Salesmanship from the Bottom Up
Salesmanship, as I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, is the art of persuasion. It’s how you get others to accept your ideas. It is salesmanship that gets others to buy your products or services. It is even salesmanship, as every parent knows, that gets your kids to do their homework or go to bed when they don’t want to. (Unless you use brute force, of course, and we all know where that will get you in today’s world.)
You can be forgiven for not giving this much thought if you’re not directly employed in the actual sale of a product or service. It is salesmanship that gets us through life with more than the bare minimum. It is one of the most valuable skills anyone can develop. It doesn’t make any difference what you do for a living. You need to be able to sell.
Not a day goes by that I don’t encounter someone whom I wish could sell better. Sales clerks, service providers, healthcare people, and on and on. Most people want to be courteous and friendly but seem unable to grasp the persuasion part of getting along with others.
True persuasive ability as embodied in salesmanship is an almost mystical quality. No matter who you are or what you do, salesmanship is a great thing to be good at.
Some people think good salesmen are born. Not so. The guy featured in this article started out about as unpersuasive as you can get. But he eventually learned the art of high-powered salesmanship. It changed his life. You can do the same.
The underlying theme here is not just about salesmanship. It’s about how an idea – in this case the notion of sales, of persuasion, of influencing and motivating others – can take root. It got planted early in the virgin soil of a young boy’s mind and grew with him to become the élan vital of his life.
To put it another way, it is about how the concept of the sale grew into a system of beliefs, attitudes and values. They made it possible for him to go further and achieve more than he ever would have without salesmanship.
One part of this guy’s secret was self-hypnosis. It is a powerful tool that can greatly enhance salesmanship. Coupled with the right approach it can thrust even the most mediocre salesperson into the big leagues. It can develop within the sales personality an irresistible force.
But this is not just for salespeople. No matter what you do in life, salesmanship is the jet pack that can help you soar.
With salesmanship you can develop a kind of interpersonal magic. You can generate a mysterious personal quality that makes people want to buy from you. Accept your opinions and ideas. Be with you. Follow you.
While it may seem like magic, there is nothing magic about it. It is based on good, reliable science. But more about that later.
What does it cost, you may be wondering. Not cost to buy (you can’t), but cost to your life, heart and mind. For many, there is a misconception that the cost of success in life is too high. But ask yourself this. Have you ever heard a really successful person make that claim? No? I didn’t think so. Mostly those claims come from the unsuccessful.
Unwilling to put in the effort to be successful, too many people convince themselves that success and victory are ultimately Pyrrhic. That they require you to live what Socrates called the unexamined life. The guy in this story worried about that, in the beginning. But it proved to be an unfounded fear.
Okay, I’m tired already of speaking in the third person. I’m the “guy” here. This story is about me. Or at least that’s the way it looks on the surface. But it is really about all of us who have to make our way in a capitalist society. Some make it big. More don’t. I did, and this is the beginning story of how I did it, mistakes and all.
To give you the full story I have to go way back. I’ll start with my dad.
Dad was a morally upright, good man. But he was one of those unfortunate people who have trouble making enough money. That changed for him later in life, but when I was growing up we were poor.
It was being poor that gave me the impetus to get out of my tiny hometown and make something of myself. Comments I heard at a young age made me think I could do that by going into sales. So that was my goal from a very early age.
I started learning the skills and art of salesmanship when my age was still in the single digits. I got good at it, then became terrible at it, then eventually I got pretty good at it at a high level. I was doing exceptionally well in my 20s and 30s because I had made some surprising discoveries about deep level salesmanship.
That’s why Dad, who had always suspected I was nuts, was sure of it when at the age of 35 I retired from selling. He could not understand why I would give up a gargantuan income to – get a load of this – go to college. He knew from my lavish lifestyle and the way I spent money that I made more money by several orders of magnitude than he had ever made in his life. To his way of thinking, having grown up during the Great Depression like he did, anyone who could make money like I could in sales shouldn’t think about doing anything else.
“Good salesmen are born, not made, Charlie,” he would say to me, “Don’t waste what you’ve got.”
The fact, I was not a “born salesman.” There was nothing genetic about it. I had to learn to sell the hard way. Or probably a better way to put it would be to say that I had to develop my salesmanship. Dad had no idea what it took for me to become a salesman, nor did he have the vaguest notion of what it took to reach my level of selling. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Dad was not a farmer so that made me a minority kid in the tiny little town where I grew up.
