It seems that everyone is so fixated on thinking outside the box that nobody’s in it anymore. Outside-the-box thinkers pride themselves on innovation and creativity. There is, of course, nothing wrong with those traits. But good performance in any endeavor begins by mastering the abundance of great ideas inside the box before adding personal flair.

The wheel is still round. Nobody has improved that design in thousands of years by thinking outside the box. And any star player in sports will tell you that success begins by first mastering the fundamentals: blocking and tackling, keeping your eye on the ball, and running out ground balls. It’s no different in business. Success begins by mastering the tools inside the box … first. Try these boring inside-the-box yet tried-and-true methods to achieve sales success.

Build your Rolodex by counting names. In our modern technological world, the most important aspect of database management is lost by out-of-the-box thinkers. Organizations hold meetings to introduce software that tracks sales calls, prospecting data, personal client information, and more.

Inside-the-box thinkers know that the primary purpose of a database is to get names, phone numbers, and email addresses. This is the data you need to build a powerful information base to dominate your market. The more people you’re talking to, the greater the chances you’ll have for success. Instead of creating outside-the-box lofty dreams of grandeur, stick to the basics of gathering contacts and keeping score.

Understand with compassion. Outside-the-box thinkers believe that credible salespeople use the Internet, referral dialogues, and jobsite visits to understand client needs before meeting them. But the best way to understand people is by listening and asking questions while you’re meeting them.

Be old-fashioned personal with modern technology. In the old days, inside-the-box thinkers always said a phone call should be promptly returned. In the modern age, technology has complicated communication and has strained personal time management systems. Inside-the-box thinking is still old-school communication with a modern twist. Return phone calls, emails, and texts to solidify your reputation as a dependable service provider. Get back in the box by delivering a personal touch and listening like you care.

Promise and deliver. Outside-the-box thinkers are creative people who put out fires and believe they should resourcefully cater to the demands of high-maintenance customers. Inside-the-box thinkers prevent fires and make promises within the confines of their company’s operational capability. Just promise and deliver what you can. Your clients will be thrilled.

Before you think outside the box, make sure you’re not ignoring the essential tools in the box. Blocking and tackling properly is still the key to winning championships. The tried-and-true ways are still the best.

—Rick Davis is the president of Building Leaders, a training organization devoted exclusively to the sale of building materials. His latest book, The Sales Secret, is now available. To order it, go to, call 773.769.4409, or contact Rick at