Selling the hard way

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My second day was a complete let down. There was no point in going to the Broadmead main shopping area as the shops were multiples where cash registers were purchased by head office decision. So instead I set out to cold-canvass Stapleton Road. It was not what would be considered a prime shopping location, but it had lots of different specialist independent shops. However in recent times it became famous as the road where the Conservative Chancellor Sajid Javid said he had grown up, in a two-bedded flat above his parents’ shop.

Stapleton Road – back then

No-one had told me how to initiate a sales call so I had to invent my own approach. I started by going in and asking, ‘Have you ever thought of having a cash register?’ and received the rather obvious ‘no’ response. I would politely say ‘Thank you for your time, and if you change your mind here’s my card’.

I soon switched to asking, ‘Have you ever thought of having a cash register that could add up for you?’, but still got a ‘No’. I then tried not making it clear why I was there but that didn’t help because my suit and tie stamped me out as a salesman. I ended the day footsore without uncovering a single sniff of interest.

The second week I was sent on a course at headquarters in London and met with other new salesmen. Some were experienced in other businesses, others were like me on their first proper job. I received a more formal training across the week and returned to Bristol where Ken would take me out on calls so I could learn how he did it.

While on the course I was exposed to the irascible MD, Bill Starkey, who shouted at one guy who introduced himself as Mr Smith. Bill opined that it should be self-evident whether he was Mr or Mrs. His anger was so quick and so violent that I have never used ‘Mr’ to introduce myself – ever!

ASIDE: As I edit this the newspapers are full of Edinburgh University’s Fresher Week where they issued gender badges to new arrivals. These display their preference to be referenced as ‘he’, ‘she’ or ‘they’. The noise you hear is Bill Starkey’s head exploding!

This also brings to mind the team at Future Publishing in Bath in 1998. The Egg online credit cards were launched and the whole team applied for them. As a gag they all filled in titles for themselves such as ‘Lady’ or ‘General’ and their cards were issued bearing these fictitious titles. One of the marketing team who had configured herself as ‘Lady’ said it was remarkable to see the change in attitude whenever a shop assistant was tendered the card.

Can’t resist mentioning here that Matt had a neighbour in Princes Risborough who was rejected for social media accounts. His correct title and name was ‘Wing Commander Lovely’ but no-one believed him.

Demming a Sweda

We were taught that the ‘average’ sale was achieved at the fifth time of asking, and that most salesmen knew only two ways to close a sale. We were therefore taught all manner of closing techniques. The most popular was and is the ‘alternate question close’ – asking do you want this feature or that? Do you want to pay by cash or lease? This way, in saying yes to a smaller binary question, they were agreeing to the overall deal without realising.

Demming Sweda, to the Mayor of Keynsham (spelt K-E-Y-N S-H-A-M)
at a small local show. A clean-shaven me on the right and fellow salesman Tony Pascoe behind the Mayor

Sweda also taught the Winston Churchill close (in the USA they called it the Benjamin Franklin close). You explain that Churchill was a smart fellow and whenever he had a tough decision he took a sheet of paper and drew a line down the middle of the page. You then do this and explain that on the left side he listed all the ‘pros’ for a ‘yes’ decision, down the right side all the ‘cons’. You assist the customer in listing six or seven pros, then shut up and let them try to come up with the ‘cons’. Usually price is the only one. The list’s disparity makes a decision clear.

I did once start a Winston Churchill close with a client who knew it and threatened to ram a pencil up my nose if I continued.

If they came up with price as a problem, I later learned an arithmetic approach to overcome that – add all the benefits of the decision, subtract all the previous problems overcome, multiply by all the intangible features, divide the price into net annual, monthly or daily rates. Simples!

We were also taught that, having asked for the deal, shutting up was absolutely vital. I recall an American 78-record Sweda played to us that listed more than a dozen closing techniques and then the presenter yelled ‘SHUT UP’ and suggested that whoever spoke first after the deal had been requested lost.

Simple adage for closing – ABC

Ken Turner came up in the heat of a deal with a unique close. He was on a dem in Fulham when something dawned on him. He asked the customer whether he believed in fate and the guy confirmed that he did. Ken pointed out that the shop was in Dawes Road and Dawes was an anagram of Sweda – QED. I have never seen a sales technique system or book that lists this anagram close, and although I looked out for it I never found one I could use.

I also adopted the war-remorse close against a West German competitor, Anker. It posed a real threat of equivalent quality, so I resorted to two techniques. One, I saw as subtle, by referring to the competitive German salesman as Herr Hepper and clicking my heels as I said it. I didn’t descend to using the Nazi salute but the implication was clear. If that proved too subtle I would add ‘Did you know they used to give Ankers away thirty years ago?’ ‘Anker is owned by Krupps, and they used to drop them out of planes!’ It worked with clients who still retained a WWII negative focus, which at the end of the 1960s was still most of them.

First sale

My first solo sale had several oddities. An enquiry was called in to the office and I grabbed the details before Ken got back and drove down to Shirehampton to an auto accessories shop. The guy was one of those who used silence to get the seller to babble and hopefully reveal more than intended. I babbled out my designation knowledge, suggesting he needed a repeat bar that you could hold down when you sold four spark plugs. I talked of my suggested cash-drawer layout and that a stainless-steel hood would best reflect his sector.

Stainless-steel-hooded Sweda 46

He was a big guy and remained quiet throughout, until he asked a really strange question, the only time anyone has ever asked me this. He said ‘Are you scared of me?’. I confessed ‘Yes, a little’. He was quiet again and I broke the silence by asking what he was thinking. He said, ‘I’m not sure if I need the repeat bar’. Even I recognised that as a buying signal. I sold him a Sweda Simplex (a detuned Sweda 46) with repeat bar and stainless steel hood. I was so excited I promptly gave him £25-off the basic price of £241, so net £216, plus feature costs. This was something we were allowed to offer without impacting our commission.

I drove back to the office with a broad smile on my face and proudly handed Ken the completed order form. He exploded, first because I had the audacity to take what was his enquiry, which I might have blown, and secondly because of that discount which he saw as only to be used as a last resort. So not such a great start.  

Harry Rhodes’ 1968 telegram remarking on my first order
no idea what ate a piece of this?

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