If you think you’re in a field that is above selling, or think that selling is a tarnished blue-collar sort of thing, oh boy, do I have an article for you!!! This one!
Of all the courses and years of higher education, both in ivory towers and in the US Air Force, there is one course which stands head and shoulders above all the rest as to the importance of getting through life, succeeding, and finding a woman you can sucker into marrying you for entire decades.
The cost of the course? Zero. The location: A cheesy little strip mall in Chester, New Jersey, which also happened to be the location of the Electrolux Vacuum Cleaner hub for the east coast. Oh, sure…you’ve already jumped to conclusions and yeah, we grew to quickly hate the guys who come knockin’ on our door, vacuum cleaner in hand. (I also sold Encyclopedia Brittanicas door-to-door. Vacuum cleaners were a lot more fun to sell and a lot easier.) The ones you hated, by the way, were the poor schlubs who never actually learned how to sell.
My course began, when I accidentally linked up with a little short balding guy named Lenny and as a kinda cool-looking high school kid (with hair) I had no clue as to what he was going to teach me. Some of them are cliches now, but there’s a reason they become cliches…they work. He said, “You’re young and you got no armor-plated butt, so I’m gonna tell ya the first rule. Figure on knocking on fifty doors, getting ’em slammed in your face…for every sale you make. The trick is to…not quit. If you have silver hair or no hair you probably know that one by now, though kajillions of cool younger dudes don’t know it down in their guts.”
Second Lesson EMPATHY: “Learn the real meaning of empathy…not sympathy, which is altogether different. The secret? Stop worrying about yourself when you’re selling. Pretend that you are the guy standing in front of you. First off, you’re wasting his time. Second, he doesn’t know you from Adam. Third…he has no desire to buy anything at all from you. Truly put yourself in his or her position and begin….from there.”
My “schtick,” as they say, was playing on the very obvious reality that I was a green-behind-the-gills teenager, about to waste his time. As soon as they’d open the door, their expression went from cheerful to annoyed. I would say, “I know. I know. You don’t want to buy a vacuum cleaner but I have a win-win deal for you. I get five bucks every time I demo a machine. I come in and vacuum any room you want, you get a free vacuuming…I get five bucks.” Their eyes went from annoyance to thoughtful consideration.
Long story short, I became what they called a “Young Tiger” at Electrolux back then. I sold using the bizarre technique of candidly telling the truth right in those first five seconds and then finding some reason for them to see an advantage in letting me clean their carpet. Afterwards…well…Electrolux was a damned good vacuum back then. I have stories… Destroying the customer’s Kirby vacuum cleaner in a “suck-off” competition is not the way to make a sale. When you’re young and green you can learn some big lessons if you pay attention.
Attempting to Sell Yourself to the Opposite Sex: Those who know me, know that Pamela and I have been extremely happily married for going on 40+ years now. Accident? If you’re married you know that isn’t true. But… and it’s a huge but, before I got married I did a lot of practicing (dating). Apparently dating is an odious and dirty word now if it’s even used at all. Back then? I LOVED dating, just loved it!!! Like that Electrolux, I attempted to make myself as appealing as possible to girls…women. I learned to dance, pretty well, then really well. I learned…to listen, truly listen to my date, not as some sort of con but because I found (and still find) women to be more fascinating to communicate with. I learned that I could make women laugh, mostly by using my own magic word: CANDOR.
Humor and a bit of candor go a long way. Truth is, most people get ignored or brushed aside. And I sought out the right props. The mating dance required a cool car…available by knocking on lots of doors and I parlayed them up to some really cool cars. It all worked and I honed and sharpened my skills, looking for the exact woman of my dreams. Son of a gun…if you hunt long enough, the “prey” eventually wanders into view. I used all my wily ways to charm Pamela and….(a little secret?) You know what really, really works? Never stop using those wily ways to keep your woman charmed. It’s sort of like the Thousand and One Arabian Nights story, where the girl in this case, had to charm her captor every night with a story lest she have her head chopped off.
“Yes, Henry But… I’m an accountant, surgeon, banker, techie, writer and I don’t have to sell.” Or “I’m a scientist. I don’t have to sell. I just research.” Uhmmm…ever hear of the word, grant, as in getting a grant so you can continue research? Ever hear of selling your literary agent, editor and eventually your publisher? It’s all selling.
“Yeah, Henry, but…you’re a sculptor. You just make stuff in a studio and people buy them.” Sure… We survived four recessions and an economic depression…selling abstract art. Even I am amazed at that. It all came down to having a good product (that really helps) and then being able to charm and empathize and play what is sometimes a waiting game. Selling is truly an art. That really neat waitress that you like who always makes you feel GREAT and you always tip very well? She is a salesman.
