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World's Worst Salesman

World's Worst Salesman


Hello and good day!

Perhaps the most aggravating person in the world is the person who does a poor job of something that you know how to do well.

If you are a doctor who ends up in the emergency room, and you are treated by a physician who misdiagnoses, it must be maddening. If you can see that they are giving a good effort but lack knowledge, that is one thing. On the other hand, if it is obvious that they have the training, but are lackadaisical and sloppy, it is a different category of offense.

For my part, I trained myself to become a professional salesman.

When my dad and brother first launched our chocolate business, I was working as a payroll accountant for the department of defense and attending chocolate industry conferences on the weekends for no pay. I hated my job doing payroll for the government and quit it to do accounting for a venture capital funded software start up.

For some reason, the CEO of that company thought I could be a good salesman and offered me a sales position. The compensation package as a salesman had a much higher upside and I was a young married man, so I accepted the offer and the challenge.

I quit that job a year and a half later to join the chocolate company. My starting salary with the chocolate company was $1,500 a month, a huge pay cut that required me to do freelance accounting work on the side for many years to make ends meet.

There was tremendous serendipity in the way things played out because for the next eight years a big part of my job was selling chocolate on a wholesale basis to restaurants and chocolatiers.

Most people don't realize that effective selling requires technical training. You must learn the fundamentals of persuasion.

I was a terrible salesman when I first attempted to sell software. My pay was mostly commission based and my paycheck was light for many months after I made the transition. I decided to read every book I could lay my hands on and take training courses to become competent. Slowly but surely, I made inroads and my check got bigger and bigger.

It was a tough decision leaving my sales job to join the family business. I had to give up something I had worked hard for. But being part of a family business was my dream since I was a little boy, and I knew it was the right thing to do.

When it comes to selling, the question is how best to go about convincing a stranger to do something you want them to do, namely spend money with your company. The first part of the question, how best to convince a stranger to do something you want them to do, has wide application.

My brother had to answer that same question to convince Peruvian cacao farmers that they should sell us their cacao and do post-harvest processing according to our guidelines.

For that reason, I consider my sales training to have been extremely valuable. And it bothers me to no end when I see a professional salesman or saleswoman messing up the technique.

This is especially the case when I can hear sales training in their way of speaking. When I hear certain catchwords, I know they have received the information, but they haven't worked to understand it and execute on it.

As I've grown older, I have less and less desire to convince many people of many things. If I can talk or write a few people into eating good chocolate, being kind and empathetic to others, focusing on love and good health, or maybe working hard on an important calling, I feel I've done enough.

However, I also find myself with the strongest desire to convince lazy salespeople to do a better job.

To wit.

Yesterday I received a call from a salesman over at Yelp. I am a good target for the service he wanted to sell me. He wanted me to advertise locally to promote our chocolate shops. This is something I am very open to. I'm always interested in learning about new ways to market. Only problem was that he caught me on the phone while I was walking around a parking lot with my free hot chocolate sign.

"Did I catch you at a bad time?" he asked. This is sales lingo 101. Always ask if you're catching them at a bad time. It shows that you are respectful and not pushy. This fellow has received training.

"Yes, you did. I'm in a parking lot walking around with a free hot chocolate sign," I said. I was now holding the sign straight out in front of me with one hand, nodding at people as they walked by, and holding my phone with the other hand. I usually hold the sign with two hands and this arrangement was very awkward.

"Oh, I'm sorry about that. Listen, this will take less than thirty seconds," he said, and then he launched right in. It took much, much longer than thirty seconds and my arm was weary from holding the sign out with one hand.

What is the point of asking whether it's a bad time if you are going to ignore the answer? More broadly, what's the point of asking any question at all if you are going to ignore the answer?

Did you ever have a conversation with somebody and in the middle, you realize they are looking at you but not listening to you? Isn't that one of the most bothersome things? I'll barely give my wife or children or best friend a pass on that.

But a stranger? Forget it.

The issue here is that this person thinks the best way to make a sale is to give his pitch. However, that is absolutely not true. Likewise, the best way to convince a person is not to make your case. If feels like you should be able to lay the facts on a person and that would be enough. But the direct approach grossly misunderstands how people make up their minds.

The first step is always to understand who you're dealing with. Instead of launching into a pitch, the fellow should have said something like the following.

"Sorry about that. I'll let you go. But just to confirm, are you interested in learning about an affordable, profitable way to advertise your chocolate shops?"

"Yes, always," I would have responded.

And then he could have said, "my name is Steve. I'm from Yelp. You've heard of us, right? I'm going to text you my contact information and I'll try again some other time. Have a good one."

"Hey, thanks Steve," I would have said.

I would have appreciated that he listened and was respectful and then I would have seen his text and thought, "I wonder how much it costs and if there is a good ROI. I'll ask him next time he calls." Or, if I wasn't interested, I would have said, "not right now my friend, sorry." In that case, he would have saved himself the time of pitching somebody he had no shot with.

I'm running long for now, so I am going to sign off.

I will continue with the technical aspects of persuasion tomorrow because it is something that I know a lot about, and I think it holds a lot of value.

Thank you so much for your time today.

I hope that you have a truly blessed day!