The ad in the comic book said, “Win a Bicycle.” I thought it was a sweepstakes, so I filled in the form and mailed it away.
That was early spring of 1963. We lived in a little stick house in the burbs, between the oil refinery and the stockyards. I was eldest of three children of a single mother who worked nights in a rubber factory. And I had long since given up believing that Santa would ever bring a bicycle.
Soon a box arrived from The American Seed Company, full of little packets of garden seeds. The instructions said I was to go door-to-door and sell them for 25¢ cents a pack (even though you could by the same seeds at the corner store for 10¢). But I was 9 years old. What did I know?
There were all these rules: ALWAYS walk on the sidewalk; NEVER walk on the grass. ALWAYS step back after you ring the doorbell. ALWAYS say, “Yes ma’am,” “No ma’am,” “Thank you, ma’am.” I rang every single doorbell in our neighborhood. Then I crossed that busy street that mother told me not to cross, and visited every house over there, and by 2:00 in the afternoon it was obvious I had no future in sales. I hadn’t sold a single pack of seeds.
Of course it’s easy it is to give up when you’re discouraged, tired and hungry. I was taking a shortcut across a vacant lot, and there was this woman in her back yard working the dirt with a spade, putting in her garden.
I yelled at her across the field, “Hey lady! You don’t need no seed for that garden, do ya?”
She stopped her work, leaned on her shovel and shouted back, “I don’t know; whadaya got?”
“Everything from asparagus to zucchini; what do you want?”
And her next question, of course, was, “How much?”
“Twenty-five cents!!? Why should I pay twenty-five cents when I can buy them at the corner store for a dime?”
That’s when I started to cry.
“Because I’m trying to win a bicycle, that’s why!”
She bought $9.00 worth.
And what I learned from that one transaction was, crying works.
The more important lesson was that people who buy seeds, buy seeds. People who don’t buy seeds, don’t buy seeds. That’s just the way it works.
And if you want to sell enough seeds to win a bicycle, you have to find all those people. You look for that hump of dirt in the back yard where they had LAST year’s garden, and if they don’t answer the door, you go back again and again and again, because there are only so many of those opportunities in the neighborhood.
Not only did I sell enough seeds to win the bicycle, (it was a red Huffy, with 20 inch wheels, a banana seat and high-rise handle bars with streamers) but by the end of Spring Break, I had $100 in the bank. My mother didn’t have $100 dollars in the bank. And that, for me, was the beginning of what has been a lifetime career in sales and marketing.
Many of those early lessons have served me well. One day I was showing my box of seeds to a woman and she asked, “How many for a dollar?”
Well, I was only 9 years old, but I could do the math. “That would be FOUR for a dollar.”
She said, “Okay, I’ll buy a dollar’s worth.”
So at the next door, instead of 25¢, I said, “four-fer-a-dollar.” And almost everyone bought at least a dollar’s worth. That simple change doubled my sales. And I learned that changing one tiny thing can multiply your success.
The next big lesson came when an elderly neighbor asked, “Well, son, what’s this for?”
“They’re seeds for your garden?”
“No, no. I mean, are you raising money for Boy Scouts, or maybe summer camp, or. . .”
“I’m trying to win a bicycle.”
“Okay. Here’s $5.00.”
“But I didn’t get to tell you about the seeds.”
“Oh, that’s alright. I’m too old to keep a garden. But I’m happy to help an enterprising young man like you.” (WOW! She called me a “young MAN!”)
So, at the next door I said, “Hi, my name is Orvel Ray Wilson and I need your help. I’m trying to win a bicycle.” And sales doubled again. What that taught me was it wasn’t about the product, or even the price. It’s all about the customer.
In 1989, I was a touring speaker for CareerTrack, one of the world’s most successful seminar companies, teaching Sales and Customer Service in the US and Europe. I was approached by Michael Larsen, a literary agent representing Jay Conrad Levinson. He explained that, in 1984, Jay had written a book called Guerrilla Marketing, and the publisher wanted to do a sequel and call it Guerrilla Selling. Michael asked if I would be interested in ghost-writing this book.
“Sorry,” I said, “I don’t want to be anyone’s ghost. I want my name on the cover.”
“Jay will never agree to that.”
“How do you know?”
“I’m his agent. It’s my job to know.”
One of the principles I taught was to never take “no” for an answer unless you’re talking to the real decision-maker. That’s not always the person who can say “yes.” It’s the person who can say “no” and make it stick. I said, “Give me Mr. Levinson’s number and let me hear it from him.”
Of course Jay agreed immediately, and Guerrilla Selling became an instant best-seller, and one of the most successful books in the series. Jay and I went on to collaborate on six more books, and many other projects. I’ve made a career of making Guerrilla Marketing the most successful marketing series of all time.
Marketing and Selling are often confused, but Sales is really a subset of Marketing. We define Guerrilla Marketing as everything that represents you in the market: your name, your logo, your reputation, even how you answer your phone. It’s ALL part of your marketing.
Guerrilla Selling maps the steps customers take when making a purchase decision. By understanding the psychology of this process, then matching your strategy to your customer, you can make your offering irresistible.
People always go through a six-step process whenever they buy:
First, they recognize a Need. For example, there might be several reasons for buying a new car. The old car is broken down and not worth fixing. Or they have a baby and need more room. Or they need to transport clients and need something posh. Or they have to travel long distances on rough roads and need a reliable car that won’t leave them stranded.
Many salespeople make the mistake of focusing on the product (the car) while ignoring what the underlying need (basic transportation, more space, more comfort, more reliability). Guerrilla Selling teaches you how to ask just the right questions to reveal their real motivation.
Next, the customer considers the Budget. How much can they afford? What’s the payback? Many salespeople make the mistake of delaying the discussion about price to the end, while their prospect is worrying on, “How much is this going to cost?” Guerrilla Selling shows how to deal with prices right up front, then build value for the investment.
Eventually the customer makes a Commitment. They decide to definitely buy a car from someone. Guerrilla Selling shows you how to discover the commitments that your customers have already made, and align your offering so that you win the sale.
Next, the Presentation step. The customer makes comparisons, reads ads, visits dealers, takes test drives. This is often the first time they interact with a salesperson. Guerrilla Selling teaches you how to recognize where your prospect is at in their decision-making process, and give them just the information they need to move forward.
The Transaction is usually thought of as “closing the sale,” but Guerrilla Selling recognizes that this is only the beginning. Guerrillas follow up meticulously to build a long-term relationship with a customer who will buy from them again and again.
Finally, the customer experiences the Reward (more space, more comfort, more safety). Guerrilla Selling recognizes that this is the real reason people buy, and it’s different for every prospect. Guerrillas constantly ask, “How did you benefit from this purchase?” The answers may surprise you, just as I was surprised by my elderly neighbor, who just wanted the satisfaction of seeing “an enterprising young man” achieve his goal.
You can achieve YOUR goal by remembering NaB & CaPTuRe. The consonants in these two words will help you remember: Need, Budget, Conviction, Presentation, Transaction, Reward.
In future installments of this series, we’ll explore each of these steps in detail, and perhaps double or even quadruple your sales.