The town was in the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma. Its name, Texhoma, came from the fact that the town sat astride the border between the two states. Half of us lived in Texas and the other half in Oklahoma. Surprisingly there was never much debate about which side was better. You were more likely to hear impassioned arguments about whether Fords or Chevrolets were better pickups.
Texhoma’s population at its bustling biggest during my childhood was around 900. If you have seen the movie, The Last Picture Show, you’ve seen one of the many versions of Texhoma. The southwestern United States has countless small towns that look just like Texhoma.
It was obvious to me at an early age that I did not have much of a future there. Early on I figured to get out of there I’d have to get a college education because I was never going to be a farmer. Those were the only two categories I knew about. You were either a farmer or you went off to college and learned how to do something that did not require tractors and horses and land to till.
Getting out of Texhoma and getting a college degree was not going to be easy. Like I said my folks were poor. Money was scarce.
My problem was compounded by my unscholarly nature. With my grades, no academic scholarship was going to come my way. I discovered this in the third grade when I got my first really significant report card. There was a place on each student’s card for the teacher’s comments. Parents were eager to hear what the teacher had to say about their kid so the teacher had to write something positive about each one. I saw lots of interesting, uplifting, supportive comments on other kids’ report cards.
“Kathleen always turns in excellent homework.”
“Mary Sue plays well with the other children.” (She changed later.)
“Ronnie speaks well and is very popular with the other students.”
My comment, though, was different from all the others. It is still indelibly etched in my memory: “Chars is very neat.” That was it. And she didn’t mean neat in the sense of cool. She meant neat as in tidy. It was bad enough that she misspelled my name. But to simply say that I was neat . . . !?!?
In later years when I was an undergraduate in college it was fashionable for teachers to help students “get in touch” with themselves. A favorite way of doing that was to have everyone write their own epitaph. I was subjected to this exercise so many times I became jaded and adopted as my standard epitaph, “Chars was very neat.” Sometimes people would ask what it meant. But mostly they were too busy getting in touch with themselves to really care.
It was clear to me at an early age that I was on my own. I would have to earn my own way. Mother was a great believer in education and she frequently talked about it in glowing terms. (People who don’t have any often do that.) In all of her talk, though, I never remember her saying anything about paying for it.
For a long time I thought you just went out and got an education. That was the only expression I had ever heard. “Get an education.” “Get your diploma.” Wasn’t it like getting anything else? “Get a new hat.” “Get a job.” “Get screwed.”
It came as a shock to me when I realized that to get an education you had to learn a bunch of stuff. You also had to pay a whole lot of money. Somehow the concept seemed absurd that I would have to actually pay for my education with my own money. That was especially onerous because I didn’t even have enough money to buy the things I really needed. Like a Lamborghini or a Ferrari, or a motorcycle. Necessities like that.
One thing I knew, though, was that salesmen raked in the dough. One of the earliest things I can remember my dad saying to me was, “Charlie, you wanna do good in life, be a salesman. Salesmen really rake in the dough.”
I remember the first time he said that because it was right after I had been screwed for the first time. I had hoed weeds all day for the Jackson sisters and they paid me with a box of onions. A box of onions! What does an eight year old kid care about a box of onions? Like I said, my first screwing. Unfortunately it would not be my last.
Dad was also fond of saying that salesmen named their own hours. I wondered why hours needed names, but I figured it out later. So, hey, if salesmen named their own hours and raked in the dough, that was good enough for me. I would become a salesman. Rake in the dough. I could go to college at the same time because as a salesman I could name my own hours. Then I would graduate and be a doctor.
That last part was my mother’s contribution. “Be a doctor and help people.”
So you can see why salesmanship was high on my agenda. I was motivated to sell things early in life. And I figured it was never too early to start.
My first chance at the big-time was in cosmetics. One day when I was about eight I asked Aunt Pete – my wealthy great-aunt Pauline – if she had any odd jobs I could do to earn some money. I figured if I did any hoeing for her she would pay me with real money, not onions.
It so happened that Aunt Pete was the local Avon distributor. She had a basement full of Avon merchandise and lots of order pads. She prayed about it a while then decided to give me an order pad and some samples. Told me to go forth and take orders. She would supply order books and samples and pay me a commission of five percent on my sales.
Screwed again, although I did not realized it at the time.
Years later I learned that for every dollar in commission Aunt Pete paid me she made over $12 in profit. She was one of the wealthiest people in Texhoma. Small wonder.
I banged around with the Avon thing for a couple of years selling cosmetics to old women. (At my age anyone who wore makeup was old.) Orders came mostly from relatives and Mom’s friends.
