My 3 Earliest Sales Lessons

Were you selling as a kid? As a teenager?

I learned 3 selling lessons from my teenage and college days that I still use today.

Lesson 1: Words Matter

My father taught me the first lesson. My parents had just bought the local grocery/convenience store in our little town, and at 14 I was working the cash register. A customer was unloading their basket for me, and I asked “Is this it?”.

Big mistake. I happened to catch my father’s reaction, and it wasn’t good. When the customer left, he said “You never say ‘Is this it?’ to a customer. It sounds rude. Say ‘Will this be everything?’. It’s more polite, plus it lets the customer pause and think about anything they might have forgotten to buy, or to look at the candy.”

Phrasing the question differently helped add impulse sales and forgotten items to the typical sale.

Lesson 2: Sell Differently to Different People

Years later, I had a commission-only summer job, selling ice cream from a bike, similar to the one in this picture. It was a simple proposition. Ride the (heavy) bike to a place with people, ring the bells  on the handlebar, and wait for customers. Mostly kids, sometimes outdoor workers.

English: Dickie Dee Ice Cream cart in the earl...

English: Dickie Dee Ice Cream cart in the early 1980’s (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first part of my route started in an office park. No outdoor workers, everyone in offices, no one could hear my bells. In prior years, the sales rep would do a cursory ride through, then head to a residential area. But I decided that office workers in summertime would be bored, and happy to have a treat. So I created a new procedure.

I went to each building and told them I would be there the next day and every weekday, at exactly the same time. I would walk into the lobby to let them know I was there, and I would wait for some number of minutes.

Every day.

And it worked. Office workers are just like everyone else: they like ice cream. They just needed someone to sell it to them in a way that accommodated them.

Lesson 3: Learn The Script, But Be Ready To Toss It 

The next summer, I took a job selling cellphone service to small businesses. Cellular was pretty new back then. We learned a script for cold-calling. Part of the gimmick was to call using cellphones, so we could introduce how good the call quality was. Except it wasn’t. And it was killing sales.  So I went home, to make my calls from there. And the quality was even worse. But I lived a long drive from the businesses I was calling, and it turns out that having any service at all in my area was a selling point for some of them. So I started making all my calls from home, told them where I was, and talked about how even as far away as my town, coverage was still possible. I didn’t set the world on fire with that job, but I learned my lesson: selling scripts are made for the typical situation, not your situation.