Words to Sell By
No one could say John Locke had a charmed childhood. He wasn’t born into wealth, didn’t grow up with powerful connections, never had any extra money for frivolous pursuits, and yet, here he is, a business success by any standards, who over the past two years has reinvented himself to become one of the world’s best-selling pulp fiction authors.
“I don’t write literature,” says Locke. “My books are meant to entertain for three or four hours, and if they do that, it’s all I’m aiming for. People have responded to that, and they enjoy my books. That’s great.” So how did he sell 50,000 e-books a week and land at the coveted number one spot on Amazon’s top 100 Kindle book list? Locke kick-started his success the old-fashioned way: in sales. In this article, based on an exclusive Selling Power interview, John Locke, salesman, manager, entrepreneur, and now author of nine best-selling books, explains how he designed a formula for success and has repeated it for the past 40 years.
The First Key
First of all, Locke gives credit to his 88-year-old mother, who, according to Locke, is still independent and full of zest for life. It was his mother who told him that if you can read, you can do anything – his first success lesson.
At the end of World War II, Locke’s Canadian father and his American wife moved to Puerto Rico, where John, who has an older brother, was born. Tragically, when John was only two years old, his father was killed in a car accident, and his mother subsequently moved the family to Massachusetts, where she had relatives. Not wanting to depend on her parents for support, she eventually found a teaching job in Louisiana and moved her two sons south. That must have been young John’s second lesson in success: don’t depend on others to take care of you. Make your own way in life. That second success lesson became the touchstone of his success.
“I never had a job that paid a salary,” says Locke, who insisted on straight commission even when, later in life, salary plus commission was an option. Locke, who left Northwestern State University in Natchitoches (pronounced “Nack-o-tish”), LA, in his last semester, says, “Back then, no one would hire me. I was twenty-one with long hair and a rock band, and even when I offered to work on straight commission, I couldn’t get a job. I was even turned down to sell Kirby vacuum cleaners.”
That is until one day an opportunity opened up. If he was willing to pay for a company-run, two-and-a-half-day training program, a job selling insurance door-to-door could be his. Locke took the plunge, sold his musical instruments to pay for the training, and signed up. Going door-to-door selling policies that cost as little as $2, $4, and $6 per month seemed like a start that would never amount to $1 million dollars. Or would it?
“If you can sell, you’ll never have to worry about surviving,” Locke says. “It’s the only profession that generates income for a business. And if you sell on straight commission, you’ll never be let go.”
He doesn’t agree with the notion that to do well you have to love what you’re selling. “As long as it’s legal and there’s a need, I can sell anything. If you can sell, you can control your own destiny,” he says, adding that it was the same with his books. “I went out like a bull and found the market.”
Although that may sound like a bit of bombast, Locke, who comes across as a total professional – polite, direct, experienced, and smart – has certainly found his niche. And that’s another of Locke’s principles: find your niche market. That’s where need meets product. His niche in books falls somewhere in the crime/mystery/thriller/pulp-fiction arena – or maybe a combination of all four. An indie author who self-published his books on Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook platforms, Locke’s promotional copy proudly states, “Every 7 seconds, 24 hours a day, a John Locke novel is downloaded somewhere in the world!” Since some time in 2010, Locke has had up to nine e-books on Amazon’s top 100 chart, and he has sold well over 1 million books since he first published a little more than two years ago. It seems that finding your niche can pay off big time: success lesson number three.
After learning the basics of selling insurance door-to-door, Locke, who at that time owned neither suit, car, nor telephone, took off on foot looking for business. Surprise, surprise: he found that if you look for sales, you make sales. Next, he discovered the value of re-creating your own success by hiring and training others to do the same thing. Soon Locke began to expand his horizons.
“I was out there every day, and I said, ‘I’m going to design products because I know what people want.’ And I would let the insurance company create the product, and I would hire, train, and motivate the salespeople to sell it and pay that company to pay out the claims while I kept the difference,” Locke explains.
Eventually, Locke bought a shell insurance company, and things really began to grow. But before that happened, he had to learn some hard lessons: “Every day I would go out and get beaten up and bloodied. If I knocked on your door and I sold you a policy, I won. But if I didn’t, you won. And when that happened I would remember everything you said, and I would spend the evenings practicing how to handle that objection.”
