Reading the book quickly conjures up Arthur Miller-esque images of men in traditional suits waiting for a train with briefcase in hand; traveling for hours just to meet new people face-to-face and excite them on the latest technology or business idea. It reminds us that a truly successful salesman couldn’t simply get by with a charming personality or a smart product — they needed to foster habits of intelligent thought, constant study and, of course, hard work. The author says it best:
“… the only real way to get in to see a man, after all is said and done, is to look and act like the kind of man who ought to be allowed to come in. The only real way to hold a man’s attention and interest and to gain his confidence, is to be a man of sufficiently large caliber to command the attention and interest of the prospect and to be a man of such a character as to compel his respect and admiration. In other words, the way to increase one’s selling ability is to increase one’s caliber and strengthen one’s character.”
Considering the 100th anniversary of this quirky but relevant little book and the recent popularity of Hamilton on Broadway, I’ve pulled a few nuggets for any human who wants to live with the audacity and fearlessness of a successful personal salesman; one who smiles, not with a smile that ends at the teeth, but with one that extends right to the heart.
PSA: Please excuse the male-dominated vernacular of this century-old business book.
Quality #1: As your body goes, so goes your mind
“A salesman, probably more than any one else, should have a strong, healthy body and mind. He will find it difficult to influence strong and healthy people unless he himself is in the best of condition both physically and mentally — and one’s physical condition has much to do with one’s mental attitude, especially as regards optimism and cheerfulness. The salesman’s arduous duties require a large daily supply of strength and vitality, and it is just as much a part of his duty to himself and to his house to see that this vitality is constantly renewed as it is to know his goods. A salesman should not be satisfied merely because he is not actually sick in bed. Many a sallow check could have color in it. Many a blurred eye could be clear and bright. A little more fitness for the fray would put spring into many a dragging step. The salesman should be satisfied with nothing less than an attitude, an appearance and a carriage that will indicate the top notch of bodily vigor.
Emerson says: “Physical exuberance, surcharge and arterial blood, a strong heart and a bounding pulse — these are the bases of the powers that make men and nations great. In the last analysis, great human achievements rest on perfect physical health.””
Quality #2: Fate seldom sides with the ill-equipped
“To succeed in selling anything, the salesman must prepare himself by first acquiring a knowledge of the principles of his craft, and then mastering the details of his proposition. He must have his selling points marshaled and under full control. He must be prepared to answer any questions that may arise. The fact that a salesman has had a good preparation does not mean that his study should cease when he begins to work, any more than one would expect a good lawyer to stop reading law after starting practice. Knowledge of goods and of selling points does not come by intuition or inspiration, but by study and application.
The question very often put to buyers: “What kind of salesman secures your friendship and your business?” invariably brings the response: “The man who knows his business and tells me something new about it, and who brings me new ideas about mine.””
Quality #3: Most men achieve little because they attempt little
The more one accomplishes the more one becomes capable of accomplishing. In order to increase his capacity, therefore, a man need only combine ambition with application. As the term is here used, application includes the determination to carry things thru — a capacity for hard work, stick-to-itiveness, perseverance, and energy. The difference between success and failure in any line is found largely in the degree of application. A man of fair intelligence and great energy will succeed in the selling field, whereas a man of brilliant mind and little energy is likely to fail miserably.
Quality #4: Do not mistake activity for productivity
“The sun’s rays do not burn until they are brought to a focus. The success of the salesman results not so much from effort as from an intelligent direction of effort, which, in turn, presupposes concentration — concentration on the acquiring of desirable habits; concentration on the planning of the work; concentration on the goods to be sold, and concentration on each individual sale. This is a quality that must be acquired by constant practice. David Graham Phillips, a close student of human nature, said: “Most of us cannot concentrate at all; any slight distraction suffices to disrupt and destroy the whole train of thought. A good many can concentrate for a few hours, for a week or so, for two or three months; but there comes a small achievement and they are satisfied’ or a small discouragement, and they are disheartened. Only to the rare few is given the power to concentrate steadily, year in and year out, thru good and evil events or reports.”
Concentration, or singleness of purpose, is a distinguishing characteristic of success in selling or in any other field. Many men could reach at least a fair measure of success if they would but develop the power of continuous concentration. Because they do not develop that power, because they hammer all around the nail instead of hitting it on the head, they continue to sell their services for just enough to enable them to eke out an existence. As John Rockefeller says: “If you are in earnest to the innermost fiber of your body, there is no power that can hold you back from the object you strive to attain.””
Quality #5: Courage is the Heart of Authenticity
Want of courage — fear— mars the first moment of the salesman’s interview; makes the voice shake, when it should be round and full; causes the mouth to droop at the corners, when it should be smiling’ and robs the handshake of its grip.
It takes courage to be honest under all circumstances; to apply the whip of ambition relentlessly; to look the tenth man in the face with a smile after having been turned down by the preceding nine — not with a smile that ends at the teeth, but with one that extends right to the heart; to persist in the face of difficulty; to refrain from overindulgence; to force oneself to work at top speed; and to refuse to let one’s mentality slumber during working hours. Courage, in this connection, is synonymous with a determined will — a will that is akin to audacity, that is fearless to the verge of recklessness, that will not yield to seemingly insurmountable difficulties.
Quality #6: Half the strength of the giant is in the conviction that he is a giant
A man who makes a conscientious study of his own physical, moral and mental characteristics, with a firm determination to correct his faults and to increase his efficiency, and who is at all successful in carrying out that determination, acquires a justifiable confidence in himself that will enable him to take up any proposition with reasonable assurance of his ability to carry it thru to success.
Careful distinction should be made, however, between confidence and conceit. Conceit is rooted in ignorance and a misapprehension of facts. Conceit thinks it can, but it really cannot. Confidence is intelligent faith based on facts. There is little hope for a salesman who does not believe in himself. The salesman who is easily discouraged when he is turned aside will never win. Confidence believes it can and the results demonstrate the truth of that belief.