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Sales Tips that Still Matter

An ace salesperson can sometimes sell you some good life lessons.

We all have to do some selling in our lives, even if we don’t have to meet monthly sales budgets. In many business situations, we sometimes have to “sell” our own credibility and competence. In new social situations, we may have to sell our potential as an enjoyable companion.

When I was quite young I actually did make a few sales. I won a YMCA gym bag for selling a carton of thin mints in a fundraiser, and for selling two subscriptions to New Jersey’s Ridgewood News, I got a 75-cent bleacher ticket to see the New York Yankees play.

These days, I leave the hard sales to the fine sales force we have selling print and digital ads for EW so the editorial staff and I can focus on creating the content for this magazine, like this month’s package of articles on the changes in electrical sales. But some classic sales tips I learned over the years still apply in today’s ever-more digital world. Below are several of them.

Remember the little things. I was always amazed how Tom Preston, one of the industry’s true legends, always remembered the names of someone’s wife, husband, their children, as well as their hobbies, etc. I discovered the method to his magic when he once asked to fetch a card from his Rolodex file. I was amazed to see how many notes he had scrawled on the cards of various contacts — birthdays, family names, you name it. This was the pre-computer age, but to this day it’s the best contact database I have ever seen.

Keep replenishing your industry contacts. Retirements, layoffs and job changes constantly chip away at our circle of contacts. There’s no better way to rebuild them than to make the most of the networking opportunities at industry events. We have all been at a trade show or conference where we are dog-tired and just want to get back to the hotel room and put our feet up. Don’t give in. I can’t tell you how many times I made a new contact because I made the extra effort to stop by a few more booths at a trade show or circulated around the room at a cocktail party just a little longer. And when I do, I always thank Tom Preston, who always worked a reception by walking the room clockwise and counter-clockwise, just in case he missed someone.

A positive attitude goes a long way. I never met someone in this industry who enjoyed his sales career as much as Bob Finley, who after retiring as Glasco Electric’s president, wrote for EW for more than 20 years on what it takes to sell electrical products. If you ever met Bob, you could feel his positive energy the moment he walked into a room. “I am so glad that I had the privilege of spending my entire career in sales,” Finley wrote in one of his EW articles. “I can’t think of anything I would have rather been. Being a salesperson fit me like a glove on my hand.”

Never forget WIFM. The late Jim Newton used to joke that he knew it was time to retire from his family business, Oakes Electric Supply in Holyoke, MA, and try something else, when he got to work one day and found his desk moved out into the parking lot. That something else turned out to be Sales Tech, a training company that taught a generation of electrical salespeople about the importance of “WIFM”—“What’s in it for me?” Newton used to say everyone has their own WIFM and that the trick was to figure out how to service that need. In one of the many articles he wrote for EW, he said, “Whether the guy is the purchasing agent, treasurer or chief electrical engineer, he still wants to do better.

You have to figure out how to present what your company is offering in ways that makes them think, ‘This would be good for me.’”

Go the extra mile. A shoeshine guy at Grand Central Terminal once told me he got a job just because he helped an office receptionist set up a Christmas tree. “I was a delivery guy, and I used to be friendly with this receptionist in an office building,” he said. “If I had time between deliveries I would help her with some of her stuff, moving boxes, opening mail, whatever. One time I was helping her put up some Christmas decorations in the lobby, and the boss came in. He said, ‘You don’t even work here, but you are helping my company. That’s the kind of employee I want.’ He hired me on the spot for a nice job.”

These tips from some of the best salespeople I ever met always work for me and I hope they help you, too.

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