus, began a journey of studying and researching productivity, and applying what we learned with our clients to help them get the most done and achieve the best results in less time.
And, indeed, we did. It turns out that applying a few select principles produces impressive results.
Which writer or leader has had the biggest impact on you as a writer?
It’s difficult to point to one leader who has impacted me the most, but as for a writer, I’d say Bill Zinsser, author of On Writing Well.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming a bestselling author? How did you overcome it?
Probably figuring out how to write when, like everyone else, I “have no time.” I run a global business. I have kids. I have responsibilities. I teach college.
Funny thing is we all have the same amount of time every day. Some people make the time to write, and some don’t. If you make it a priority, put it on your calendar, and tune out all distractions, you can do it.
What are the 5 things a writer needs to know if he/she wants to become a bestselling author?
1. Be able to write! Read On Writing Well by Bill Zinsser.
2. Edit ruthlessly. If the paragraph, passage, sentence, or word doesn’t have meaning and impact, delete it. My high school English teacher, Mr. Story (no joke), told us he could keep the meaning and increase the impact of most people’s writing by deleting 30 percent of what they wrote. He was right.
3. Build a platform. For every best-selling book, there are 50 great books that didn’t sell because the author didn’t have a platform. Becoming a thought leader has two components:
A) You publish thoughts
B) People are impacted by them
Too many writers have A, but not B.
We were determined to have both.
Thus in 2005 we launched RainToday.com, an online sales magazine. At its height we had 140,000 subscribers. When we launched our first books, we had built-in book buyers.
4. Be controversial. If you have something to say that everyone else has said, you won’t go very far. If you want to make noise, you have to have a foil. Like him or hate him, Trump is good at this. He creates enemies, and his battles with them make news.
5. Sprinkle fairy dust. If what you write doesn’t feel special, it won’t be special. And it won’t sell.
* Bonus: Don’t write to write a bestseller. Write to make an impact. Write to change the world. Write to matter. Then figure out the marketing and you’ll be well on your way.
What are the 5 things you would tell your younger self who was just starting out on their writing journey?
1. Just start writing. Worry about making it good later. I used to procrastinate because I thought the writing wasn’t good enough as it flowed out from the keyboard.
Over the year’s I’ve learned it’s never that good when it flows out of the keyboard. It gets good when it’s all down, and I edit ruthlessly.
2. Don’t publish junk. You’re only as good as the last thing people read that you wrote. If it’s not really good, don’t publish it. You’ll lose your readers. I can’t say, looking back, I cringe at any of my past work, but I wish I had the quality standard in the early days that I do today.
It’s easy to publish these days. You have to be better than ever to stand out. Quality matters. Too few people care.
3. Don’t worry about perfect grammar. Not everything needs to be a complete sentence. Really.
4. Allow your personality to come through. I write for business and often thought, “Keep it to the content.” No. Make it personal. Give yourself life in your writing and you give your writing life.
5. Write every day. When I get in a rut of not writing, I don’t write for long stretches. If I force myself to write, the writing gets better, and, you know, I actually write something here and there that’s worth publishing.
What are you most excited to work on next? Most excited to read next?
We recently conducted a productivity study where we surveyed more than 2,300 sellers and professionals. We’ve found some really interesting behaviors rising to the top. The results (and what they mean) will be published and available for download in the coming months. Subscribe to our blog to receive a notification once that becomes available.
As for what’s next on my list, I’m looking forward to reading Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I’d rally the world to cure all pediatric heart disease. For anything we couldn’t cure, I’d register everyone to become organ donors, and make organ rejection a thing of the past.
Thank you so much for these great insights!