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The Sales Director of a major Holiday Park operator once insisted his entire salesforce read a specific book prior to their annual sales training. As far as he was concerned, Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends And Influence People still had the most gems per page of any single volume. As the course leader for the events in question, I was delighted, when asked by delegates for a good book about sales, it was still the one I recommended most often.
Dale Carnagey changed his name to Carnegie to capitalise on the popularity of the entirely unrelated gazillionaire benefactor Andrew Carnegie. Smart move. Maybe I’ll change my name to Geoff Disney, or Geoff Attenborough, or Geoff Beckham. People like double-barrelled monikers, so maybe Geoff Windsor-Beckham-Disney (more is more as my wife likes to say).
Dale was 48 when he wrote the book that changed his life. This came after a relatively short bout of public speaking which he kicked off in the local YMCA. Before that he’d largely failed as an actor but had already been outstanding as a bacon and lard salesman in his younger years, thus helping to prove something I’ve always maintained; namely that there are few transferable skills between sales and acting and even fewer attitudinal factors. Disney may insist its entire staff is ‘on stage’ when working but other than the notion of behaving appropriately when in the public eye, there can be little or no element of performance in helping people make a decision about buying. If it isn’t entirely natural, it won’t be entirely good.
I could write twenty or more pieces on the wisdom emanating from the pages of Carnegie’s inspiring book and much of it would revolve around thoughts and ideas that had never (or rarely) been put in print before. Modern sales books typically take a specific aspect of sales and spend 150 pages extrapolating on it for all it’s worth. Few, if condensed down to the essence of their genuinely clever advice would occupy more than a few dozen paragraphs and that would probably include mine (if I ever finish it). The temptation to re-explain everything in great detail is just too tempting for most people who claim themselves wise (ouch).
There remain a few folks who can quote passages from the Bible but those that do have an earlier source for many of Carnegie’s lessons, because whatever your stance on religion, there is a wealth of sound advice about relating to our fellow man in there. It may still be the most read book in history (at about 100 billion copies versus Dale’s 15 million) but precious few people in this country spend much time with their head buried in it today. The language style is difficult and there’s so much doubt about matters of provenance that very few people consider it their go-to source for wisdom, life lessons and inspiration. Sad to think (but entirely understandable) that more females of working age are familiar with Fifty Shades of Grey and more men have read The Da Vinci Code. Incidentally, if Dan Brown’s book (that’s The Da Vinci Code BTW) appeals to you try, The Holy Blood, The Holy Grail by Baigent, Leigh & Lincoln. The latter was published in 1982 and while Dan Brown’s novel (2003) covers the same ground and in a remarkably similar way, the courts determined it was not plagiarism. Having read both, my opinion is that the earlier volume is infinitely superior and the latter novel is mealy-mouthed plop.
How To Win Friends and Influence People is an easier and far more satisfying read than any of these other books and so when Darren (the aforementioned Sales Director) asked me to include some sort of review and test of its content in the sales training, I read it again, making it the fourth time I’d done so. This was breaking my own rule for not re-reading books. Life’s too short; way too many great books still to be read. I once did the math and it’s a depressing revelation. I don’t know about you but it takes me a couple of weeks to read a book unless I’m on a plane, a ship, or bored stiff on a beach holiday. Multiply your annual tally by the 100 years or so you expect to live and there’s your theoretical book- opportunity. Plus I didn’t get going until about 5 and even then it was mostly Ladybird books (the one about the body was more than averagely fascinating).
With so many great books out there, who has time for the rubbish? Best sellers, interesting promotions or the recommendations of good folks with dodgy taste in reading meant I have wasted a few hours too. The Da Vinci Code made me groan in disappointment but at least I didn’t want to rip it to shreds like that Fifty Shades dung which I gave up on within the few first few chapters. As a genre though, sales books might be about the worst. The whole self-help section is riddled with eyebrow raising nonsense and the sales shelf might as well be labelled, Feeling poor? How to trick decent people into parting with some of their honest living. Hardworking salespeople who know their product inside-out, understand their customers’ needs and have a genuine desire to help others will learn very little from old books about dubious sales techniques.
Against my own better judgement I still buy a few and zipping back through the ‘pages’ on my Kindle, I’ll find maybe no more than two or three highlighted lines from an entire book, the accumulation of a lifetime’s experiences from one of America’s self-proclaimed greatest salespeople. There are lots of people whose books make that assertion about their vocational status and none are a patch on Dale Carnegie.
