For the last 20 years, I’ve trained and coached professional sales people. In all that time, I don’t think single sales person has ever argued with me. Mind you, some have ignored me, but nobody ever argued. They just smiled and moved on.
Then I started selling to lawyers. All of a sudden, I could not get through the first 10 minutes of a talk before someone would raise a hand to question my conclusions and ask about my evidence.
The experience gave me flashbacks to my days in academia, where arguing is a valued skill, and it is a matter of honor to challenge every assertion. To some professors, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as asking a pointed question at a colloquium, and bringing the speaker to his intellectual knees.
In an article in the April 2006 issue of The American Lawyer, David Maister wrote: “lawyers are professional skeptics: They are selected, trained, and hired to be pessimistic and to spot flaws.” An argumentative approach may be exactly what is needed when one debates the law, but lawyers must change gears when they want to develop new business.
In the 1880s, John Patterson of National Cash Register wrote one of the first sales manuals, which included this advice:
Never think or act like you are defeated
Try to make a friend at all costs
Try to get on the same side of the fence (harmonize).”
In the book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie’s explains twelve principles for “How to win people to your way of thinking.” The very first is “The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.” Among many others, Carnegie quotes Benjamin Franklin: “If you argue and rankle and contradict, you may achieve a victory sometimes; but it will be an empty victory because you will never get your opponent’s good will.”
Once you’ve cut back on arguing, you might want to work on your optimism. When you’ve spent an entire legal career preparing for things to go wrong, and cleaning up after things that actually have gone wrong, it’s hard to be optimistic. I feel your pain. I earned the nickname Doctor Doom at one of my first technical positions, by always predicting how things would go wrong. But I had to learn to be more positive when I switched to sales. When that doesn’t work, I fake it (as explained in a previous post).
Patterson’s sales manual instructed his staff to “take it for granted that everyone can buy.” Every person they met was to be called a PP - a “probable purchaser.”
To prove that anything was possible if only you believed, Patterson once organized a team of workmen to make an office building disappear overnight during a company meeting. While the sales people slept, the workmen knocked down a large office building and replaced it with a patch of grass. The point was remembered.
For as long as professionals have been selling, they have recognized the importance of staying positive and upbeat. When Ulysses S. Grant published his memoirs in 1885, canvassers sold the book door to door. Ten thousand sales people were given a thirty-seven page manual entitled “How to Introduce the Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant.” The section on “How to Leave the House” described the optimism they were expected to show after losing a sale: “Shower smiles on the people as bountifully as though you had received an order for ten copies – then walk off treading the ground as though victory sat enthroned upon your brow.”
This optimism paid off: Grant’s memoirs sold 325,000 copies in the first year, and his family ultimately received almost $450,000 in royalties, the equivalent of $8 million today.
For more details, and references for the quotes above, see Chapter 5 in my new book Legal Business Development: A Step by Step Guide, which will be available on Amazon in September