Curated Leadership for Today's World

book girl

Posted on 03 July 2014

 

[caption id="attachment_1413" align="alignleft" width="169"]A tribute to Charlie “Tremendous” Jones from the sales force at Southwestern. A tribute to Charlie “Tremendous” Jones from the sales force at Southwestern.[/caption]

Ever since I got my first work release at the tender age of 14 I have worked. I worked in fast food, retail, at a summer resort in housekeeping; you name it, I did it. One of the jobs I had in between college years was selling books door to door with a company called Southwestern Book Company, now known as Southwestern Advantage. My father was a true believer in the role of sales in developing a person as well as being a book lover of extreme conviction.

He highly recommended that I consider working for a summer with this group. After all, he told me, if I could knock on a door cold and make a sale I would have successfully completed one of the hardest things I’d ever do in life. Sign me up!! I was all for getting the hard stuff out of the way early so I could move on to greater experiences. He also told me that when a prospect opened their door to put my head in first instead of my foot. That way if they slammed the door on me I could keep talking.

I found out quickly that selling books with Southwestern was unlike any other previous summer job. You are completely on your own to get up, get out, and get results. No one is making you punch a time clock or allowing you to sit behind a computer and surf for 7 hours and 50 minutes a day. And although there were no cell phones in my day, the company still requires cell phones to be left in the student’s home or vehicle.

It truly was a crash course in self motivation, grace under fire, thinking on your feet, and handling rejection. The goal was to knock on as many doors as possible so as to hit the law of averages and get several sales in a day. I had a difficult time with that much rejection so I modified it a bit.

I sold in the coal-mining hills of Bluefield, West Virginia my first summer. Rather than knock on 20 doors and sell 2, I would knock on 2 doors and sell two. By taking time, I was able to develop lasting relationship with these people. Some I even remained pen pals with for years to come. They cooked me meals, shared their family photos, and yes, bought my books. People who had houses with dirt floors saw the value in my $60 two-volume condensed encyclopedia set. Sometimes, if money was short, I would barter with them. I even ended up with a kitten and some moonshine (but obviously didn’t drink it since I still have my eyesight).

The next summer I sold in Blacksburg, Virginia, a much more affluent area. Guess what? They didn’t buy my books. They thought they were too good for my books. And there I learned that the people with the most resources at their disposal are often the ones who lack the most. I couldn’t even get a word in edgewise. So back to my country roots I went, where folks knew a good deal when they saw it and recognized books to be the transformative tool that they are.

You can’t scare me. I’ve sold books door to door. The military was a cakewalk after this experience. I also learned that when someone said “No” what they meant was that I hadn’t done my job in showing them the true value of my product. That was a pretty big lesson to learn so early in life.

So if a book salesperson knocks on your door, please take the time to hear them out. They are doing a job few others would even attempt. And I can guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised by their tremendous products and will be proud to add them to your library.

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2 comments

  • traceyjones: February 20, 2016

    Mark, I’ll bet you were a top seller of that ribbon candy!! Would could resist the Armstrong charm and salesmanship:-) Thank you for the read and for the feedback Mark. You make life worth livin’!!!

  • Mark Armstrong: February 20, 2016

    “I also learned that when someone said “No” what they meant was that I hadn’t done my job in showing them the true value of my product.” What a great insight. Wish I’d heard it years ago. It casts rejection in a whole new light— elevates it, really, into something much greater, something of enduring value.

    Loved the post. I’ve never sold books door-to-door, but I can remember selling ribbon candy at Christmastime as a Cub Scout. I got sweaty palms, and my customers got cavities. Ah, those were the days… : )

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