My Father Was a Salesman

Recently two events coincided that caused me to consider what I think I know about sales and where that originates.

I was teaching an entry-level class on “Sales” at Indiana Wesleyan University. One of the students asked me after class how I got started on a career in sales and where I learned my first lessons.

Two days later we celebrated my father’s 70th birthday. He of course was the answer to the questions of the student.

I traveled with my father during the summer each year for a number of years as I was growing up while he was a regional sales rep in the Midwest. Over those many miles in the car and the sales calls I accompanied him on, he passed on a number of truths.

I have tried to capture some of those truths here in honor of my heritage and his 70th birthday:

Sales Success – “Sales success is 90% process and 10% magic”, (a personal favorite). “If you follow your process you earn the right to perform your magic.”

Compensation -– “Never mess with a salesman’s money.” And “A compensation plan should be easy enough that a sales guy can calculate his commission in the time it takes to leave the customer’s door and get to the door of his car.”

Closing – “Never be afraid to ask for a commitment from someone. Any kind of commitment. A commitment to buy, to consider, or to take your call in 6 months. When you are selling, your job is to get commitments for the investment of your time. Even if the commitment is to never see you again, you still know where you stand and you won’t have wasted your time.”

Persistence – (at the end of a long day, we were sitting at a gas station telephone booth and Dad was dropping dimes in while I was giving him the phone numbers of local companies to call for appointments the next day on a hot August evening) -“The other guys have knocked off for the day and their drinking a beer or watching TV. Because we’re making our calls and following our process we’re going to get at least one more appointment than they will. That’s what makes the difference between being the best professional sales person you can be and just being a guy who sells.”

Listening – “Selling is about asking questions and then listening really close to everything. If you are presenting and not asking questions, you’re driving at night without headlights.”

Wrong Prospects – “Some people do not deserve the help we can bring them. Never worry about them, just pick up your stuff and keep moving.”

Right Prospects – “Some times when you are with good people talking about real opportunities, it’s like church or a perfect round of golf or a great meal, it just doesn’t get any better.”

Reading Minds – “You never know what the other guy is thinking exactly, but you always know he is thinking about himself. “How does this help me?” or “How can I use this information?” or “How soon can I get this guy out of my office?” He is not thinking about you directly, ever.”

Gratitude – “You can’t thank people too much. Thank them for their time, for their consideration, for their order, for their business. Every person you speak too is giving you a gift and you need to be thankful for it.”

I am just scratching the surface, but these are a few of the jewels. Happy 70th Dad, I look forward to the next 70.