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BirdsEye View

an ode to sales

I’m a fan of Ben Stein's.  The man tickles my funny bone, plus I find him to be brilliant.  Recently he wrote a wonderful article in the NY Times about sales, which I'd like to paraphrase for you.

 

Stein was a shoe salesman while going to school for a short spell.  While he did not spend much time in the job, he continued to hearken back to that time and recall the deep respect he has for sales people.

 

"Sales - when done right - is more than a job.  It's an art.  It is a high-wire act.  It is, as Arthur Miller immortally said, "being out there on a smile and a shoe shine".  It is learning the product you are selling, learning it so well that you can describe it while doing a pirouette of smiles for the customer and talking abuot the latest football scores.  It is knowing human nature so well that you can align the attributes of your product or service cleanly with the needs and wants of your customers.

 

At its best, selling is taking a doubt and turning it, jujitsu style, into a powerful push.  Selling is making the customer feel better about spending money - or investing it - then he would have felt by keeping his wallet zipped."

 

Stein proceeds to share some of his memories of the Michael Jordans of salesmanship.  "In 1976…my salesman at the Mercedes Benz of Beverly Hills…listened to my objections and simply asked, "Don't you believe in your own future?".  Of course, I bought the car.

 

Many years later, an insurance broker came to call on my wife about disability insurance.  I scoffed at him and told him how incredibly unlikely it was that a healthy woman like my wife would ever be disabled.  "Yes", he said, "That's what we think, too.  That's why it's so cheap and pays so much if she does get disabled".  I bought the policy, and when my wife became temporarily disabled, it paid off magnificently and we needed it."

 

"I've come to love insurance sales representatives", says Stein. "The fact that so many people in insurance sell you what's good for you, even when smart alecks are telling you not to buy it, makes their work extremely impressive.  I wish I had paid more attention to them."

 

In Death of A Salesman, Arthur Miller also says:  "A salesman is got to dream.  It comes with the territory".  How true!

 

Stein closes thusly:  "All; of us sell something, every day and every time we meet someone…I wish that every 17 year-old I know could have had (my shoe sales) experience.  It takes some ability at sales to believe in your own future, no matter what that future may be".

 

I couldn't have put things better myself.  In closing, I'd like to share with you a story of one of the finest sales professionals I've ever met.  This was in St. Louis, and I took my son Paul to buy a pair of sneakers.  We went to Athlete's Foot, and the salesman was so compelling that I bought a pair of shoes myself (and I'm a rational, non-impulsive buyer), as well as joined the frequent sneaker club.  Mike Alexander was a world-class salesperson.

 

I recruited Mike into the bank I was at then, and he became single handedly the sixth best producer among all BANKS in Missouri of home equity loans and lines.  He was a natural, and he was outstanding in identifying true needs.  He and I remained friends throughout the years, and he moved with me to Minnesota, found his wife there and continues to be stellar.  He showed me that true needs-based selling is truly ethical behavior, and that, like Ben Stein says, it helps people do what's best for them.  Amen!