At this early stage in my life I did not have any salesmanship skills. The women just couldn’t resist a freckle-faced eight year old. All I had to do was knock on the door and say, “Avon calling.” Melted their hearts.
Selling cosmetics was not particularly lucrative. (I don’t know why not, at five percent commission.) The important thing was that I was in sales and ipso facto on the way to the good life where I could name my own hours and rake in the dough. I didn’t learn stuff like “ipso facto” until much later.
Growing up in the Bible Belt as I did, life was a never-ending round of church service, Sunday school, choir practice, and revivals. One of the first things you learn is how important it is to be conservative in the way you look. Take haircuts, for example. God clearly did not like long hair. If your hair touched your ears, it was too long. Haircuts were an important part of any good Christian’s grooming.
I got my haircuts at Gus’ Barber Shop. For as long as I could remember there had been an old, unused shoeshine chair in the corner of his shop. One day when I was about ten I asked Gus about it. He said lots of kids had tried to make a go of shining shoes over the years. But none of them had ever been successful enough to stick with it for very long.
He said I could give it a try if I wanted to. My “rent” would be to keep the shop clean and deal with the towels. I would be expected to be there after school and all day on Saturdays. He would pay for the supplies and I could keep all the money I made.
I jumped at the offer. Graduated from part-time Avon order taker to big time shoeshine boy.
It didn’t take me long to discover why no one had ever made a go of it. Very few of the farmers and cowboys coming in for a haircut asked for a shine. For one thing it was strictly a matter of faith that there actually were boots or shoes under all that mud and manure.
A Professional Gambler Teaches Me about All-In Salesmanship
During my first couple of weeks I doubt that I shined more than two or three pairs of shoes. No more than I knew about shining shoes, that was probably a blessing.
Gus’ shop was directly across the street from the Texhoma Hotel, a perennially derelict and frequently closed establishment that, like the rest of Texhoma, had seen better days. At this particular time the hotel had been recently re-opened by a hunchbacked professional gambler named Perry.
I never knew if that was his first or last name. It was the only name I ever heard.
According to the received wisdom of the more knowledgeable Texhomans, Perry was a disreputable, godless, whited sepulcher. He was also a slender, dapper guy whose shoes, I now noticed, were always beautifully shined.
Perry’s mien was scary. He looked sinister and it wasn’t just the hump in his back that made him look so threatening. He had jet black hair pasted to his scalp and a thin, sharply-chiseled face. He looked like a Hollywood version of a river boat gambler. In truth he looked more like a Mafia hit man (Hollywood again). But I didn’t know about that sort of thing until later when I was learning stuff like ipso facto.
Perry’s countenance probably worked well for him at the poker table. It did nothing to encourage this young boy to bother him with silly questions about things like how he got his shoes so shiny. But I sure wanted to know. It quickly became an obsession with me. I was absolutely sure that my shoeshine business would blossom if I could just get a pair of shoes to look like his.
Desperation finally won out over my fear. One day, sometime in the second or third week of my growing humiliation as a failed shoeshine boy, I screwed up my courage and asked.
“Mister Perry, how d’ya get them shoes to shine like that?”
“I spit on ’em,” he growled back at me.
Oh, crap! Run . . . hide . . .
I was turning to slink off, thoroughly crushed and ready to work up a good case of self-pity, when he asked, “You wanna know or not?” Much to my surprise Perry acted like he had been hoping I would ask.
That proved to be one of those pivotal points in my life.
It turned out that Perry had been a shoeshine boy when he was a kid. “I know the ropes, kid,” he said, “and I’m gonna show em to you.” Until that day I hadn’t even known there were any ropes. Now I was going to learn all about them. I was excited.
I did of course have misgivings about accepting Perry’s help. Would it corrupt my eternal soul to associate with the likes of him? Would I get kicked out of Sunday School again? (It happened with embarrassing regularity.) What would I risk by taking instruction from someone who was definitely not a God-fearing, Christian man?
These were very real questions for me but I was afraid to say no to him. Besides, I was greedy. Virtue versus cash was a no-brainer for me.
The first thing he taught me was how to shine shoes well. A Perry shine was essentially a spit shine, so he was not being facetious when he said he spat on his shoes to shine them. But spitting on customers’ shoes was not cool, so I kept the lid of a polish can filled with water on the stand. After slapping on the polish with my hand, I put a few drops of water on the shoe and rhythmically slapped the polish and water for about three minutes. The water treatment could also be repeated with the final ragging for a spectacular shine on a really good pair of shoes or, as was more often the case, boots.
Next came flair. For Perry it was a given that every shoeshine would be a good one. But just giving a good shine wasn’t what it was all about. After all, any smart aleck punk could shine a pair of shoes.
