At the age of 32 I left the furniture industry, where I had spent 10 years working in a factory. My father was the general manager and he had designed a production line to produce upholstered furniture. I worked through the various departments until I finally became the assistant manager. But I’d worked myself to a state of nervous exhaustion, because of the stress involved in producing endless quantities of upholstered furniture, and then organising its assembly, and loading vehicles, with the finished product, doing all of this in adverse working conditions, with no great prospect of further career advancement.
The other great motivation for my move was based on the fact that I was not particularly happy with the kind of person I had become. I was brought up under the Victorian attitude toward children, e.g. “speak when you’re spoken to” and “if you’ve nothing useful to say – shut up!” Because of this I became introverted, and I needed to break out on this mental trap.
I believed that becoming a salesman would help me achieve a change in my personality. When I told family and friends of my decision to leave my job, people said I was crazy, because they thought that I had a job for life. I also had a wife and three children to support, and here I was about to enter unknown territory.
I had applied in writing for a position as a salesman with the local newspaper. They had advertised for a new sales team, it said training would be given for their classified advertising department. I had been for an interview, which had seemed to go quite well but I had not yet had a response. After a particularly bad week at the factory, on the Friday evening I quit. As I was travelling home that evening I saw a sign outside a city centre hotel, saying, “Interviews are being conducted today for salespeople”. I parked my vehicle and went into the hotel. I found that the person doing the interviews was just wrapping up for the day. I persuaded him to give me an interview. He told me that the job on offer was selling magazine subscriptions, of which he was carrying about 400 titles. I explained that I had no experience in this kind of work, but he assured me that he would give me full training. It was a commission only job but as I had nothing else going for me I was glad to take the job.
The following day was Saturday and we agreed to meet early in the morning at the hotel. We would then go together to start on the job training. I arrived at the hotel early next morning with my vehicle, which fortunately was a van, because when I arrived we loaded large bundles of the magazines into the back. Then we set off. He directed me to a small town about 5 miles out of the city. We parked my van, then he said, “Now I’ll show you how to do it”.
He took two magazines from the back of my van, one was a Lady’s Hairdressing Journal and the other was a Hardware Journal. We walked along the street and entered a ladies hairdressing salon. He identified the proprietor and asked her if she would be interested in taking out a subscription for the journal. She said “no thank you” so he turned about, and we left the salon.
Then we walked along the street until we found a hardware shop. We entered, and waited until the owner had finished serving a customer, then he asked the owner if he would like to take out a subscription for the hardware journal. The owner said he was already subscribing for the magazine. So once again we turned about and left.
We had now spent about two hours together, and I was amazed when my trainer, then asked me to take him back to the city hotel, as he was taking the train back to Glasgow early that afternoon. I had no option but to do as he asked. Back at the hotel he told me I would do fine. He gave me an address at which to contact him, which was somewhere in Glasgow. He told me to send him any subscriptions I sold, less 40% this was when I learned that the 40% was to be my income.
The rest of that weekend, I spent worrying about the situation I was now in, having left the secure job at which I was earning £1000 pounds a year (this was almost twice the national average income at that time). However, by Monday morning having no other visible source of income, I set off to try earn to a living. The first thing I did was return to the same town and I called once again on the hardware merchant. I went inside and asked him why he subscribed to the magazine. I did this to find out what benefits he got from buying it. He told me that it was a very useful tool, as it contained up to date lists of steel prices and other materials. By the nature of his trade, he carried lots of small steel items such as screws, nails etc and the price list enabled him to keep the value and price of his stocks up to date, no matter how long they had been on his shelves. I questioned him further and he admitted that this benefit alone made the subscription worthwhile.
Armed with that knowledge I then studied the hairdressing journal that I carried and found that it contained a detailed guide, of the very latest hair style along with a tutorial in every issue. These showed hairdressers how to perform the cut and also how to perm the hair to create the new style. I then moved on to the next village, where I sought out the local hardware merchant and approached him with the journal emphasising the value of the price guide within its pages. He ordered the magazine and gave me the money for the subscription. Next, I went into the local lady’s hairdressing salon, showed the proprietor the tutorial within the journal of the latest style. I illustrated how this would enable her staff and juniors to treat her customers to the very latest fashion. She also took out a subscription.
By the end of my first week I had earned £10 pounds. The second week I earned £20 pounds. The following week I felt I was really getting the hang of the job, because I earned £25 pounds. This was more money per week more than I had earned at the factory. By now, I was beginning to feel that I could make a career out of selling subscriptions. However, that weekend a letter arrived asking me to attend the newspaper offices to start on a training course as a salesman on the Monday morning. As the job with the newspaper offered training and possibly better prospects with a good company I decided I would take up the offer, even though the starting pay was only £750 pounds per annum.
The few weeks work I did on my own, taught me the value of asking questions even when your customers are already buying your product. They can teach you about benefits of your product that you may not be aware of. This is an element of sales training that is often overlooked. Then using this additional information and emphasising the benefits working in a practical way will increase the value you bring to your new prospects and enable you to increase your sales.