MY FIRST BIG LESSON IN SELLING
Perhaps the best lesson I ever had about professional selling techniques was, ironically, my very first lesson – a lesson about the inherent problems of compromise. It was during the summer of 1964, that I, at the ripe old age of 17, decided to change careers. Having left school some ten months earlier (much to my parents dismay) and taken on a job as a records clerk in a branch office of a nationwide engineering firm.
I had heard much about the earning capacity of salesmen, some of the stories I heard were obviously beyond believability, but I was young, impressionable and determined to make my fortune early in life – even in “sales” if need be.
In those days, a career in sales had a public acceptance factor just slightly above that of a “night carter”. To the un-initiated, the night carter’s job entailed replacing the filled pan from the back yard “dunny” (toilet) with an empty one, around once a week. But no matter how many times I was warned off by well meaning friends, family and neighbours, I still wanted that career in “sales”. But these people weren’t my biggest problem, the profession was. I couldn’t even get an interview. No-one wanted to employ anyone that either looked young or didn’t hold a driver’s license, and I missed out because of both. Yet there were consolations, I only needed to wait a year before I could legally drive – and sooner or later I’d get older.
In the meantime, I managed to join a dance band to supplement my income, and it wasn’t too long before I began earning more at the weekends than I did during the week. In fact, most weeks I brought home more than my father did working as a leading hand in a local sheet-metal factory.
Eventually I won that vital first interview – an interview where the interviewer sat on the edge of the wrong side of the desk, and while I was fascinated by the view of the insides of his nostrils, I reasoned one of us had better take notes – as he obviously wasn’t about to. So while I furiously penned, he rambled on about the company, future prospect’s and endless income possibilities.
Ten minutes later, part one of the interview was over. To qualify for part two, I needed to go home and memorise a 12 page script by the end of that week. If this was done to his managers satisfaction, I would be trialed for a commission-only door-to-door canvassing job for one of Melbourne’s house cladding companies.
The initial training lasted a whole day, mainly memorising a half page script, and then learning how to role-play the preamble to the trainers satisfaction … Yet it was this opportunity that taught me the power of one-on-one persuasion.
Puffed up with enthusiasm, a burning desire to succeed and the need to feed an overgrown ego, I became that team’s premier lead getter. In fact, I won as many leads as the rest of the team put together. But ironically, very few of those appointed leads achieved what they were supposed to – very few were resulted in sales.
A few weeks later, too wet to field canvass, the team was brought inside to telephone canvass using the best lead source around – the White Pages Telephone Directory. Within 30 minutes my Field Supervisor had pulled me aside and threatened to fire me should I ever use that “phrase” again.
That one incident taught me more about the folly of compromise in selling, than perhaps any other phrase since. So what was the phrase, and why was it so important? Besides, all I said was, “We’ll be working your area on Saturday” and made an appointment for the salesman at an agreed time with the prospect. In fact, this was the second appointment I made in the area that morning. But the irony is that even today – almost thirty years later – hundreds of people working in the sales profession in this city will quote the same exact phrase, “I’ll be working in your area on …” and wonder their sales results are so poor.
The truth is, that phrase doesn’t affect sales – the phrase affects appointments. Prospect’s don’t keep them because they don’t feel they will let the salesperson down if they accept a last minute meeting, or even another appointment in place of it – because that person will be “working in the area” anyway.
Immediately the salesperson compromises the call with any form of compromised statement, the prospect is then given license to also compromise appointments and the like – but more about this later.
The moment I learned this one fact, I then learned how to consolidate an appointment, and then how to incorporate the combined factors of importance and ego when setting up a meeting on behalf of someone else …. It went something like this ….
“Now you understand our Area Manager will be coming out to see both of you on Tuesday night at 7.00 pm and he’ll be making a call to confirm the appointment a day or so earlier, don’t you? And you also know he’ll be coming out a long way just to see both of you, you’re aware of that, aren’t you? So you will both be there, won’t you? Just in case you need to make any changes, my name is Peter Collins and my number is … “.
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