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Business Etiquette - Traveling And Selling

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



The etiquette of traveling includes very few points not covered by the general laws of good behavior. Keeping one's place in line before the ticket window, having money ready and moving aside as quickly as possible instead of lingering to converse with the ticket-seller about train schedules and divers other interesting subjects are primary rules. It is permissible to make sure that the train is the right one before getting on it, but it is unnecessary to do it more than half a dozen times. When the sign over the gate says "Train for Bellevue" it probably is the train for Bellevue, and when the guard at the gate repeats that it is the train for Bellevue the chances are that he is telling the truth.

An experienced traveler usually carries very little baggage. A lot of suitcases and grips are bothersome, not only to the one who has charge of them, but also to those who are cramped into small quarters because of them. A traveler may make himself as comfortable as he likes so long as it is not at the expense of the other passengers. If they object to an open window the window must stay down. Lounging over a seat is bad form, especially if there is some one else in it. So is prowling from one end of the car to the other. Besides, it makes some people nervous. Snoring is impolite and so is talking in one's sleep, but they are beyond remedy. Talking with the person in the berth above or below is not, however, and is much more disturbing than the noise of the train. Forgetting the number of one's berth and blundering into the wrong place is a serious breach of good manners in a sleeping car, and it is extremely severe on timid persons who have gone to bed with visions before their minds of the man who was murdered in lower ten and the woman who brought her husband's corpse from Florida in the same berth with her.

Among men, "picking up" acquaintances on a train or boat is allowable if it comes about in a natural way, but there are men who object to it. Many business men do not discontinue their work because they are traveling. Portable typewriters, secretaries, the telegraph and other means of swift communication have made it possible for them to accomplish almost as much as if they were in the office back home. Such men do not like to be interrupted, and if a garrulous or an intrusive person approaches it is within the bounds of courtesy to turn him aside. Generally, however, there is a comradery of the road, a sort of good fellowship among voyagers which lets down ordinary bars, and the men who like to rest as they travel find it highly diverting and interesting to talk with other men from various parts of the country. This holds true in hotels; especially in the commercial hotels, where traveling men foregather to meet their customers and transact their business, and in hotels in small places where the possibilities for amusement are limited and the people have to depend on one another for entertainment. But there are limits. No man should ever thrust himself upon another and it is almost an iron clad rule that he should never "pick up" women acquaintances when traveling. It is permissible to talk with them, but not to annoy them with personal attentions nor to place them under obligation by paying their bills. If a man and a woman who are travel-

on the same train fall into conversation and go into the dining car together, each one should pay his or her own check, or if he insists upon paying at the table she should insist upon settiling afterwards. In hotels also this is essentally true.

Hotels are judged more by the people who come to them than by anything else. The guests indicate the quality of the service, and for this reason, most hotels prefer that they be gentlemen. There is an atmosphere about a first-class hotel that frightens away second-rate people. Most places have standards and many a man has been turned away even when there was an empty room because the management did not like his looks.

Tipping is one of the most vexatious petty problems with which a traveler is confronted. It is an undemocratic custom which every sensible man deplores but sees no way around. Waiters, porters, and other functionaries who are in positions to receive tips draw very small salaries, if any. They depend upon the generosity of the public they serve. The system may be all wrong (we believe it is) but it means bread and butter to those who live by it, and it is only just, as matters are now arranged, for the traveler to pay. It is foolish to tip extravagantly or to tip every pirate who performs even the most trifling service, but a small fee, especially if the service has been good, is a courtesy not to be forgotten.

Tipping originally grew out of kindness. The knight who had received special attention at the hands of his squire expressed his gratitude by a special reward. The word "gratuity" itself in-dates that the little gift was once simply a spontaneous act of thoughtfulness. It has de-generated into a perfunctory habit, but it should not be so. Excellent service deserves a recompense just as slip-shod service does not. And no one has a right to spoil a waiter (or any one else) by tipping him for inefficient work. In hotels and restaurants the standard fee is ten per cent. of the bill.

