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Posted: December 01, 2010

On management: 50 years of selling

The greatest profession

Pat Wiesner

My first sales job was in 1958, 52 years ago. 
I was educated as an engineer (a physicist really), and I thought that the title of "Sales Engineer" was cool.

I remember my first day selling industrial plastic. I was sent out with Bernie because Bernie knew everything about sales and sold more of our product than anyone else in the office. Bernie was great with his customers. They really liked him; they joked a lot; they would have been doing high-fives except they hadn't been invented yet. I joined right in with the fun and couldn't wait to get my own customers to continue with.

After about a week with Bernie I was given my own book of prospects and sent out to meet these people who had not seen anyone from our company for some time.

Well, I really had a hard time of it. I got a lot of, "Whatever you're selling, kid, we don't need it!" It's hard to be friendly when all they want to do is get rid of you. I had gone to the company training school for six weeks and was ready to answer any question. Problem was, hardly anyone asked me a question, ever.

I tried hard to out-Bernie Bernie. But it wasn't working so well, and I wasn't selling much. Whatever it was, it wasn't working for me. At the end of the first year I concluded that selling was just not for me. So I quit and found another job as an engineer, designing circuits for the Atlas missile program. It was lots of fun. I even had a "secret" clearance for the designs I was doing.

The Atlas program ran out, and I ended up at a publishing company as an editor writing articles about technical stuff. My boss there said I should try sales, that I had the personality for it. I told him I had already failed at that, but he eventually convinced me to try again, and that's when I started to learn a lot of things that make sales the most fun job I could ever have imagined. It began to suit me perfectly, and it still does.

So here are, in my opinion, the sharpest tools of a good salesperson:

• Talk to people. Everyone has a story. How much of that story can I learn today? What's going on? Every person you walk past on your way to see Mr. Big is his possible replacement. Make it your business to know more about this account than anyone else.

• Ask questions rather than make claims! Talk about something besides yourself or your product. We, salespeople, have the rep of being talkers. Remember that you are not learning anything while you are talking.

• Think "close" all the time. "Make a presentation, then ask for the order" isn't the best way. Try "Ask for the order, discuss their problem, ask for the order, more discussion, ask, etc."
• Know your product and all the competition. But talk about your clients' problems.

• Welcome problems and objections as an opportunity because the customer is saying, "I'm not so sure, but at least I'm still talking." When a client says, "No," at least ask, "Why?"

• Have a plan. The good natured, "hale fellow, well met" salesman wandering from customer to customer, spreading goodwill, sells half of what the professional with a plan and an idea of where and how he wants to help.

• Be different. If we are just like the average of the other 25 people calling on our customer, we can only expect average results. So figure out how to be different. My way of trying to be different was to try to bring a new idea to every call. From the competition, from the trade mags, about marketing or manufacturing. I always had lots to talk about that wasn't about me and my product.

I know that there were a lot who were better, but I had a great time trying to be as good as I could be.
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Pat Wiesner is the retired CEO of WiesnerMedia, publisher of ColoradoBiz. He still leads sales training for the company. E-mail him at pwiesner@cobizmag.com.

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