Smart aleck punk. I can still vividly see and hear Perry with his hooked nose and harsh voice talking about smart aleck punks and how I’d better not turn out to be one. “Henderson,” he would growl at me, “you’d better not turn out to be one of those goddamned smart aleck punks.” I frankly did not have any idea what a smart aleck punk was so I did not know if I was one or not. I laid awake nights worrying about it.
Perry’s unvarying expression was almost, but not quite, a sneer. I never saw him laugh but he was not totally without a sense of humor. His manner always confused me. He was a harsh, cynical man, disdainful of most people and all kids. Yet he gave most generously of his time to teach me. He obviously wanted me to be successful. Bless him.
Once the customer was in the chair the show began. Rag-popping, dual-brush rhythms, and – my God, the glory of it all! – a rhythmic hand-slapping to rub in the polish. To have this kind of fun and get paid for it too. “Sure, you’re gonna shine their shoes, see, and you’re gonna do it good, see,” he often told me, “but show ’em somethin’ too, boy, show ’em somethin’. You gotta go all in.” Every time I watch an old Humphrey Bogart movie I think of Perry.
Give me a couple of brushes and a shoeshine rag and I can still be moderately entertaining.
All of this was important and contributed to my success as a shoeshine boy. But the really essential ingredient of success was what Perry called the hustle.
The Hustle according to Perry was composed of three parts. First came the pitch. This is where you let people know they needed a shine. And that you wanted to do the shining. Ask for the business. Ask for the privilege of giving a top notch shoe shine for the paltry sum of $1.35. (All dollar amounts are converted to today’s equivalents.)
Paltry sum. I said that a lot. I didn’t know for sure what it meant. I ‘m sure the cowboys and farmers I used it on didn’t know what it meant, either. But Perry said it so it so I figured it must be okay. I think he picked it up from some W.C. Fields movie. Perry also told me he was the ping-pong champion of the Lesser Antilles. I know he stole that from W.C. Fields.
It was not until many years later I realized Perry was joking about his kyphosis (hunchback). He couldn’t possibly have played ping-pong, not well anyway, with the severity of his spinal curvature.
Perry emphasized that hustle included pitching everyone. This was very important. Never mind whether their shoes or boots looked old or new, shined or scuffed, clean or dirty. Ask them if they wanted a shine. If you were not busy in the shop, go out on the sidewalk and pitch everyone walking by. Smile and be courteous. Compliment their footwear. “Them’s good lookin’ boots, Sir. Shine?” Ask for the business. Say “sir” a lot.
When I first took on the shoeshine job I thought of it, if I did any thinking at all, as being just that. Just shining shoes. But Perry showed me that success came not from the quality of the shine, but from the selling. It was my first introduction to the fundamental tenets of all in salesmanship.
So it was entirely thanks to Perry that I got my first real taste of salesmanship and its rewards. For three years, from age 10 through 12, I made good money shining shoes. I made enough to buy things like the fanciest bicycle in town, the only Schwinn within a hundred miles. Several BB guns. An expensive bow and good arrows. Plenty of cigarettes (yeah, I smoked). Most of what I bought was stuff I did not need. I should have been saving more of my money. Helped my parents more. But you know how it is with pore folks.
Eventually my lucrative little shoe shine business and all of my newly acquired worldly possessions were too much for me to handle. I went AWOL for several days – who knows why or what I was doing – and Gus turned the business over to his son, George David. He was the same age as I and we were good friends. I was devastated, but it was nothing less than I deserved.
But to George David it was just a job. He stuck with it a couple of weeks. But he did not have the right stuff. That is to say, he didn’t have Perry to teach him.
All of this happened at the beginning of summer, the best season for barbering and therefore shoe shining. Gus had once told me he liked the way I kept the shop clean. I did try to be conscientious about that. After all, was I not Chars the Neat? When George David returned to his usual wont of doing nothing, Gus wondered if maybe I could come back and pick up where I left off. He clearly liked having me there to keep the shop clean.
That was when I discovered the joy of telling someone to kiss my ass. In response to which Gus told me I was a smart aleck. So I was one after all! The doubt and wonder could end. I decided being a smart aleck had its rewards and might not be such a bad thing after all.
But there I was, 12 going on 13, unemployed. Woe was me.
Firecracker War Salesmanship
In those days there were lots of advertisements in the back of comic books touting all kinds of money-making schemes. One that had always looked particularly appealing to me had to do with selling fireworks. I picked an ad and sent off for information. I received an exciting, beautiful full color brochure picturing the company’s various wholesale “assortments.”
