The Secret to Selling Anything

Although you’ve probably never heard of me, I’m a leading authority on selling. I’m an authority even though I haven’t worked in sales since 1985. Incredibly, some might say impossibly, I acquired my expertise despite the fact that I’ve never read a single Neil Rackham book, listened to a Zig Ziglar CD, watched a Marshall Sylver DVD, or attended a Tony Robbins seminar–and people walk on hot coals to walk on hot coals at a Tony Robbins seminar.

So how did I get to be such a sales titan without buying some of the moon-reaching pile of motivational aids offered by these and other maestros of self-improvement? If I didn’t learn from the best, from whom did I learn?

The worst.

Bad Salesmen Are the Best Salesmen (Kinda)

Bad salesmen taught me everything I know about how to sell. Actually, they taught me everything I know about how not to sell, and I do just the opposite—or will do if I ever get involved in sales again, which isn’t likely since it’s not my bowl of beef broth.

Now you’re probably wondering what possible value there is in reading an article on selling by somebody who likes selling about as much as he likes finding half a used Band-Aid in a souvlaki he’s just taken a big bite out of. What can I tell you that a deluxe set of Zig’s CDs with four hours of bonus material and a 10 percent discount off all future purchases can’t?

Great question. I’m glad I asked it.

You see, although I can’t rattle off the latest killer sales-closing techniques or let you in on how to triumph over the most formidable objections, I can tell you what works in the real world and what doesn’t, because I’m a picky customer who responds well only to the best salespeople. By the way, if you need directions to the real world, just take the dirt road five miles out of the Internet, turn right, and stop at the first human being you come to.

The Uninvited

Out of all the bad salespeople, door-to-door salespeople are easily the worst. This makes them the best to learn from. I’m not sure what kind of training is used to get these stumblebums street ready, but if it isn’t Jerry Lewis movies, it’s probably video clips of people falling off garage roofs and running into brick walls from America’s Funniest Home Videos.

Here in Australia most D2D salespeople are on a mission to get consumers to switch power companies. On average they stick at the job for three days. By then they’ve realized that getting 50 bucks per signed-up customer isn’t much of a deal when nobody is signing up and they’re frequently being told to go and grind groins with somebody.

Where do they go wrong?

For starters, they come to my door uninvited. Only friends, family, lotto representatives about to hand me a prize-winning check, or swimsuit models with a thing for paunchy web content writers are allowed to come to my door uninvited. So they’re hopping around on the wrong foot from the get-go. But admittedly there’s not much they can do about that.

Then when I answer the door, they pummel me with more manic insincerity than an Amway Convention: G’day, sir, how are you? Beautiful day for it. Now don’t worry, I’m not here to sell you anything. Perish the thought. No, really. Hey, did I mention it’s a beautiful day?

This approach is supposed to make me feel at ease but it doesn’t. Since I know they’re putting on an act, I naturally presume they’re out to scam me and tense up like a nun in a bikers’ bar.

In an effort to get rid of them, I issue my standard response: I’m sorry, I’m not interested. But rather than take the hint and skedaddle, they stay right where they are, making me resent their presence even more.

Finally, upon realizing that their 50-buck commission is on its last legs, they resort to asking the same stupid when-all-else-fails question that they always wind up asking: Don’t you want to save money on your power bills?

Why is it a stupid question?

Because what they’re really saying is that I’m an idiot for not wanting cheaper power bills. Now I don’t care if they think I’m an idiot, or if indeed I am an idiot, you don’t close a sale by insulting the customer or arguing with him. File that one under D for Duh.

So how could they do better?

Meet the Door-to-Door Dynamo

A friend of mine is a D2D-selling genius and, like me, has never taken a sales course in his life, apart from some on-the-job training, so I’ll answer that question by telling you what he does.

First off, he’s very easy going. People feel they can say no to him without worrying that he might feed them into a wood chipper. Some D2D hawkers get pretty stroppy when their sales spiel goes up in a fireball for the umpteenth time. As my friend doesn’t pressure the people he cold calls, they tend to listen to him longer than they would somebody channeling an infomercial spruiker. This gives him more chance of making a sale.

He sells pay TV subscriptions. But before he lists all of the benefits of subscribing, he asks his prospective customers what they like to watch on TV and then tailors his approach accordingly. If they’re into sport, he tells them about the sports channels. If they’re into movies, he tells them about the movie channels. Simple, huh?

On a good day, he sells five times more subscriptions than his co-workers. And as hard as it might be to believe, he does this without demeaning his customers or sticking around when they tell him to go away. Basically, he ignores his sales training, which, like most training of its kind, is inhouse in theory but outhouse in practice.

Now About That Secret?

Okay, the title of this article is “The Secret to Selling Anything,” but I haven’t yet divulged the secret. So without any further ado, the secret to selling anything is:

Common sense.

Common sense and breath mints.

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