I had been traveling for the B______ Company for about a year, having a fair amount of success. But a salesman for my chief competitor always seemed to me to be selling rings around me. He dressed better, acted more confident and prosperous, and had a manner that, to me, seemed to bring all the choice orders his way.
Determined to find out the reason for his apparent success, I studied him every chance I got, and this was often, as we crossed each other’s trail several times a week. Sometimes, I would walk into a store just as he was writing an order in his book. Again, he would come in just as I was leaving.
Finally, one day he came in just as I finished writing up an order for a merchant, and making the excuse that I had a little time to kill before my train was due, I hung around within earshot to listen to his canvass. Within a few minutes, I thought I had found out the key to his success.
Greeting the buyer affably, he almost immediately launched into a new “story” that he had recently heard. It was a rather smutty one, but he laughed loudly at its conclusion, and the buyer appeared to enjoy it, too.
“Here,” I thought, “is his secret. He tells them stories and gets them in good humor, then it is an easy matter to write up their orders.”
To make sure of my discovery I watched him again at the first opportunity, and he repeated the process, using another “off color” story, and getting a good sized order.
“If that’s what gets the business, then I’m going after it too,” thought I. And immediately I proceeded to learn a couple of good (?) stores. I spent an evening practicing them in my room, and the next morning went forth to knock ’em cold.
My first prospect was a big general merchant in a small town. I had always secured an order from him with comparative ease, for a soon as he was at liberty he handed me his want book, and I copied down the items he needed.
It was a rather cool morning, and a group of loungers was gathered around the big stove in the rear, so I went back and joined in the general conversation while the merchant waited on a customer. But in a few minutes he came back by the stove, and I launched into one of my stories.
At its conclusion the group laughed loud and long. I felt quite pleased with myself, and immediately told the second story. This one brought forth more laughter than the first one from the group, and I felt I had make a hit. I could turn the trick just as well as my competitor.
Glancing around to where I thought the merchant had been standing, I was surprised to find him missing from the group. However, a second look showed him marking some goods at the rear, so I confidently approached and greeted him affably.
Mr. Merchant returned my greeting courteously, but without enthusiasm, and quickly informed me that he was not in need of anything today.
I could hardly believe my ears, for I had always secured some king of an order from him, and confidently felt that after my display of funny stories he would do even better by me.
I t happened that I went into the office the next morning, and you can image my surprise when the boss informed me that this same merchant had telephoned in an order the night before.
“Weren’t you up there yesterday?” the boss inquired.
Of course I told him that I was and suggested that the merchant had not discovered that he needed anything till after I had left. I tried to console myself with the same thought, but when I called on this merchant the next week, he again politely informed me that he needed nothing.
Convinced that something was wrong, I went outside and walked around for a half hour, trying to locate the trouble. Then, a thought occurred to me, and I made a beeline back to the store.
“Mr. Henry,” I began, as soon as I had cornered him alone, “I want to ask you a question, and I’d like to have you be perfectly frank with me in answering.”
He gave me a searching look, but told me to shoot.
“Last week you refused to give me an order, but phoned it in to the office after I had left. Today you again turned me down.” I paused a moment and looked him squarely in the eye.
“Now, here’s what I would like to know. Did you turn me down because of those stories I told here last week?”
He eyed me narrowly for a minute, then nodded his head.
“Yes,” was the short answer.
I had guessed right.
During the next five minutes I did some of the tallest talking I’ve ever indulged in. I took him completely into my confidence, and told him just how I came to tell the stories, ending up with the statement: “That was the first and only time I have done a thing of that sort, and believe me it’s going to be the last, if I never sell another cent’s worth of goods.”
All during my recital he had watched me closely, and when I finished he grasped my hand and shook it warmly. “Boy, I believe you. Just stick to that resolution–for a clean salesman always gets farther than a dirty one. Now, get out your order book and started writing.”
He gave me the largest order I had ever written and in the bargain told me, from his years of observation and experience, just why some men were better salesmen than others and how I could improve my methods.
And the best part of it was that he had the right dope on it. By following his suggestions I became one of the high men for our company and was soon outselling my story-telling competitor, while he hit the down grade and finally lost his job.
Since then I have never resorted to dirty stories. I hesitate to think what the result might have been had I not right-about-faced when I did.