I ordered a small assortment, stuffed the boxes under my bed (!), and waited for customers.
And waited and waited. I had built it, but no one was coming. (The phrase, “Build it and they will come” was still in the future.)
The question was, how could I get people to buy my fireworks? I couldn’t just stand out on the street and ask passersby, as I had with shoeshines. And telling all the kids I knew had not resulted in a single sale.
I would have asked Perry but by this time he had moved on and I had no idea where he was. But one of his key phrases kept repeating itself to me: Ya gotta go all in, boy, ya gotta go all in! Trouble was I couldn’t figure out how to apply salesmanship to selling fireworks.
It was at this point that my subconscious mind stepped in. I know it was my subconscious because I did something quite uncharacteristic, something I don’t believe I would normally have ever done. My uncharacteristic act involved cherry bombs.
Cherry bombs, at that time and from my supplier, were balls of tin foil about the diameter of a US quarter dollar. They were designed to explode on impact. They were not hugely destructive or dangerous, but I doubt that you can buy them in the US today.
One afternoon I left the house with some cherry bombs in a paper sack. As I recall I had some vague notion of trying to sell them.
As I was walking down the street I came upon three older kids standing on a corner, talking. I started to approach them but on impulse I took out a cherry bomb and threw it at their feet. It exploded and startled the bejezus out of them. No one in Texhoma had ever seen a cherry bomb before.
One of the kids started toward me with menace in his eyes but I stopped him with another cherry bomb thrown just in front of him.
“What is that,” he demanded. “Cherry bombs,” I said.
“You just throw ’em and they go off?” he wanted to know. “Yep,” I answered.
“That ain’t fair,” he said. “If you want to have a firecracker fight, give us some.”
“Nope,” I said. “They cost me money and I won’t give you any. But if you insist, I’ll sell you some for the paltry sum of five dollars.” They followed me home and spent all the money they had on them on cherry bombs and other firecrackers. Thus was my fireworks business born, quite literally hoisted on my own petard.
It wasn’t long before kids all over town were having cherry bomb fights. Also Chinese firecracker fights. And of course I was the only source of ammunition in town. Fortunately no one got hurt, although I did numb my fingers a few times when I got distracted and forgot to throw a firecracker I’d lit with the intention of throwing it at someone.
Business was booming (sorry!) and I had to reorder repeatedly. It was that way every summer until I left Texhoma.
Here are some of the more important points my fireworks business experience added to the salesmanship lore Perry had started for me:
- Don’t be like everyone else, be different, but in a way that feeds your salesmanship. No amount of salesmanship will help if you don’t have the prospect’s attention. Throw cherry bombs at them! (Figuratively speaking, of course, unless you happen to have some.)
- Figure out how to make people realize they want what you’re offering. That’s what creative selling is all about: create the desire or need in the prospect. Those kids had no idea how much they wanted to throw cherry bombs at one another till I came along and showed them.
- The stupendous cleverness, bordering on genius, of the subconscious mind. As it turned out, this was huge.
Over the following years I frequently thought about that day with the cherry bombs. It was my first experience, so far as I know, of having my subconscious step forward with a brilliant solution that had consciously eluded me. That would not be the last time that happened. In fact subconsciously motivated ideas and actions would become regular occurrences later after I learned how to generate and listen for them. They helped me get into big time sales.
But once again I’m getting ahead of myself.
Prospecting, Salesmanship and Trash
Selling firecrackers and roman candles was fun and lucrative. But it left me with a lot of time on my hands. What could I do to supplement my fireworks earnings? I wondered.
One of my summer chores around home was mowing the grass. We had an old beast of a push mower that was real torture to use. Pushing that thing around our yard would take at least a couple of hours. It was a weekly chore I dreaded.
One day I was at the town lumber yard and saw something that gave me an idea. They sold a lot of hardware things at the lumberyard and in their show window was a new, beautiful, gas-powered mower. It was a real beauty. Just looking at it made me want to take it home and mow the grass.
If I had that mower my weekly nightmare of mowing our own yard would be over. Plus . . . I could use the mower to cut other people’s grass. For money, of course.
I bought that mower the next day and pushed it home. Mowed the yard. Loved it. But as I was mowing it dawned on me that I had not thought this thing out. How exactly was I going to get other people to pay me to mow their yards? I realized I had not thought through the thing with the fireworks, and here I had done it again. I had lucked out on the fireworks, but I couldn’t keep relying on luck to get me through.