P.T. Barnum: Yes, he did say, “There’s a sucker born every minute,” but more importantly, he knew that you don’t sell the steak…but the sizzle. There is magic involved and people actually want to be charmed. One of the greatest compliments of my life was delivered inadvertently by my publisher at Schiffer Books while we were doing a joint lecture to a large audience. A bit of candor, here. In high school I hated speaking in public so much, I’d throw-up before class when I had to give a book report. Well…not any more. I still get butterflies but once the microphone goes live I am myself, only magnified, turbocharged. At the end of the lecture, Peter Schiffer took me aside and said, “Good Lord! I was about to buy your book…and I’m your publisher!”
Selling Your House: For most folks, the selling of their house is one of the biggest sales they will make in their lives. Pamela and I parlayed ( I use that word often) a little brick shoe box in Tucson, to something swankier in the Tucson foothills, to a beautiful house in Bucks County, PA…to CrossBow. Right now, however, we are in the process of getting ready to sell CrossBow. Yup, we did everything you’d expect, plus about seven or eight things most folks don’t think of. There’s more than one way to make your house sizzle.
Phantom 2 Vision Plus: Ours is a ritzy area and the toys and upgrades had to be just right. But our secret weapon? You aren’t gonna believe this. I purchased a quadcopter (I’ve written extensively about it in other articles). What it allowed me to do, however, was to make a powerful six-minute video. In writing the story board for the video, Pamela glanced at it and said, “God, maybe we shouldn’t move. This place sounds amazing.” We have incorporated visuals and techniques which as far as I can determine, have never been used before in the selling of a home. Again, we searched for and found the sizzle that makes the whole thing work.
Everything in life is selling…not to be confused with selling-out, which is the exact opposite. I really attempt to charm my friends, keep them interested, charm my three Boston terriers…best friends in the world, and occasionally sell myself to myself…the hardest sale of all. If you don’t like yourself, you’ve already got two strikes against you. Maybe I’m not great, but I’m getting better. I like myself…and that can take a whole lotta work.
Oh, and you need a couple of good enemies as well. I believe Abraham Lincoln said something about that. Judge a man by his friends, but also by his enemies. I have some deliciously interesting enemies whom I’m proud to have as well.
Carpe Diem…Carpe Diem…Carpe Diem.
Now, you excellent salesman, who knows how to set a hook; where’s the link to the video?
I’m working on it, Greg. Sometimes a five minute video can take weeks to create, particularly if you have tricky outdoor shots.
The best selling is when you lose yourself completely in your enthusiasm.
I’m sure you get a lot of messages like this one. I’m not sure how I ended up on your email list, but I’m staying on it. It’s so rare to get a bulk email that actually does feel thoughtful and useful. A lot of what you said in this email fits with what my partner Tarfia and I talk about. In the poetry field, the notion of taking decent care of yourself and working towards finanicial stability is looked at with skepticism. We’re getting more and more confident in admitting that we’re good at selling ourselves. But we’re good salesmen because we don’t try to be salesmen. We try to make art people really connect with and we try to be thoughtful and kind in our engagements. This particular missive was affirming to read. And now you have another stranger compelled to check out your creative work. Thanks for the tips.
All the good,
There’s an amazing amount of cynicism and sarcasm out there today. I think that may be partly because people aren’t really liking themselves very much and as a result…the acidity flows downhill. And there’s the other side, people who appear to be totally in love with themselves…narcissists. I’m skeptical of that as well. I always have the feeling they’re putting on a false front for themselves to view. I think if we accept the fact that we’re all flawed in some way, but then…that puts us in good company.
Slowly over the first 10 years or so of employment I came to the realization that nearly all aspects of life are about selling. Even buying is selling: Why the salesperson should take 85% of the sticker price rather than 90% is the real sales job. They know by then you want the car. So I’m with you there. And I’d add that probably the most intriguing course I’ve taken since graduation day at F&M was a marketing course I took at the Kellogg School at Northwestern. Knocked my socks off. Marketing is just an element of selling in my view
Succinctly put. Buying can, indeed, be selling, if there’s negotiation involved. With few exceptions, there’s a little “dance” that takes place when you’re negotiating over a complex deal. Both sides want to come away feeling like they were the winners. Orchestrating that can be a fine art.
And yeah, marketing is a major component to selling. I learned that really early, parlaying a beat-to-hell 46 Plymouth, which I bought for $40, into something that at least appeared to be half decent. Marketing 101.