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What can you do to get better? Follow the masters


I began 2003 in retrospect by reading a 50-year-old book on the masters of selling, “America’s Twelve Master Salesmen,” written and published by B.C. Forbes & Sons in 1953.

Each of the master salespeople featured in the book had one extremely powerful overriding principle on which their success was based. When you think of Martin Luther King Jr., you think of “I have a dream.” When you think of Patrick Henry, you think of “Give me liberty or give me death.” When you think of Richard Nixon, you think of “I’m not a crook.” It is amazing how truths become self-evident after 30 or 40 years of exposure.

Back to the book. Suppose you could adopt (or adapt) all of these masters’ best characteristics into your own set of capabilities. That would be power. Here are the masters’ philosophies from 1953:

o James A. Farley, corporate executive. Principle: “Idlers do not last long.” He started as a door-to-door salesman, became vice president of sales for Universal Gypsum and served on the board of directors for several large companies, including Coca-Cola. His secret was doing new things at the same time he was following up and building relationships. Often sending 100 letters a day, he was renowned for making and keeping friends.

o Max Hess Jr., retail store chain owner. Principle: “Strive for a specific goal.” He believed in keeping Hess Bros. forever exciting, not only for the people who shopped there, but also for employees. Hess made a business plan full of goals and, in a small-town environment, achieved big-city results by working his plan every day, and having a happy army of employees helping him every step of the way.

o Conrad N. Hilton, hotel owner. Principle: “Make them want to come back.” He said: “It is our theory that when a hotel is in the top-glamour category … you just can’t make it too luxurious. You heap it on. You never stop pondering the question, ‘What aren’t guests getting that they might be getting in the way of elegance and personal attention?'” Hilton knew that physically, all hotels are pretty much alike; the difference lies in how their guests are treated. All he asked of his employees was that they be nice to guests so they would want to come back. They have been coming back, for nearly 100 years.

o Alex M. Lewyt, manufacturer of the Lewyt vacuum cleaner. Principle: “Believe in your product and love it. So will the world.” He was an engineer who was so convinced he had built the world’s best vacuum cleaner that he advertised it before production was finished, creating a demand in the market with no product. When the cleaner finally emerged on the market, the company posted $4 million in sales in four years. Lewyt said having the best product is not enough. You must believe it’s the best, and share your passion through every marketing and advertising means.

o Alfred E. Lyon, street salesman in Manhattan and later a corporate executive. Principle: “Sell yourself first.” Remember, your customers don’t buy your product; they buy you. If they buy you, they will sell your product for you. His approach of, “I treat my potential customers as I would treat a stranger who I wanted to be my friend,” was a benchmark for his success. He realized people buy from people they like. All he did was to get people to like him, and the rest was easy.

o Mary Margaret McBride, radio broadcaster and columnist, influencer of millions. Principle: “Honesty is the best policy.” Her values – “If I am convinced in my heart and mind that I’m speaking the truth, I approach the job as I would a sale, with zest and interest,” she said. “And in my heart, I know that I am actually performing a service on behalf of my listener, who is in reality, my customer. Honesty breeds loyal customers.” – made her a fortune.

Next week, more of the master salespeople of their time, including Red Motley and Elmer Letterman, will reveal sales insights that will take you to the next level.

Free GitBit: The late B.C. Forbes had a formula for sales. It’s yours for the taking. Go to www.gitomer.com, register if you’re a first-time user and enter FORBES in the GitBit box.

President of Charlotte-based Buy Gitomer, Jeffrey Gitomer gives seminars, runs annual sales meetings, and conducts Internet training programs on selling and customer service at www.trainone.com. He can be reached at (704) 333-1112 or by e-mail at salesman@gitomer.com.  

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