But luck did come through, sort of. The weekly movie at the Ritz theater happened to have a peddler’s wagon as part of the plot. Now that was an idea I could use. Instead of taking wares from village to village like the peddler in the movie did, I’d take my mower and go yard to yard.
Thus began my period as an itinerant yard guy. I would push the mower down the street with one hand and with the other pull my old wagon with a gas can and other things I needed. When I saw a yard that needed mowing I’d knock on their door and ask.
I got some yards to mow that way but it was an inefficient marketing method. I was averaging only a couple of yards a day and it was keeping me away from my fireworks sales. There had to be a better way.
In passing I should mention that while there was a little weekly newspaper in Texhoma, it never occurred to me to advertise in it. That would have violated cultural norms. Only established, adult businesses advertised in the paper. People would have viewed it as uppity for a kid like me to advertise in the paper alongside real businesses like the lumberyard.
But I did come up with a solution. I kept thinking about Perry’s frequent admonition that real salesmanship required you to go all in. To do that required the use of all one’s relevant assets. One of my assets was my bicycle. I could ride my bike to find yards in need of mowing.
That worked but it was not much better than my earlier method. Find a prospective yard, stop and ask. If they said yes, go home, get the mower, push it to the yard to mow, push the mower home, get back on my bike and look for another yard . . . you can see why it was not working out.
In those days it was pretty cheap to mail a postcard. So I spent some time riding around looking for prospective yards to mow and essentially compiled a mailing list. Then I imagined I was Perry and penned a message like I thought he would do it. It came out something like this (remember, it was a small town and either I knew who lived at the address or I could find out easily by asking someone I knew):
Dear Mr. Smith,
You got such a great yard and I would really love to mow it for you. I will do it for the paltry sum of $[whatever seemed fair for the yard].
Worked like a charm. But one of the interesting things was that no one, I mean no one ever, called and said come on over and do it. Everyone who called wanted me to come by and talk to them first. Which I was quite willing to do, of course. Because I was getting an account, not just a one time yard mowing. My yard customers almost always had me mow their yard the rest of the summer (and the next summer, and so on). And they frequently hired me to do other kinds of chores, too.
It wasn’t long before my rapid success got me into trouble. I took on more work than I could handle, especially alongside my fireworks business. In June and July, people would often have to come find me to get me to go home and sell them some fireworks. This, plus my inability to say no to new yard customers, played hob with my schedule.
My solution was to go over to the lumberyard and buy another mower. Hired my friend, Leonard, to run one of the mowers.
But we still had a problem. To much time was spent traveling from yard to yard. That’s when Dad stepped up to help. He let me use his old beat up pickup and he walked. That was the kind of dad he was.
The pickup was an old ’37 Chevy with hardly any paint left on it. There was a tear in the front fender. Everyone knew when I was coming because that fender would vibrate and screech. It made a God-awful noise. I eventually fixed it with a piece of scrap chrome I bought from Gordie Ferrell’s salvage yard. Bolted it across the tear. If it won’t go, chrome it.
If you have been keeping up you know I was about 14 years old by this time. You’re probably curious about how, at that age, I could conduct a business that required driving. All I can say is, small towns are different. Kids still drive at that age in Texhoma and other small towns like it.
Yard work was no good during the winter so I couldn’t work after school the way I had with the shoe shine business. So I started hauling trash. Everyone kept a barrel out in the alley in which they burned their refuse. I would arrange with them to pick up their trash on a regular basis.
When the pickup bed was full I would haul it to the local dump about a mile out of town. No fence, no gates, no fees – didn’t I tell you things are different in small towns?
Once again I was able to make a go of it because of Perry’s teaching. My salesmanship skills were getting better and better. While I was driving down an alley to pick up someone’s trash I would be on the lookout for full (especially overflowing) trash cans. When I spotted one I would stop, run up to the back door and ask anyone who answered my knock if they wanted me to empty their trash barrel. For the paltry sum of five dollars. This simple technique got me plenty of customers.
Eventually I had to hire another kid and had multiple employees. I was getting my first experience of the joys of being an employer. (I’m being facetious.) But, hey, I was raking in the dough and naming my own hours.
Big Time Impresario Salesmanship
From a very early age I wanted to play the cornet. So when I was in third grade and old enough to join the school band, I told my mother what I wanted to play. Except I got the name wrong. I thought they were called clarinets, so that’s what I said I wanted.
A few days later Mom drove the 20 miles to Guymon to the only music store in that part of the state. She bought my band instrument and brought it home to me. She handed me a used, beat-up metal clarinet. It was hate at first sight.
