The Best Sales Training Or Totally Crazy?
It was the summer of 2013 and I was sitting on the back of a semi-trailer full of local, organic grocery orders in Williamsburg, Virginia helping out the delivery team. I'd been taken on as an "intern" a couple of months back, and as a test, they asked me to launch the company in the city where I was in university at the time. The launch was a huge success, in fact, it was the companies first ever launch that was profitable on day one, and continued to be profitable week after week.
The company had created discounted gift cards people could buy to try their first order at a slightly lower risk. Every time anybody sold one, they got a small monetary bonus. As an intern, this was my only pay.
The grocery pickup point was in a new mixed-use development where there were local shops, town homes, a movie theatre and even a grocery store. I saw a man park his car, pause and look over at our truck and walk into the town home nearest us. Curious to get his feedback and viewpoint on the site I'd chosen, I went over and knocked on his door. 10 minutes later I'd had a wonderful and educational conversation, sold him a gift card and made $25 for myself.
I was pretty happy about that so I told the ops team I was going to knock on a few more doors and see what happened. Within an hour, I'd sold four more gift cards which made four new customers for us the following week. My boss saw the quick influx of sales and called to see what was going on. I explained and they were very pleased with my innovation.
Several months later, door-to-door sales, what had been marked off as an ancient strategy by the business world at large, became our startups primary growth engine. Through door-to-door sales, I launched a customer acquisition strategy that doubled the companies customer base and opened 7 new immediately profitable markets.
I also learned more about sales and myself than I'd have ever guessed. When I got that internship, I cringed at the word sales. I was a passionate person totally committed to the companies mission but I wanted to join the operations team. My boss said I could join the ops team, but they knew I had a potential inside of me for something different.
Door-to-door sales taught me to be nimble with my speech. You never know who's behind a door, much less how grocery shopping plays a role in their life. By the time I had knocked on 10000s of doors, I could relate to anybody, and I do mean an authentic relatability, not just something fake to make the sale. I was a pretty shy person prior, and although I still love some alone time, when I am in social situations, I now have a skillset to connect people and make everyone feel at ease that I did not have prior.
I also ran a host of experiments, both from my own curiosity in that first summer, and later when I was managing 20 people and running the very formal door-to-door innovation team. I found out my outfit did not matter, but in a hat with a brim or sunglasses, I could not sell a thing. I learned that by phrasing everything in super-positive "yes" language even when what I was really saying was "no," people were much more likely to give us a try. I learned that by having a slew of free fallback options when people did not want to buy, they'd likely opt for one of them instead of totally saying no. I learned that I actually love sales because it is the powerhouse that makes do-good businesses a reality.
I also learned a lot about the variety of people in the world that I could never have known because it's so easy to think our friends are the world and everybody is sort of like the people you know. Understanding the community at large in multiple cities across the east coast gave me a picture of what our population was like overall, which still informs me today about what the world needs.
Of course I don't think every person or business should try door to door sales. But if you have a kickstarter and haven't quite met your goal, I sure would suggest you get out there and knock on doors around your community! Or if you're an internet-based company relying on a particular communities patronship, it might be worth a try for you. Or, if you're in dire need of developing your people skills you might want to find a summer job and give it a shot to get over your fears. It taught me so much I am thankful for years later. It was how I discovered business makes my world go around.