Where do you go after HTWFAIP? You may know of something and if you’ve enjoyed it I am pleased for you, do let me know, but having searched, read, tossed aside and searched again I’m pretty much at a loss for what to recommend. Meanwhile, I’m reminded of Australian Sales Director Mark Carriere who I met in Phoenix, AZ. He’d gone to Barnes & Noble in the hope of finding a new book about sales from which he might extract nuggets for his morning sales meetings. In the multi-floored, coffee-come-book shop he found the right section and started working his way along the shelves. There were titles like, Selling to Senior Citizens in the Digital Age and Eat Fruit and Double Your Sales! He could have bought Winnie the Pooh Real-Estate Closing Techniques, Jack deHammer; My Life in Nail Sales, Alpha Brainwaves for Alpha-Males or Life Insurance, My Pyramid to Unbelievable Wealth. None of them came close to what Mark wanted. A female sales assistant in uniform and with her name badge neatly clipped on her pocket approached and said, “Lookin’ for a sales book? Can I help you find something?”
Frustrated by the peculiar and random selection he said, “Yeah, where’s the one called, ‘Just Fuckin’ Sell Something!” which left her understandably speechless.
Then something dawned on her, “Hey! Is that an English accent? I just love London!” which is a great way to annoy an already grumpy Aussie. He came back empty handed and told us all about it and his Just Fu@#in’ Sell Something suggestion has been the title of the sales book I’ve been writing ever since.
Of course he could have re-read How to Win Friends and Influence People, one of the excellent nuggets from which is this:
“Try leaving a little trail of friendly sparks of gratitude on your daily trips”
Dale goes on to talk about the many opportunities we all have to be nice to the people we meet so that we add something nice to their day rather than simply make some kind of forgettable contact, or worse, drain them of their precious energy with our own selfish needs. I’d like to think that most people live this way anyway but fully expect even the best might be able to do better. There’s no real effort required in being nice as anyone who has applied themselves to this doctrine will tell you, the payback is energising in a karmic kind of way.
Distilling some of the advice and rehashing it here, I’ve come up with a list of friendly sparks for the modern era.
‘I have no right to say or do anything that diminishes a man in his own eyes.
What matters is not what I think of him but what he thinks of himself.
Hurting a man in his dignity is a crime.’
‘If you help a friend in need he’s sure to remember you (next time he needs something).’
But then, so is this:
‘If you give someone £10 and never see them again, it may be the best £10 you ever spent’
‘There never was a person who did anything worth doing who did not receive more than he gave.”
So, just do it. Watch the below video and Art will tell you all about getting on and doing it.
One nice example of an unsolicited good deed came from a salesperson called Katie who used to work for me. Nice natured by any standards, one of her regular habits was to celebrate her re-entry into Wales in a particular way. Crossing the Severn Bridge and arriving at the toll (a shocking £6.60 at the time of writing, about the same as driving halfway across France on the fast and open Autoutes), Katie would hand over the money to the employee in the booth, and checking her mirror to see if she liked the look of the driver and family behind, pay for that car too. She would drive off but glancing in her mirror, see the attendant leaning out of the booth window to explain why the next person need not pay, to a bemused and happy group of complete strangers.
‘Who does evil and is afraid of letting it be known has still a seed of good in his evil.
Who does good and is anxious to have it known has still a root of evil in his good.”
That’s an ancient bit of Zen wisdom worth keeping in mind and living by.
And now to what is so far at least, the most embarrassing moment of my life, and I’ve had a few! I’m not sure which German airport we were in, Stuttgart, Munich perhaps, Frankfurt maybe, but myself and two colleagues had visited a client and were now on our way home to England. I like a bit of airport shopping and so had already tried a few aftershave flavours (my favourite is Tester, thank you Jethro), bought a souvenir bottle opener the way you do, examined the overpriced luggage (gotta love all those compartments, pockets and wotnot) and we had finally rewarded ourselves with a burger, beer, fries and beer, all washed down with some beer. Anyway, now we were sat in the lounge waiting the final eon for our slightly delayed aircraft.
Euros jangled in our pockets and one of the three fancied chocolate while I was hankering after a bottle of sparkling water and our other colleague put his hand up for an ice cream. We assembled our copious loose change and I set off to the nearest shop. There I picked up all three items and went to the till, waited my turn and rather belatedly started counting out the Euro coinage. It was immediately apparent that the monetary value might fall short of the impression given by the vast weight since there was a preponderance of small denomination coins. Still, so much change must surely be enough, even at ridiculous airport prices. My turn came and the very attractive lady expertly rattled up the total with her scanner and I was left trying to count out about Є15 in 50, 10, 5, 2 and 1 cent pieces while other travellers huffed impatiently in line behind me. I was short by about 60 cents but noticed a solution in her give-a-penny-take-a-penny bowl. Now I’ve put a small fortune in these things over the years, aiming to help a fellow shopper short of a penny or two by leaving those little extras behind. Surely I was Pounds Sterling, Dollars and Euros in credit, not to mention Yen and all the rest. So I deftly lifted the necessary coins out of the bowl to make up the balance, pleased to see some people had put in not just pennies, but coins of all values – such is the nature of business travellers I suppose. She looked at me in a way that said, Whoa there soldier! It’s a pennies thing, not a friggin’ great handful kind-of deal! But there was no alternative if we were to rid ourselves of all this shrapnel and win our goodies, so the transaction was made, even if she didn’t look too pleased about it.
