This post is more tribute than blog post. It’s a story about an unlikely friendship, somewhat random at best but one rich with inspired conversation, thoughtful mentoring and mutual respect.
In October 2015, I was sitting in a client’s office in San Diego when I answered the phone and heard a rather gravelly voice say, “Hello, Colleen. This is Bob Miller. Do you know who I am?”
Clearly realizing I should, I quickly quipped, “Well there’s probably more than one of you. Which one are you?”
“Ever heard of Miller Heiman?”
“Yes, of course.”
“I am that Bob Miller.”
“Ahhh, oh, but of course.”
“I need a LinkedIn profile and I heard I should talk with you. Can you help me?”
“Yes, of course.”
And, with that exchange an unlikely friendship was underway. Interviewing Bob for his LinkedIn profile was clearly a career highlight. The more he talked, the more mesmerized I was. It was a bit like a child (me) at the knee of a master storyteller. I loved his stories, his metaphors and his understanding of how sales has had to adopt to a modern buyer. He believed, and I wholeheartedly agreed, that a company’s guiding principles, process and pursuit of excellence will continue to differentiate them online and offline.
When we reviewed all the people who sent him LinkedIn connection requests (and there were hundreds) they were personalized with comments like:
“You changed how I worked and sold. You helped me increase my success and provide for my family like I could never have imagined.”
“Bob, Over the years I have read and reread all your books. Thank you, you have made me a better salesperson and leader.”
They went on and on. And, he always seemed a bit humbled by these remarks from people who were virtual strangers but had been educated, inspired, informed, and encouraged by his work and insight. A true master of sales and, more importantly, people.
In his humility, there was confidence and sense of accomplishment. He knew his work transformed how others saw themselves and the work they did. I think, if nothing else, he made salespeople proud to be sales professionals.
Repeatedly, he told me he loved the work we were doing at Intero and how our consulting team helps clients redefine selling and servicing their customers. Once we finished his profile, we continued to talk via email and phone. He would call, and regardless of what I was doing, I took the call. Who would send a call from the world’s greatest sales trainer to voicemail?
Not me. Our conversations covered his history, current health, coaching clients and our business. He was curious and continued to remind me about guiding principles, process and people. He asked pointed questions and challenged my thinking and pointed out landmines when I shared opportunities that crossed my path.
He listened, he sent me articles and personal writings to help me think through the up and downside of various opportunities. He settled my thinking and strengthened by decision-making. Subsequent conversations let me know that if we were in the same room, he would give me a high five, fist bump or perhaps even a bear hug.
Throughout 2017 we had deep conversations too about end of life and owning your own journey. We had several of these conversations as I sat with my mother during her Hospice stay. They were beautiful days actually and I realized he was helping me think through my own mother’s end of life experience. Bob was bold and ready for whatever faced him, and unafraid he said, time and time again. We laughed a lot in our conversations this year and he continued to regale me with sales stories, his successes and even some of the failures he faced. Even Bob Miller had a couple of those too.
As I scrolled through our messages this week, this (my favorite) jumped out. Certainly, this may go down as one of my favorite LinkedIn messages ever.
The crazy part? We never met. Over the last six and half years, I have met some of America’s best leaders. I have had the opportunity to talk with, learn about and from serial entrepreneurs, executive coaches, CEOs and business owners committed to building great companies for their employees and their customers. I have met most of them through or as a result of LinkedIn. When people tell me LinkedIn is not worth their time or effort, I laugh and think of Bob. I think about how the man who unabashedly claims to be the best-known sales coach on planet Earth and how, while he was discriminating about his connections, saw the value of building a network where you could share your expertise and knowledge with others.
In May, I was in Walnut Creek and we planned on getting together for dinner but he had a fall and had to head to the hospital. It wasn’t meant to be. Nonetheless, over this past summer, we spent hours on the phone evaluating business opportunities. At 85, he had probably forgotten more than most people know and was as sharp as anyone half his age. He described and recalled stories of people, places, and experiences that helped me better understand how to evaluate and think about my business and it’s path moving forward.
Every few weeks I would receive or send off an email. On September 19th, I sent my last email to Bob.
It was unusual not to hear back within a day or two, however, I thought he might be traveling or visiting one of his sons. And so, when I received an email his son a few days later, I knew what this email meant.
I am confident Bob had all the tough conversations he needed to have, he appreciated every sunny California day and relished the work and passion he shared with so many.
As I reflect on this unlikely friendship, the sweet conversations and all the mentoring, I am feeling grateful for Bob Miller and the how serendipitous and fabulous the world can be.
Post Script: Bob Miller’s obituary appears on his LinkedIn profile and the comments from so many continue to serve as a testament to his legacy.