Good Salespeople: Facts and Fiction

Article excerpt

No one is born a lawyer, a doctor or a salesperson. You learn these trades from others.

Next time you visit the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art or your neighborhood gallery, you might see, tucked away in one of the corners, a young artist with sketchbook in hand trying to carefully recapture the mood of a famous painting.

It is important to learn the techniques that have been successful for others. And then it is necessary to use only the bits and parts that are comfortable for you. Then you add the necessary and unique ingredients that are yours alone.

This technique continues to some degree today in the trades--you learn as an apprentice bricklayer, carpenter or electrician before you can call yourself by that title. This is how I learned the keys to selling, not just clothing, but anything.

I didn't realize this until I was asked to give a seminar on selling to team owners of the World Hockey Association. I agreed and then became very nervous because I didn't know anything about hockey.

I learned fast. I made an appointment with Harry Rubicon, an editor at Sports Illustrated magazine, and told him my problem.

He asked, "Didn't you say you were a retailer?"

"Yes," I answered.

"Well, so are your audience members. Instead of selling merchandise, they're selling tickets. It's not much different," he said.

We did the program, and I talked about selling techniques, ideas and problem solving as they related to selling hockey tickets.

After the program, one of the team owners said, "You haven't answered the most important question."

"Really?" I said. "And what is that?"

He looked at me and quietly asked, "How do I sell 10,000 tickets?"

I thought for a moment and wondered how I would sell to 10,000 customers and then answered, "One at a time."

He nodded approval and walked away.

Through the years, I've given seminars to hundreds of different organizations who always ask me a similar question related to their particular business, such as, "What do you know about selling art?"

Each time I gave the same answer: "Nothing. But I do know about selling."

Over the past 40 years, I worked for hundreds of companies around the world that had little or no relationship to my basic selling experience in retail clothing. But when I looked into each business, I quickly discovered the basic techniques in selling were the same. They all involve knowing the product, taking care of the customer, giving them a reason to buy, understanding their problems and solving them.

What are the lessons I learned? How did they work for me and for others? What are the basic techniques, ideas and solutions that work? Here's the main one: The most successful selling is when you and your customer both win.

I also discovered several other fictions and facts about salespeople:

FICTION: Salespeople are born, not made.

FACT: Successful salespeople come in both sexes and all sizes, shapes, colors and descriptions. They acquire their talent through the years learning what works and what doesn't through experience.

As writer Louis Kronenberger said, "Ours is the county where, in order to sell your product, you don't so much point out its merits as you first work like hell to sell yourself."

Ed McMahon, Johnny Carson's TV sidekick, explained how he learned to be a salesman--by doing. He remembers when he was in his early 20s selling kitchen gadgets on the boardwalk in Atlantic City with two other pals--Jack Klugman and Charles Bronson. …