Brittle, from the severe cold, the worn blue vinyl seats in my 1963 Chevy Station Wagon felt as though they were about to split. The mercury had only risen to ten degrees that frozen January day, and the night was even colder. Besides, the old Chevy wagon had seen better days. I was fortunate the old beater would even start on that frozen, mid-January Chicago night.
The air was crystal clear. The black sky was scintillating from thousands of tiny white stars. The Milky Way galaxy loomed ominously above.
Turning south on LaVerne Ave. from Thomas Street, the rows of small brick bungalows glowed with inner warmth oozing from small, curtain covered windows. Nobody in their right minds should be out on a night like this. Nobody – unless they had a job to do. And we did.
Being a sales manager at eighteen years old was tough, especially with a sales force of young adolescents who were practically shivering to death. They who would rather be hanging out at their favorite arcade playing Pong, the first successful video arcade game manufactured by Atari®.
But these young entreprenuers were driven by the opportunity to make spending money by earning a sales commission from selling subscriptions, door-to-door, for the Chicago American, the afternoon newspaper. This was the end of an era; the afternoon newspaper was a dying thing, so it was a tough sell. It was 1972.
My job was to hire, train, and motivate this extremely novice sales force. Of course, I was also a novice, at only eighteen years old. Motivating them was a challenge. My biggest challenge was to sell them on the benefits of stepping out from my warm Chevy wagon, into the severe cold Chicago night. Their assignment was to ring every doorbell on the block, and not return until they spoke with everybody who answered the door. Their sales goal was to sign two subscriptions per block.
Most failed miserably and most never came even close to achieving their sales goal. Typically, they returned to the warmth of my Chevy, frozen, discouraged, and empty handed, after walking block after block, occassionally making a sale. Most sold only one or two subscritptions per week. Most quit as a result of repeated rejection, not to mention the severe cold. But then there was Stanley.
Stanley was different. Most importantly, Stanley, unlike the other young entreprenuers, was never cold. I was never sure if he stayed warm from his high level of enthusiasm or his extra body fat. Stanley consistently sold one or two subscriptions per block. By the end of the night, Stanley usually sold more subscriptions than the all of the others combined. Stanley always returned to my Chevy wagon excited and energized from his sales success.
The mystery of Stanley’s success was intriguing to me. What was Stanley doing that made him so much more successful than all the others? They all learned the same sales script, and for the most part, they all deviated very little from it. These young "salesperson-want-to-bes" all had similar upbringing, attending either John Hay, the local public elementary school or attending Our Lady Help of Christians (HOC), the Catholic elementary school, in this primarily blue collar Chicago west-side neighboorhood. I was determined to learn Stanley’s secret.
Stanley was proud and honored that I wanted to accompany him as he went door to door as he made his sales calls one evening. After Stanley knocked on only a handful of doors, it started to become clear to me that Stanley was indeed doing something very different from the others. It was quite miraculous how Stanley endeared the prospect to him almost immediately. Stanley, at twelve years old, intuitively knew the secret for sales success. Stanley focused on the prospect first, before he tried to sell anything.
Here’s what Stanley did different. When Stanley approached the prospect’s door, he would look for newspapers or sales leaflets that were lying on the steps or the front porch. It was too cold and icy for many elderly people to attempt the dangerous trudge down slippery, ice covered stairs where papers would pile up until the weather warmed up a bit. Stanley, to my surprise, would collect all of these papers, tuck them under his arm and ring the doorbell. Once Stanley’s unsuspecting prospect answered the door, Stanley would confidently greet his prospective customer with a big smile, introduce himself, and hand them the papers he just collected. This small, value-added gesture brought sincere smiles and appreciation from Stanley’s awaiting prospects. Already, Stanley was beginning to work his magic. And he was clearly providing value, just like a seasoned sales professional would do.
After Stanley’s little introduction, he did something quite unique. I expected Stanley to break into his sales pitch, according to the script. But the sales pitch didn’t come. Stanley would ask his prospects how they got their news. He asked if they read the paper. He asked if they took advantage of the coupons in the Thursday and Sunday editions. Instead of immediately going into the sales pitch about selling subscriptions to the Chicago American, Stanley would ask questions. Stanley was engaging his prospect; they were talking.
The amazing thing is that Stanley did this all on his own. All the other boys followed the sales script which immediately called for a plea to subscribe so the boy could win a trip to somewhere exotic, like Florida. At that young age, Stanley knew a secret that the rest of us did not know.
We were all taught, almost literally, to put our foot in the door and keep talking until the prospect either said yes or slammed the door on us. To me, and the other novice sales entreprenuers, selling seemed tough. It seemed like a hit-or-miss proposition, and we never really understood why someone would or would not buy. It seemed as though the business of sales was a mystery. Stanley, on the other hand, had realized that sales is not a mystery. Stanley understood that sales is a process. A customer-focused process based on asking instead of telling. Stanley’s approach to sales was successful.
If you follow the process and avoid the pitfalls, or fatal errors, as set forth in this book, you too will be able to overcome the “mystery of sales”. You will learn to shorten the sales cycle through the use of progressively challenging questions that will allow you to get to the heart of your prospective customer’s problems. You will also learn how to uncover their true motivation: the reason they will take action. You will learn to develop superior listening skills using a powerful technique called "reflective listening" which will create a high level of trust quickly. By learning how to get your prospective customer’s commitment and agreement every step of the way, you will improve the profitability of your sales effort by eliminating “free consulting”. And, you will see that when you follow the sales process by earning the right to proceed, then closing and asking for the business will be a natural and comfortable next-step in the sales process. Both you and your prospective customer will be at ease as there is no need for you to impose any last minute pressure or surprises on your prospect.
The lessons learned in this book will help you become more effective, with clear, measurable results. Yes, it is up to you to learn from these lessons from the trenches so you too are able to become highly successful in sales.