It was all a big mix-up. But I had at least a rough idea of how much my folks had sacrificed to get me that old beat up clarinet. So even though I really didn’t want to, I joined the band. In the clarinet section. Which, besides me, was composed entirely of girls. I was the only boy. Part-time cosmetic salesman and sissy boy clarinet player. Ugh! Life was not working out.
I hardly ever practiced and hated every minute I spent with that horn in my hands. In two years there were two different band directors. Neither was inspirational in any way and I just glumly tootled in the last chair of that otherwise all girl section of other tootlers. Across the band on the other side were the manly trumpets and trombones. I was miserable.
Then Irvin Hopson became Superintendent of Schools and hired a new band director named Paul Huntington. This was when I was about 10 or 11.
The first time I met “the new band director” was one evening a couple of weeks before the start of the new school year. It was on the sidewalk in front of the Ritz theater. He initiated a conversation and asked me if I was in the band.
“Yes,” I said, “but I’m not any good.”
“We’ll change that,” he said. And we did.
Huntington was different looking, but he was street wise, played a lot of instruments, and had a lot of charisma. I thought he was especially cool because he looked the other way whenever I sneaked into the instrument room for a smoke.
Under his influence and inspiration I caught fire (nothing to do with smoking in the instrument room). Got it in my soul, as they say. I started practicing and eventually took solo chair. Became concert master and student director. Won a few regional and state contests. This took a few years, of course.
All this time Huntington was playing weekends with a dance band composed of band directors from around the region. They usually worked on Saturday nights, sometimes traveling 200 miles round trip just to play a gig. But they made good money working in VFW and American Legion halls. And had a lot of fun.
When the tenor player dropped out Huntington asked me if I wanted the job. Never mind that I had never even touched a tenor saxophone. I had never even played popular music. But he told me I could do it, and it payed $135 each dance. Deal!
I took some cash and headed for Guymon to buy a used sax.
I didn’t have enough money. Bikes and BB guns had taken their toll of my liquid assets. But the music store let me charge the balance with monthly payments. No interest. No security. Like I said, small towns are different.
Huntington had been right. With practice it didn’t take me long to translate my clarinet skills to the sax.
The weekends we played dances were a magic time for me. We would drive to the jobs in Paul’s sporty new car. After the dances we were often going over 100 miles per hour at three in the morning when we were trying to get home while we could still stay awake. Those flat, straight prairie highways, late at night, with no other traffic and rarely a cop were an irresistible invitation to speed. And boy did we ever!
As was becoming a pattern for me, my experience with the dance band eventually involved sales. Booking the band was not organized. Waiting for an American Legion Hall or a VFW to call when they needed a band left holes in the performance schedule. What was needed was someone who had the will, ability and time to promote jobs for the band in return for a percentage of the take. We needed a booking agent.
Enter me. Naturally I was eager to take up that mantle. I started staying in touch with VFW and American Legion halls all over that part of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. Not only was I booking our band, I sometimes booked other bands too. They were mostly professional western road bands.
By this time I was 15, going on 16, and feeling pretty cocky. I had moved up the sales food chain from a guppy taking Avon orders to a big shot promoter selling entertainment packages. I was a real barracuda, ready for the big time.
Big City Salesmanship
When my family and I moved to Denver between my junior and senior years in high school I naturally figured I would really do some big time selling. No more penny ante small town stuff for me.
Getting sales jobs in Denver was not hard. Selling was. All of that Okie promotion stuff really had not prepared me for life in the city.
I had several jobs and tried to sell lots of things that first summer in Denver. Automobiles. Kitchen appliances. Accordion lessons for a music school.
Nothing worked; I was not the hotshot I had thought I was.
Dad must have been right, I thought, when he said that salesmen were born, not made. I guessed I just was not one of them. This failure was accompanied with a great deal of emotion and disappointment. I was not going to be able to name my own hours and rake in the dough.
Scanning the classified ads in the paper, looking for something that did not require selling and would be open to a hick kid, I ran across an ad for a rock ‘n’ roll band. Al Cole, the owner of Joe’s Place in downtown Denver, needed a group for weekends.
I called and scheduled an audition for the following week.
I did not have a band, of course. So I ran ads for musicians and hurriedly put together a group. Listened to a lot of top hit recordings. Practiced night and day. Much to my surprise, we got the job.
Joe’s Place was a real dive. It was downtown on 17th just a block from skid row. But I didn’t care. I loved it, played there every weekend for over a year. It was a real education.
Later in the high school senior year, after football season was over, I only had to be in school mornings. So I looked for a new adventure and an additional source of cash.
