The following passage is excerpted from Napoleon Hill’s classic, How to Sell Your Way Through Life, and annotated by Jeffrey Gitomer, author of The Little Red Book of Selling and The Sales Bible.
What separates a salesperson from a master salesperson?
Good question. The answer is not new. In 1996, at King’s Used Bookstore in Detroit (used bookstores are my favorite place to shop), I found a book titled How to Sell Your Way Through Life, by Napoleon Hill. It was a first edition, written in 1939.
I thought I’d learned a lot from Napoleon Hill. Read Think and Grow Rich (several times), 17 Success Principles, Success through Positive Mental Attitude, and listened to his Positive attitude tapes until I wore them out (actually had to buy a new set) — but 25 years after I read his life altering classics, the best was yet to come. How to Sell Your Way Through Life is a lost, and important, gem.
In one chapter, Hill presents a description of what makes a great (master) salesperson. As I read (devoured) the words, I began to get a feeling of enlightenment. One of those “aha!” moments.
As you read to these qualities, keep in mind they were written in 1939. No TV, no computers, no cell phone, no Internet, no email. I’m passing on the list in Hill’s original words. Partly because it’s interesting to get the flavor of the times — and mostly because you don’t mess with the words of a master. CAUTION: Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of his writing style.
Hill issues a challenge — “The list is long and perfection may be only slowly attained.”
Gitomer interrupts with — Here’s the way to get the maximum value from this list — don’t just read it. Rate yourself from 1-10 on your present level of competence or excellence for each quality. Not “I know that. Rather, “How good am I at that?”
Hill continues — “Therefore, before entering into a detailed consideration of the things you would like to have your mind and body capable of doing, let’s at once enumerate those (5) characteristics which are absolutely necessary.”
The first part of Napoleon Hill’s “28 Qualities a Master Salesman Must Develop” are his five primary requisites:
1. Physical fitness is of tremendous importance for the simple reason that neither mind nor body can function well without it. Therefore, give attention to your habits of life, proper diet, healthful exercise and fresh air.
2. Courage must be the part of every man or woman who succeeds in any undertaking, especially that of selling in these trying times of intense competition, after a devastating period of depression and discouragement.
3. Imagination is an absolute requisite of a successful salesman. He must anticipate situations and even objections on the part of his prospective customer. He must have such a lively imagination as to enable its operation to place him in sympathetic understanding with the position, needs, and objectives of his customer. He must almost literally stand in the other man’s shoes. This takes real imagination.
4. Speech. The tone of voice must be pleasing. A high-pitched squeaky voice is irritating. Words half swallowed are hard to understand. Speak distinctly and enunciate clearly. A meek voice indicates a weak person. A firm, clean-cut, clear voice that moves with assurance and color, indicates an aggressive person with enthusiasm and aggressiveness.
5. Hard work is the only thing that will turn sales training and ability into money. No amount of good health, courage, or imagination is worth a dime unless it is put to work; and the amount of pay a salesman gets is usually fixed by the amount of very hard, intelligent work that he actually puts out. Many people side-step this factor of success.
(Hill writes) The above principles are simple. There is nothing unusual or impossible or even striking in them separately or collectively, unless perhaps it be the fact that most salesmen fail to possess one or more of the five primary requisites.
Some salesmen may work hard and even intelligently, using their imaginations well until they meet a succession of rebuffs and turn-downs. It is here that the salesman with sand in his soul, stamina in his backbone, and courage in his heart, comes right back and whips the salesman who hasn’t these qualities — so courage is essential.
Then again, many salesmen have been known to possess courage, imagination, and hard work, yet by dissipation and bodily excesses, handicap themselves so as to be too physically unfit to carry on their work.
Hill says, “The next (sales) qualities play off the others, and are not possible to master if the first five principles are not in place.” (Gitomer says — Bummer.)
6. Knowledge of the merchandise he sells. The super-salesman analyzes carefully the merchandise or service which he sells and understands thoroughly every advantage which it embraces, because he knows that no salesman can sell successfully that which he, himself, does not understand and believe.
7. Belief in the merchandise or service. The super-salesman never tries to sell anything in which he does not have implicit confidence because he knows that his mind will “broadcast” his lack of confidence to the mind of the prospective buyer, regardless of what he may say about his wares.
