My first sales job was as a Christmas holiday part-time temporary employee at Stix Baer & Fuller, selling men’s furnishings. I was 17 years old. Stix sales training class was scheduled for one day. The curriculum was covered in less than two hours. Most of that time, as I remember it, had to do with how to ring up a sale, how to open the cash drawer, and how to run the manual credit card machine, how to complete a transaction. There was no product training. Bad credit cards were listed on a hard copy piece of b/w paper at the register. VIP that I check the list. I sold a lot of ugly ties and Haines underwear that December without knowing anything at all about sales. I just said, “may I help you” and customer after customer bought one lame present after the next. I would say “thank you very much, Merry Christmas.” And, then the next customer was standing waiting for my expert help.
My next sales job was at the outdoor Lawn and Garden Center at Famous Barr. I was the #1 seller of Lawn Boy and Toro lawnmowers that year, even though, most of my “training” came from reading the manufacture’s literature. This little bit of product information presented with confidence and a smile was all that was needed in those days. Perhaps, I achieved #1 because every other member of the department was a women. They were a lot more comfortable selling flowers and garden tools so they gave the lawnmower customers to me, as long as I shared the commission with them.
My first real sales training came when I was age 21 and I accepted a straight commission job selling pots and pans, china, crystal, silverware, stereo’s and sewing machines door to door. In four years, interrupted by six months in the US Army, I went from salesman, to sales manager, to Regional Sales Manager, to member of the Board of Directors. By age twenty-six I had offices in Boston, Beverly, Cape Cod, Massachusetts and Hartford and New Haven, Connecticut. I would guess that over those few years I had hired and trained more than 1000 salesman. And, despite the high turn-over, I had a sales team of at least thirty full time people making 200 or more in home calls per week producing 50 sales and over $500,000 annually. I made a commission override on all of that business. I was earning very good money for a young guy and I was working hard to get it. My work day started at 9:00 am and frequently ended at 10:00 pm or later, six days per week.
When I look back on my fifty-year sales career the training received from the now defunct, Cordon Bleu, was some of the best training I could have received. They taught me how to prospect, how to ask qualifying questions, how to cover objections before they came up, how ask for the sale, how to take seven “no’s “ before giving up, how persistence and hard work pays off. Most of all they inspired me to be enthusiastic, to set goals, to achieve them, and to encourage others to do the same.
As years progressed I have sold life insurance and health insurance, I have sold tickets to sporting events and sales promotion ideas to corporations. I’ve sold training solutions for small companies and facilitated training classes for international companies.
In the non-profit arena I have requested donations and bequests to serve the poor. I’ve asked for significant gifts from companies, foundations and individuals to support public television. All with pretty good results. I have been directly or indirectly involved in more than $75 million in donations.
So, after fifty years of successfully selling something to somebody you would think that I have mastered the art of selling. And, you might think that I could teach someone else some of the secrets that I have learned through many years of “yes” answers and the discouragement of “no” answers.
This past week, I was given a consulting assignment to help create a streamlined sales process that would lead to improved results and greater revenue for a non-profit media organization. The organization is the Nine Network of Public Media. I know the organization well. I have just spent the last five years there as Vice President of Development. I know the President of the organization well. He, too, has spent his lifetime as very successful “salesman.” So, how is it that despite his success that he is asking for help from me or from anyone? He knows there is no magic bullet. He also knows that his success has come from his relentless effort to research, learn new things, and try new ideas, trial and error achievement one day at a time.
I’ll begin this assignment by getting some ideas down on paper. Then, I will collaborate with the most successful salesman that I know. I think I’ll start with my son, Craig, and my brother, Tim. Perhaps, I’ll write again on this topic to let you know what I learned.