Dale Dance Studio had placed a classified ad in the Denver Post. They were hiring dance instructors. I decided to apply.
I had done a lot of dancing, some of it with some very good partners, during all those Saturday nights in dance halls. Usually during the band’s breaks. So I was pretty light on my feet.
I got the job and spent the rest of the school year working afternoons and evenings – except Friday and Saturday nights, when I was working at Joe’s Place – teaching and selling dancing lessons.
Get it? “Selling” dance lessons. There I was again, but this was not straight commission so I had an hourly income while I was trying to learn to sell. The studio would run promotional campaigns, like the offer of a free dance lesson. It was my job to sell a course of instruction to the ladies who came in. (There were female instructors-cum-salespeople to deal with the men, of course.)
I did not do very well at this, either, and just barely managed to hang onto my job and my hourly wage. There was a commission on every sale but it was against the hourly pay. I don’t think I ever actually earned more than a few dollars in commission over my wage. I did learn a lot about dancing, though. And older women. (“Older” for me had by this time had advanced to anyone over 30.)
Preacher, Pots ‘n’ Pans and . . . the Army?
When I graduated from high school the preacher at my folks’ church in LIttleton talked me into trying to sell cookware.
He had worked his way through college selling cookware. He continued in sales part-time because preaching did not pay very well. I was not hard to persuade. I still had dreams of the rake-and-hour-naming thing.
I jumped in and began selling pots and pans part-time. Trying to sell them, that is. I was going to college full-time. Working seven nights a week with my band. I had graduated from Joe’s Place to a rough place called the Turnpike Bar and Grill on West 72nd in Denver. Hard liquor and all that. By this time I looked like I was 21.
None of this was I doing well. I still just could not get my head around the selling thing. I also didn’t get the studying thing. And the gig at the Turnpike was just basically work. I eventually flunked out of college and the Army got me. This was back when we had the draft.
Fast forward a few years. I’m out of the Army and back in college. And – yep, you guessed it – back in sales. But now things were different. During my stint in the Army I had begun to study and use self-hypnosis. I used it to help me develop a selling personality and set of attitudes that actually worked.
The way it worked was almost mystical.
At first not much happened. But gradually things started changing, and the change was dramatic. To make a long story more boring, I was eventually selling so well I set some national sales records.
I won’t even tell you how much I was making. It was too outrageous. Perry’s all in selling and hustle were paying off big-time. He would have been proud of me.
I drove Cadillacs and high-powered foreign cars. I dressed well and generally lived high on the hog. I developed sales skills and self-confidence. Attitude out to here.
I forgot all about college and worked in sales for about 15 years. I set world class records in three different areas of direct sales: cookware, pre-need cemetery lots, and encyclopedias.
Then I retired to go back to college and become a doctor and professor. Which is where I began this tale, talking about how Dad just couldn’t understand it.
As to my outstanding sales ability, I clearly was not born with it. It had to be developed. Just about anyone can use self-hypnosis to make magnificent changes in his or her ability to sell and persuade others. Without high pressure. Without tricks or con games. Just good old Type A animal magnetism. And it gets your head working “in sync with the sale,” as I used to say when I was a sales manger.
The phrase I like even better is “getting your sell on.” Like Perry said, going all in.
You don’t even have to call it hypnosis. Self-hypnosis got me started. Here’s how I leap-frogged that and made it to the big time in sales.
When you have your sell on your subconscious mind is firing on all cylinders. No one can stop you. You are a magician with a special mojo that continually amazes and delights you. And makes you lots of money.
There are other ways to get your mojo working. There are certainly lots of salespeople who do not use self-hypnosis. But anyone who is selling at the top levels is using a kind of subliminal perception and communication that constitutes the real essence of what I call all in selling. Or, going back to the other phrase, getting your sell on.
Even though I stopped selling to becoming these other things, I still sell. All the time.
I don’t think it is possible for me to stop being a salesman. Nor can anyone, once they’ve reached this level. In everything I’ve done over the years, I’ve been selling. As a psychologist I sell therapy and mental health. As a professor I sell education and intellect. And when I conducted self-hypnosis seminars I was also making a big sales presentation. Often to hundreds of people. To sell them on the benefits of making self hypnosis part of their lives.
I commend sales skills to you. Persuasive communication is helpful, sometimes necessary, for success in almost any field. You certainly need to develop your sales ability if you are in or plan to go into sales work. Even if you are not a salesperson per se, you will be more successful at anything you do if you have the ability to persuade others.
When I became a scientist I did a lot of research into what had made me so successful. Take a look here if you are interested.