In addition, Locke wrote down every objection he heard and came up with his own sales and marketing manual. After a few months in the field, he says there was no objection he hadn’t heard before. This put him in a perfect position to counter any and every objection. He created a customized sales-script book written expressly for his niche markets. Where did that lead?
“I had every confidence in the world that I was going to get a check,” Locke explains. “I used to use about seventeen different closes. Whatever your objection might be, I had a handle for it. But after being in the field for so long, I came up with what I called the only rebuttal you’ll ever need.”
Always an Answer
Wouldn’t that be nice? A global answer for every objection? “I called it the cost close,” says Locke. “All I had to do was get the person to one close.” The smart adaptation here is how Locke led the prospect to the close he wanted to use.
“I figured out a way to isolate every objection to one thing – cost,” he says. “After going through a presentation, if you wouldn’t buy, I would listen carefully to what you had to say and wait until you had talked yourself out, and then I would say, ‘Let me ask you a question.’”
The question was always the same: “If this were absolutely free, would you take it?” And then the prospect would sell Locke on why, if the product were free, he or she could use it. Whatever other objections came up, for instance having to ask the boss/husband/partner/manager for the all-clear to purchase the “free” product, Locke always came back to “but if it were free.” The universal, globally applicable close. Boom. Success lesson number four: find a universal sales technique that works and stick with it. Locke also says that he never spent more than five minutes trying to get a prospect to buy, thus multiplying his efforts by seeing more people.
At 35 years old, Locke had made enough money, selling insurance that continued to pay premiums for decades and multiplying his efforts through the salespeople he had hired and trained, to buy a life-insurance company – a shell company – that was licensed to do business in 34 states. He then designed his own insurance products and expanded to most of the states where his company was licensed to sell. From then on, the sky was the limit – literally. Locke has owned houses, cars, private jets – the whole success enchilada. But the first time he really felt successful was on his very first sales call. As he recalls, “That first time I walked out with a check, I felt like I owned the world. Like I had all the power in the world. It gave me the confidence that I would never, ever have to worry about paying my bills.”
Fill In a Niche
Today Locke defines success as “having the freedom to do the things that I want to do – like this writing adventure – and to watch this family I now have grow. Being as driven as I was before, I never had the time to draw back and understand what success really was. Success wasn’t owning the most or selling the most or making the most money. Success was enjoying those things with people you care about.”
If something John Locke wanted or tried didn’t work out, his first response was always, “I haven’t done everything I can.” He would come back to the problem time and time again until – like Thomas Edison – the light would come on. And then he would take action to multiply what worked, rather than get stuck in what didn’t.
“With my novels,” says Locke, who penned nine novels over the past two years, “I was selling nothing in the beginning.” He followed what everyone said you had to do, but it was just like his experience with insurance: when the tried and true fails to work, find out what works for you and go for it.
“I found a niche market I could understand and replicate,” he says. Early doubters should have been warned. Locke was determined to sell 1 million books, and within two years he accomplished that goal. While his novels may not be right for everyone, those who’ve become fans are devoted. Eventually New York agents and even the Wall Street Journal came calling, and Locke opened his accounting books to a reporter to verify the sales figures that finally even the New York Times best-seller list couldn’t ignore.
What does Locke think about goals? Here’s his success lesson number five: “Goals should be low enough to hit,” he says, “and high enough to matter. As you hit those goals, your success muscle becomes more powerful.” When Locke set a goal to sell 1 million books, he went about marketing them the same way he marketed insurance: sell low, sell to a niche, and sell often. Not wanting to be limited by what somebody else said he could accomplish, Locke eschewed the publishing world and went his own way. These days Locke finds his market and makes his money the newfangled way – online.
For more information about John Locke and his books, visit his Website at savingrachel.com. –
John Locke's 5 Success Lessons
1. Reading is the basis of learning. Learn to read, and you can do anything.
2. Don’t depend on others to take care of you. Create your own success.
3. Find your niche and sell, sell, sell to it.
4. Discover a universal sales technique that works and stick with it.
5. Set goals low enough to attain and high enough to matter.
– LB Gschwandtner
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