OK, true confession time. My first attempt at a sales gig was selling flower seeds. That's right, seeds. The ones you would order from the back of a comic book. I was 9. The incentive was a "prize." Of course, you could select your own prize, and the prizes were the kind that would make a 9-year-old do anything because these were "must-have" prizes. My wild-eyed eyes were set on X-ray vision glasses. As I said, "must-have."
I remember Mom's acquiescing to my value proposition. "Float me the money, Mom, and I'll pay you back lickety-split and the time I have to spend to get the job done will free you up from yelling at me for beating up the little guys (my younger brothers). You'll be happy, they'll be happy, and I'll be happy."
There was a lesson learned almost immediately: 9-year olds who aspire to X-ray vision don't have good strategies. While the idea hit me in early spring, that six- to eight-week shipment period was costly. The planters had planted. I'd have to rely on the people who thought "little Timmy Roberts might be a fledgling entrepreneur (that word wasn't really used in 1964), so, what the heck, let's humor him."
The alleged "sales kit" was just that, alleged. To say it was nondescript would be nondescript. There wasn't anything, just those little packages of seeds.
"Not a problem, I can make this happen," I thought. "To the streets, Robin! There is crime to fight and seeds to sell."
The second lesson reared its ugly head within the first five houses. Stalls and objections, which I had not planned for, came at me like warp-speed stars hitting the Millennium Falcon. I was blinded. "Already got some, Timmy." "Not what I'm looking for, but tell your sister I said, 'Hi.'" Huh? "Maybe next year."
Don't underestimate a kid who wants X-ray vision. We don't accept stalls, objections or rejection. We are buyerproof. We don't have any limiting, negative self-talk that makes us vulnerable call after call. Things like, "The economy is slow," "Your price is too high," or "We already have a source" will not deter an inspired kid with a "must-have" goal.
Little Timmy knew what to do that day. First, I would remain cool under fire. When the stalls and objections came, I would smile and say, "That's not unusual." No matter what the objection, that's what I'd say. Second, I would have to get them to see these seeds in a different light; I'd have to be original in my approach. If I could bring an original approach, an original thought, I might be able to get my neighbors to see my seeds as valuable.
The story concocted was one I thought would help them "get it." I was so focused on getting X-ray vision glasses that I was dreaming up "pitches" to see if I could get one of my neighbors to rub his chin and say, "Hmm, I didn't see it that way, Timbo." I wasn't trying to dupe the neighbors. I simply wanted to find a way to get them to see my seeds as a "must-have."
The first neighbor I called on was next door. I hadn't called on him previously because I was intimidated by him. He was gruff. But I chose him for two reasons: First, if I could sell him, I could sell anyone; second, he had the most meticulous yard in the neighborhood. It was sculpted.
My hands were clammy and my stomach was in knots as I walked up his gravel driveway. I rang the doorbell, hoping he wouldn't answer, but Murphy's Law ruled.
"What can I do for you, Timmy?" he asked before I could say, "Hello." He didn't seem so mean at all. Must have got him with a full belly.
"Mr. Shew," (that was his name, Shew) "I'm selling flower seeds and, judging by the look of your yard, I can't imagine why you would buy seeds from a kid, but I noticed a spot under your window that might look nice if the flowers were the right color and height, you know, to match the color of your house."
My heart was racing. He took the package and started reading. It felt like a gazillion years and I wasn't aware of anything around, just me and Shew and those seeds.
When eternity ended, he looked at me and said, "Tell you what, Timmy. I'll buy some seeds on one condition. You come over and water them once a week and I'll teach you to garden." Pinch me, right now. Somebody pinch me!
The seeds were sown. The X-ray vision glasses made that summer. They were the envy of my pals. Yet the high I got from creating the win-win with my friend, Mr. Shew, was something I'll never forget. I was buoyed by the experience and the lesson learned: Make every sale customized-use original thinking to plant the sale.
My sales life hasn't changed much since then. Sure, there have been plenty of times I have forgotten that message because I got wrapped up in myself. But, as a rule, I have never forgotten what I learned that day. That's selling-creating a win-win with original thinking.
Just don't call me Timbo.
Roberts is president of Effective Selling Methods Inc., a corporate training and development firm. His column appears monthly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.