8. Appropriateness of merchandise. The super-salesman analyzes both his prospective buyer and his needs and offers him only that which is appropriate to both. He never tries to sell a Rolls Royce to a man who ought to purchase a Ford, even if the prospective buyer is financially able to buy the more expensive car. He knows a bad bargain for the buyer is a worse bargain for the seller!
9. Value Given. The super-salesman never tries to get more for his wares than they are actually worth, realizing that the sustained confidence and good-will of his prospective buyer is worth more than a “long-profit” on a single sale.
10. Knowledge of the prospective buyer. The super-salesman is a character analyst. He has the ability to ascertain, from his prospective buyer which of the nine basic motives he will respond to most freely, and he builds his sales presentation around those motives. Moreover, if his prospective buyer has no outstanding motive for buying, the super-salesman creates one for him, knowing that a motive is essential in “closing” a sale.
11. Qualifying the prospective buyer. The super-salesman never tries to make a sale until he has properly “qualified” the prospective buyer, thereby informing himself, in advance of his efforts to close a sale, on the following points:
a. The prospective buyer’s financial capacity to purchase
b. His need for that which is being offered for sale
c. His motive in making the purchase
Endeavoring to make sales without first qualifying the prospective buyer is a mistake which stands at the head of the list of cause of “no sale.”
12. Ability to “neutralize” the mind of the buyer. The super-salesman knows that no sale can be made until the mind of the prospective buyer has been neutralized, or made receptive. Because he knows this, he will not endeavor to “close” a sale until he has “opened” the mind of the buyer and prepared it as a background or base upon which he may put together the word-mosaic of his story. This is the point where many salesmen fail.
13. Ability to close a sale. The super-salesman is an artist at reaching and successfully passing the closing point in selling. He trains himself to sense the psychological moment when terminal facilities may be reached successfully. He rarely, if ever, asks the prospective buyer if he is ready to purchase. Instead, he goes on the assumption that the buyer is ready and conducts himself in conversation and general demeanor accordingly. Here he uses the power of suggestion most effectively. The super-salesman avoids trying to close a sale until he knows in his own mind that he can close successfully. He so conducts his sales presentation that his prospective buyer believes he has done the buying.
Well there are the eight sales mechanical qualities. The word “value” (#9) has taken on new and more dynamic meaning in the 21st century — but it’s interesting to note that “value given” is at least a 70 year old sales philosophy. (Are you giving it yet?)
Isn’t #12 – The ability to neutralize the mind of the buyer, cool? What an interesting thought. Since doubt and mistrust usually exist in the mind of the prospective buyer — I interpret this as the ability to establish rapport, confidence, and trust — thereby neutralizing the mind. Don’t you love it?
The next nine qualities are all about personal make-up and self-organization. How do you rate?
14. A pleasing personality. The super-salesman has acquired the art of making himself agreeable to other people because he knows that the prospective buyer must buy the salesman as well as the merchandise he sells or no sale can be made.
15. Showmanship. The super-salesman is also a super-showman! He has the ability to reach the mind of his prospective buyer by dramatizing his presentation and by giving it “color” sufficient to arouse intense interest through an appeal to the prospective buyer’s imagination.
l6. Self-control. The super-salesman has and exercises complete control over his head and his heart, at all times, knowing that if he does not control himself, he cannot control his prospective.
l7. Initiative. The super-salesman understands the value, and uses the principle of initiative. He never has to be told what to do or how to do it. Having a keen imagination, he uses it and creates plans which he translates into action, through his initiative. He needs but little supervision and, generally speaking, is given none.
l8. Tolerance. The super-salesman is open-minded and tolerant on all subjects, knowing as he does that open-mindedness is essential for growth.
l9. Accurate thinking. The super-salesman thinks! Moreover, he takes the time and goes to the trouble to gather facts as the basis of his thinking. He does no guessing when facts are available. He has no set or immovable opinions which are not based upon what he knows to be facts.
20. Persistence. The super-salesman is never influenced by the word “no” and he does not recognize the word “impossible.” To him all things are possible of achievement. The word “no” to the super-salesman is nothing more than a signal to begin his sales presentation in earnest. He knows that all buyers take the line of least resistance by resorting to the “no” alibi. Because he has this knowledge, he is not susceptible to negative influence by sales resistance.
21. Faith. The super-salesman has the capacity for “super-faith” in:
a. The thing he is selling
c. His prospective buyer
d. Closing the sale.
