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Sales Wisdom from the Distant Past

While looking for a video to illustrate this morning's post "8 Keys for Effective Sales Presentations," I ran across this retro sales training video starring Elmer Wheeler, the Tony Robbins of the 1930s. What amazes me is that his advice is actually still useful. Watch the video -- it's short -- and then read my commentary that follows.

Elmer makes five points, all of which are just as relevant today as they were 80 years ago:

  • POINT #1: Sell the Sizzle, not the Steak. Yeah, it sounds corny, but if you think about the "steak" as the features and functions and the "sizzle" as the benefits, Elmer is right on the money. It might make more sense (but not sound as good) if you said "Sell the pleasure you get from eating of the steak rather than the color and breeding of the cow."
  • POINT #2: Don't Write, Telegraph. I used to think that people were more patient in the past, but I've been saying you've got ten seconds to get somebody's interest on a cold call. Elmer is saying ten words! It's like he knew that the world was eventually going to become increasingly impatient with anything but the shortest messages. In other words, "Don't Email, Tweet."
  • POINT #3: Say It With Flowers. While I think Elmer may be referring to his presentational style rather than the sales cycle, it's absolutely true that actions speak louder than words. What you DO while you're dealing with a customer will always outweight what you SAY. And there's no question that providing some sort of tangible value up front -- including a gift -- helps sales forward.
  • POINT #4: Don't Ask If, Ask Which. This is the one item from Elmer's pitch that seems dated. Providing this kind of choice has been so overused that most buyers, especially in B2B, can see it coming a mile away. That being said, though, I recently heard this exact same advice coming from a highly successful sales manager of a Sales 2.0 technology firm. Interesting...
  • POINT #5: Watch Your Bark. I've repeatedly made the point in this blog that the tonality of your voice is incredibly important. The LAST thing you want, under any circumstances, is to sound like a carnival barker. Elmer himself is a good example of the right way to do it. Though it seems stilted today, in his time, his demeanor and approach would be seen as relaxed and friendly.
So there you have it. Actual sales wisdom from 80 years ago.
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