When I was 12, my Mum very nearly bought a set of encyclopaedias from a door-to-door salesman.
Standing next to her, I took it all in – the spiel about how wonderful these encyclopaedias would be for all the family, what we could learn, how tear-proof the pages were.
The colour illustrations, the research, the writing, the knowledge in this set of volumes – pure treasure for a bright young family like hers.
How Colliers was absolutely better than Encyclopaedia Britannica in every conceivable way.
And how tear-proof the pages were.
Mum had almost signed on the dotted line when Dad arrived home.
He took one look at the bloke, one look at Mum and one look at me as I said: ‘Dad, the pages are tear-proof’.
So Dad took up one of the volumes opened it and tore the corner off one of the pages.
Nonplussed, the salesman mumbled something about accidental as opposed to deliberate tearing, but he seemed to retreat into himself, bowed his head, packed his bag and shuffled off.
I remember being puzzled. Like Mum, I’d taken a bit of a shine to this silver-tongued salesman.
But Dad slagged him off, saying he was full of fibs and speaking contemptuously about ‘salesmen’.
That’s how I started looking at salesmen from then on.
And it is how a lot of people of my generation still view the whole world of sales.
As an ignoble, tainted line of work – ideal for the shallow, the glib, the smooth-talking charmers who could convince you that black was white. ‘He can sell ice to the eskimoes’ etc. Back-handed compliments for salesmen.
But then I also remember a story my Mum told me about how Dad, after he’d left the sea, had gone for interview for a job as a salesman.
How, he was asked, would he sell this cleaning product? ‘Just say – do you want to buy it?’ said Dad.
It was a short interview.
Although he was an excellent writer, Dad was not a man of many words.
He could be honest to the point of brutality, and in his mind, sales was a dishonest game. “(Quite why he’d gone for that interview I don’t know, but I guess times must have been pretty desperate.)
Anyhow, like a lot of people these days, I don’t look at sales like Dad did. In fact, I think successful selling must have integrity at its core.
The online world makes it very hard to ‘flog and run’ any more.
The slick bullshitters are still around, but they’re a dying breed. Markets are smaller now and more closely defined.
Content marketing is king, and to be successful at moving people though that ‘attention/consideration/decision’ funnel, we need to have worked hard at understanding three key things:
- How our brand makes our offering unique and hard to resist
- The specific pain points of of our market sectors
- How our brand address each of those pain points
When we allow these three things to guide the rich content that we map to where prospects and suspects are on that sales cycle, we’re acting with integrity at every stage, because it’s all about everyone’s needs being met.
This is a million miles away from going door-to-door, because we are no longer assuming the whole street is our market.
That’s just honest-to-goodness selling.