When I got out of the Marines, one of the first jobs I had was selling security systems door-to-door. It was my first sales job.
I wasn’t smart enough to start my foray into selling outdoors in the spring when I could move from house to house in relative comfort. Oh no, that would have been far too easy.
I chose to start selling door-to-door in November. Had I lived in California I might still have been ok but I wasn’t that lucky. I lived in Kansas.
Kansas weather is the worst. Let’s be honest, Kansas is the worst. It’s flat and boring; it rarely rains yet it’s constantly humid. Summer temperatures run above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and in winter you’ll regularly see temperatures in the negatives.
The winter I started selling was particularly cold and wet. Each night I’d schlep my ADT home security sign and fake letter binder door-to-door through the snow trying to close prospects on a product that paid me about a hundred dollars a sale.
I banged on a hundred doors that winter, and I sold a lot of security systems, but I barely made enough to make my car payment and the $180 in rent I had each month.
But I did learn a couple valuable lessons that have helped me immensely over the last 15 years.
1. Cold Calling SUCKS and It’s A Waste of Time
Now I didn’t say cold calling wasn’t effective or that you can’t make a good living by calling on people who have no idea who you are.
What I said was it sucks and it’s incredibly inefficient, not to mention demoralizing.
That first winter selling taught me that playing the numbers was the worst way you could possibly sell anything.
I remember thinking, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could get every person in this neighborhood into one room, give them my pitch, and then start taking orders?”
I can remember laughing to myself at the absurdity of doing something like that; yet now, I do it all the time. I speak to literally tens of thousands of people either by email or through my podcast (which now reaches up to 40,000 people a day).
2. Story, Framing, and Authority Change Everything
The second thing I learned selling from the dining room table was that if you walk in without a story or some way to show authority, you’re screwed.
I can still remember the first family I ever pitched. It was a man and a woman whose neighbor was just robbed.
The company sales process was for the rep (me) to first do an assessment of the house, and then talk with them about the products we offered and what they would need to adequately secure their home.
I was 22 at the time. Most of the other guys on our sales team were my age or younger. Now you tell me how much credibility a 22-year-old kid has when dispensing home security advice? None of us even owned a home. I was renting a one-room studio above some guy’s garage.
When I started going through the couple’s house taking notes in my pleather-bound legal pad, I think the homeowner actually chuckled to himself.
I left without a sale.
This happened time and time again until I got wise. Having just been discharged from the Marines, I started prefacing my background in my opening pitch to homeowners. INSTANT CREDIBILITY!
Instead of skepticism, homeowners were now asking my opinion. When I told them they needed the extra motion sensor or fire protection they took my advice.
I didn’t make a killing. As I said I barely made enough to survive. But I was selling, and for a guy with no training and zero experience, that was saying something.
So what’s the big takeaway?
Most of my clients come to me frustrated. They are honest and they care about their clients/customers. They have what they believe is a superior product.
“So why is this other guy’s business blowing up while mine struggles?” they say.
Here’s the answer: The “other guy” has built his credibility and authority to CELEBRITY STATUS as a thought leader in your space. Everything he does, every interaction he has with his following is designed to increase the likelihood they will do business with him. He has, in short, created a reality shift in his prospects that reduces or eliminates their objections to buying his product. Selling for him has become effortless, even unnecessary. All he needs to do is create the product or make a recommendation, and sales flood in like water through a bursting dam.
I’ve seen this work in my own businesses. Once people see you as an expert, they enter what I call your Ring of Influence. This doesn’t happen after first contact, but rather after you’ve demonstrated your proficiency to the point that the prospect no longer questions whether you understand their problem or have the solution. They simply accept you as an authority.
Once that is done, they enter your Ring of Influence and they begin to look to you to solve their problem. They follow you on social media and subscribe to your YouTube page or email list. They may even invest in a low-end product or subscription to test the waters with you. You are now a TRUSTED AUTHORITY and your influence with them grows exponentially.
As your contact with them grows and they start to see you in multiple places (Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, their inbox), you begin to achieve Celebrity Status. Now it’s not a question of IF they want to do business with you; it’s a question of HOW do they do business with you. What product is right for them? How much is it? Should they buy the add-on product as well?
Now the act of selling moves from a cat-and-mouse game of overcoming objections and defeating buyer resistance to a consultative process of helping someone decide what they need. Your prospects stop giving you all the reasons they can’t buy and start showing up, money in hand, ready to purchase, and excited to get started.
When I was trudging door-to-door through the snow trying to sell security systems, I wish I had understood the power of story and framing, and the importance personal branding plays in your ability to influence. At the very least, I’d have sold a lot more stuff. At best, I’d have quit that job and started building a story and persona that got people coming to me rather than the other way around.