On the plane I told my colleagues what I’d had to do to obtain the things we wanted and that’s when Ian dropped his atom bomb, “I’ve never seen one of those give-a-penny things in Germany, are you sure it wasn’t her tip bowl?” I instantly knew he was right, I’d robbed a hard-working German woman of some of her tips in order to feed our affluent fat faces. I was the antithesis of Robin Hood and had probably set Anglo-German relations back by years. Oh crap, I shrank into my seat with a low moan and probably looked like I was going to puke. If the captain had announced we were about to crash, my last words would have probably been, “Thank f@c£ for that!” Even now, thinking about it makes me shudder.
So, the best $5 I ever spent. Considered properly, scientifically, the best $5 I ever spent would probably be on something educational which helped our daughters learn to read, or maybe it was a charitable donation that made a difference I’ll never know about. Here though I’m thinking about it far more selfish and superficial terms; what gave back the most instant pleasure?
And now to the best (superficial and selfish) $5 I ever spent, the subject after all, of this meandering waffle.
One time in Pennsylvania I had cause to visit a CVS or Walgreens, I forget which, they are so alike. For those unfamiliar with either think Boots but with an even wider range of goods and now put it in a drab, sand-coloured, stand-alone building on every other U.S. intersection with ample parking.
It’s shopping made easy the way Americans like it. Actually, it’s also the way Brits like it, but we don’t seem to be able to manage it. Instead we either hide the shop somewhere inaccessible, or if you can find it, it costs £3.60 to park, or the car park is full, or if not then the store is closed and if none of those things stop you shopping, the item you went in for will be out of stock. It’s the British way of spending more time attempting to spend even more money, but instead coming home with something different than expected, a little weary and considerably later than planned.
I parked with ease in a space actually big enough to accommodate an entire car and because I was there between the hours of sparrow-fart and nightclub chuck out time, the store was open. I approached the automatic doors, which swung open so conveniently it’s as if they actually wanted me to shop there. Ahead of me, close enough to overhear but not so close that they were really aware of me, a mother and toddler paused in the entrance, otherwise, the store and carpark was largely empty. The little girl had stooped to pick up a penny (still the common name for a 1 cent coin among many Americans) and excitedly announced her good fortune to her mother. As luck would have it, she found a second coin, just inside the second set of doors. It’s true what they say in Mexico then, the streets in America really are paved with a precious alloy blended to make small coins!
While this little poppet was already close to floor level because of her age, she continued to stoop in search of a third coin and with a pocket full of change I decided to make it worth her while. In a series of manoeuvres which might have looked dubious on their TV security system, I deposited my trail of coins around the store ahead of their anticipated route. In between the shrieks of, “Mommy! Another penny see?” I managed to make my purchase of – what it was I’d gone in for; beer, Band Aids, marker pens, toiletries or who knows what? (that store has everything!) and head towards the exit as she picked up another half dozen pennies, nickels and dimes. By this time her mother was in a new emotional state, kind of amazed, shrugging, smiling, clapping her hands on her cheeks, frowning and looking around for an answer. As they paid, I just had time to dash back to my car and recover a fat hand full of coins which I quickly scattered in the entrance, getting back in the driver’s seat car so I could watch their exit. If the mother had been confused before, she was blown away now as her little daughter let out all kinds of happy yelps, barely able to put a foot down without standing on a small coin in the airlock between the store and the outside world. She spent another couple of minutes picking up coins as her mother stared alternately into the security camera and outer space.
In their minivan the mother diligently wiped her daughter’s fingers with wet-wipes and spoke to her at length, laughing and shaking her head in wonder. If ever I’d wished for lip-reading skills, it was then. I presume the oddity of their day was recounted a few times over the coming days and maybe the little girl formed it as a lasting memory. Maybe she told people about it as she got older, went to high-school and then college, but was unable to answer their entreaties as to what it was all about, just one of life’s mysteries.
I don’t suppose the money (which could have been no more than $5 in total, and was probably closer to $3) made any real difference to her and I can’t say that the deed in question added much to her life, although she was plainly delighted for those fifteen minutes, but in a way, the point is bigger than that. Of what I hope is many thousands of interactions founded on positive intentions I have had over the years, this one stands out in my memory as unusual. There can be no other ‘purchase’ I have made of that small value which has given me (yes, me) more pleasure. In terms of bang for buck, this one is right up there. Seeing the little girl’s delight and her mother’s happy bewilderment was pure magic and it has as much power to make me happy now as my memory of robbing the attractive German lady of her tips has to make me shudder and cringe.
Giving can be as selfishly motivated as taking, but it has way more chance of doing good than harm. As such I strongly encourage you to take Dale Carnegie’s advice utterly to heart and allow yourself as much of this kind of selfishness as you can fit into your day.
Don’t delay, start today! Oh and next time you are in German airport, do me a favour and put some change in the till operators’ tip bowls.