Moreover, he never tries to make a sale without the aid of this faith because he knows that faith is contagious; that his faith is picked up through the “receiving station” of the prospective buyer’s mind and acted upon as if it were the prospective buyer’s own state of mind. Without the quality of faith there can be no super-salesman! Faith is a state of mind which may be described as an intensified form of self-reliance. It is said that “faith moves mountains,” but it also makes sales.
22. Habit of observation. The super-salesman is a close observer of small details. Every word uttered by the prospective buyer, every change of facial expression, every movement is observed and its significance weighted accurately. The super-salesman not only observes and analyzes accurately all that his prospective buyer does and says, but he also makes deductions from that which he does not do or say. Nothing escapes the super-salesman’s attention!
Pretty interesting qualities. Some you may have never equated with sales mastery. My favorites are accurate thinking, showmanship and the habit of observation — but the one quality that stands above the others — the glue if you will — is faith. Faith in your company, faith in your product, faith in others, and faith in yourself. How’s yours?
The last six qualities are the toughest to acquire and maintain. How do you rate?
23. The habit of rendering more service than is expected of him. The super-salesman follows the habit of rendering service which is greater in quantity, and finer in quality than he is expected to render, thereby profiting by the law of Increasing Returns, as well as by the law of Contrast.
24. Profiting by failures and mistakes. The super-salesman experiences no such contingent as “lost effort.” He profits by all of his mistakes and, through observation, by the mistakes of others. He knows that in every failure and mistake may be found (if analyzed) the seed of an equivalent success!
25. The master mind. The super-salesman understands and applies the “Master Mind” principle, through which greatly multiplies his power to achieve. (The Master Mind principle means “the coordination of two or more individual minds, working in perfect harmony for a definite purpose.”)
26. A definite major aim. The super-salesman works always with a definite sales quota, or goal, in mind. He never goes at his work merely with the aim of selling all he can. He not only works with a definite goal in mind, but he has a definite time in which to attain the object of that goal. There is a psychological effect of a definite chief aim known as a process called auto-suggestion.
27. The Golden Rule applied. The super-salesman uses the Golden Rule as the foundation of all of his business transactions, putting himself in the “other man’s shoes,” and seeing the situation from his viewpoint. This quality will be a greater necessity in the future than it has been in the past, because of the changes in business ethics which have taken place as the result of the Business Depression.
Of all the qualities that a salesman must possess, none is more necessary, none more valuable than the last one —
28. Enthusiasm. The super-salesman has an abundance of enthusiasm which he can use at will. Moreover, he knows the vibrations of thought which he releases through his enthusiasm will be picked up by the prospective buyer and acted upon as if it were his own creation.
Enthusiasm is a difficult thing to explain, but its presence is easily recognized. Everybody likes an enthusiastic person. He is high of spirit and radiates an atmosphere of good fellowship, high faith, and lofty purpose. Perhaps enthusiasm is born as much of his own deep faith in himself, the mission of work he carries on, and the good he does in his work, as anything.
Therefore, to every salesman this advice is given as though from Sinai: With all thy getting, get enthusiasm.
Hill closes the chapter with: Mastery in connection with these major factors in selling entitles those who sell to rate as super-salesmen! Study the list carefully and make sure you are not weak in connection with any of these qualities, if you aspire to mastery in selling.
You will observe that every quality may be acquired!
This does not harmonize with the false notion that “Salesmen are born and not made.” Salesmanship is an art and a science, and may be acquired by those with the will to acquire it.
WOW! There is not a sales training program in America that could not be run on these principles. Put them into language of today and they are a prescription for 21st century success. You may want to include saleswomen into the verbiage — but realize that in the 40’s, it was perfectly acceptable to use the “man” suffix to include all genders. Times have changed — some will argue for the better.
Go back and review this lesson. Hill’s methodology is designed that way. I know people who have read Think and Grow Rich a dozen times (people like me, but that’s another story). And for those of you who doubt his greatness — or listen to the words and think, “kind of hokey,” you should know that Napoleon Hill’s mastermind group consisted of people like Andrew Carnegie, Henry Firestone, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Who’s in yours?
(c)2009 All Rights Reserved The Napoleon Hill material is the copyright of The Napoleon Hill Foundation. The annotations are the copyright of Jeffrey Gitomer. May be reproduced with permission.
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