I learned three methods:
When I was 6–8 years old I started a newspaper business in my building, signed a contract with my mom for start up of $5, bought 10 Sunday Newspapers at 50 cents a piece and sold door to door for 75 cents. The safety rule was to keep the shopping cart between me and the door and to never go inside. I learned after a while that if I was polite people usually didn’t care to wait for me to fish for change so I would get the whole dollar. I later hired my babysitter’s children to franchise out into other buildings.
In middle school the rage was comic books. I would get students to single out coverts or scenes that they liked, go to my mom’s job once or twice a month and enlarge them to 11×17. 8.5×11 went for 25 cents, 11×17 went for $1. Then role playing games became the rage so I would copy the booklets—-I’d buy them at $6 a piece and copy and resell at $3 a piece, breaking all copyright laws.
In high school I was out hunting for a summer job, went into a bike messenger spot on 34th street, got the job. Looked around the garage that looked like the sitcom Taxi and thought there must be a better place. So I wandered around until I came upon the Manhattan Mall. I figured some store would hire me. I went inside and wandering the 7 stories, I was waved in by a classmate who said A&S department store was hiring (they were the parallel rival to Macy’s then) so I went downstairs, filled out the application, handed it back in with my resume. I’m called into the office by John Johnson a huge redheaded Irish man who began intensely questioning me. He finally says that he wants to hire me to be a Sales Associate at $7.25 an hour plus 8% off the top of all sales I made beyond getting out of the red (your hourly pay x hours worked).
This thoroughly confused me.
I politely explained I barely understood this, couldn’t fathom how I would sell on this level, and had enjoyed being a cashier—-could I please just be a cashier?
He’s like no, you have potential—-they had cashier positions but I could do better because I had a resume at 17 and was wearing a suit and tie to go get a bike messenger job—-he was like, I can take your refinement and refine it a bit more. Let me put your through the two week Sales Associate training program and get you out onto the floor. After an hour of going back and forth I resigned, and took the job.
My thinking was 2 weeks of training was the equivalent of 4 weeks part time, plus I could probably fake my way through for about a month before they fired me, another 8 weeks—-all of this at $7.25 an hour. I could pay my share of the mortgage, light bill, cable at home.
About three months later I was making $1000 a week.
That class, the 6 Steps of Selling, codified a lot of what I had naturally been doing.
Showing up looking like somebody no matter the place.
(For a training program post-9/11 I once showed up in an Armani suit, Ferragamo shoes and Armani tie, with a leather binder of my resumes—-it turned out the program was for mother’s getting off welfare and going back to work. But the Director was so impressed with my willingness to be there for the computer training that she acted as a professional reference for me for years.)
I’m quiet, polite, professional and well-mannered to a fault.
I sat in that A&S HR office and Mr. Johnson pointed out to me that a man older than me by 10 years had been wearing a Bart Simpson t-shirt and I had a resume that politely listed Pathmark (cashier), D’Agostinos supermarket (cashier), Charles Fried Chicken (delivery boy), high school student, my ability to use a cash register and to type and use a photocopier. That exampled a willingness and professionality.
I’m deeply comfortable with not knowing.
I will tell you I don’t know. Yes, I’m very smart, yes, I score amazingly high on IQ tests, yes, I’ve done a plethora of things from an intellectual standpoint but I will readily and enthusiastically say I don’t understand and please explain it to me. Now I might learn faster because I know how to learn but I never put that ability as an arrogance barrier in front of the all powerful—-I don’t know.
Not only do I like people but I believe in them.
When I worked at A&S and then in college at Lord & Taylor I was known as someone who was honest. I might make a suggestion but I rarely did a hard sell on anything because I never felt that was my job nor my place. If you said you didn’t want it or couldn’t afford it, if I couldn’t find a way to put it on sale, then have a nice day. It’s a big store, lots of people in it, I’ll be okay. I was never a predatory salesperson. Not engaging it with fear allows the work itself to become fun, I discovered this several years ago with a sojourn at Belk’s for 10 weeks leading up to X-Mas. Even Customer Service at Wal-Mart was kind of fun. I’m deeply listening to the customer to try and make the experience work out for them. At all of the above places, I used to even have customers seek me out, because I would make it….work out. You’re thinking some harsh criminal act, I’m referring to I would spend my breaks wandering around the store memorizing things so I knew all the sales coming and going, discounts, etc. so I might say to you if you: “come back Thursday it will be 30% off, I’ll put one in the back for you, I’ll be in at 5pm.”
I don’t see work as oppressive or punishment nor do I commiserate.
This is big with me. Don’t bitch and moan to me. I immediately think of fellow employees as somewhere between child molesters and Nazis who bitch and moan, especially to me. And I actively avoid them. By avoiding them and that mentality I’m able to be in a happier place and people like buying stuff from happy people. I’m generally happy and detached from the whole thing which makes sales much, much easier.
I have found now in my own media sales that I consider how to chock full my paperback and digital items to the brim with useful, valuable content and then when customers questioned the cost per paperback how to build it all digital. I notice that people find service, sales as a way to hold power, to laud it over others, I think of it as a way to help people get what they need/want with a balancing within the sales-company expectation.
The retail sales did help me codify but it also helped me to learn the corporate structure of sales and marketing. I apply more theory, techniques and sales systems from those big stores now even in my small business. I look at each other them, maybe a total of 3–4 years as an intensive lesson in ever increasing sales figures and volume, as well as a course in marketing thousands of different kinds of items.