Regular travelling of any kind even under favorable circumstances is a great wear and tear on the disposition. Commuters who go in and out of town every day are a notoriously, hag-ridden lot, and the men who go on the road are not much better. But there is one enormous difference. It is the privilege of the commuter to growl as much as he likes about the discomforts o the road and the stupidity of the men who make up the time tables, but travelling men-we are speaking of salesmen especially—can never indulge in the luxury of a grouch. One of the biggest parts of his job is to keep cheerful all the time and that in itself is no small task. (Try it and see.) A farmer can wear a frown as heavy as a summer thunder cloud and the potatos will grow just the same; a mechanic can swear at the automobile he is putting into shape {a very impolite thing to do even when there is no one but the machine to hear) , and the bolts and screws will hold just as fast; a lawyer can knit his brows over his brief case and come to his solution just as quickly as if he sat grinning at it, but the salesman must smile, smile, smile. The season may be dull, the crops may be bad, there may be strikes, lockouts, depressions and deflations, unemployment it makes no difference—he must keep cheerful It is the courtesy of salesmanship, and it is this quality more than any other that makes selling a young man's job—we do not mean in years, but in spirit—an old one could not stand it.

In the good old days when the country was young and everybody, from all accounts we can gather, was happy, salesmen in the present sense of the term were almost unknown. There were peddlers, characters as picturesque as gipsies,who travelled about the country preying chiefly on the farmers. Often they spent the night hotel accommodations were few and houses were far apart—and entertained the family with lively, tales of life on the road. Next morning they, gave the children trifling presents, swindled the farmer out of several dollars and made themselves generally agreeable. The farmer took it all in good part and looked forward with pleasure to the next visit. The peddlers came in pairs then, like snakes, but they were for the most part welcome and there was genuine regret when they became things of the past like top-buggies and Prince Albert coats.

After the peddler came the drummer, a rough, noisy chap, as his name indicates, harmless enough, but economically not much more significant than the peddler. He stayed in the business district where he was tolerated with good-natured indulgence. He was less objectionable than the man who followed him, the agent. He was (and is) a house-to-house and office-to-office canvasser and a general nuisance. He sold everything from books to life insurance, from patent potato peelers to opera glasses. He still survives, but not in large numbers, for his work, like that of the peddler and the drummer, has been swallowed up by the salesman.

The rewards which modern salesmanship holds out to those who succeed at it are so large that the field has attracted all kinds of men, highly efficient ones who love the game for its own sake, grossly incompetent ones who, having failed at something else, have decided to try this, and ad-venturers who believe they see in it a chance to get rich quick. The teachers of salesmanship tell us that we are all selling something, even when there is no visible product. The worker, according to them, is selling his services just as the salesman is selling goods. It may be true, but we all could not (and it is a blessing) go out and sell things in the ordinary sense in which we use the word. Some of us have to be producers. But the salesman's work is important. We do not discredit it.

Salesmanship is built on faith. A man must believe in his product and then must make other people believe in it as firmly as he does. So devoted are some salesmen to their work that it is difficult to tell whether they consider their calling a trade, a profession, a science, or a religion. Sometimes it is all four. Sometimes it goes beyond them and becomes a kind of mesmerism in which the salesman uses a sort of hypnotic process (which is simply the result of being over-anxious to sell) to persuade the prospect that he cannot wait another day before buying the particular article that the salesman is distributing. The article may be stocks and bonds, wash cloths, soap, or hair nets. It makes no difference, but he must be filled with enthusiasm and must be able to pass it along. And this very virtue which is the foundation of successful salesmanship is likely to lead the salesman into gross rudeness.

For the man who is selling is so eager and so earnest that he forgets that the man who is buying may have his own ideas on the subject.

The first step in salesmanship is to acquire a thorough knowledge of the product. The next is to gain access to the man who is to buy it. This is not always easy. Business men have been annoyed so much by agents that they have had to erect barriers, in many instances almost impenetrable ones. It is especially difficult in big cities where the pressure is heavy, but most worth while business men have learned the value of contact with the world outside and are willing to give almost any man an interview if the can show a valid reason why he should have it. Whether he gets a second interview or not depends upon how he handled the first one.

There are may ways of getting into an office. A salesman usually stands a much better chance if he writes ahead for an appointment. It is much more courteous to ask a man when he wants to see you than to drop in on him casually and trust to luck that the time is not inopportune. Some salesmen are afraid to write be-cause they think the knowledge of what they have to sell will prejudice the prospect against it. At the same time they feel that if they can only get a chance to talk to him a few minutes they can over-ride the prejudice. A salesman may come into an office without letting the man know what his purpose is (though it is best to begin with cards on the table) but he will not come in (unless he is a crook) under false pretenses.

The friends of a salesman can sometimes be very useful to him in presenting him to valuable prospects, and when they feel that the meeting will result in mutual benefit they are glad to do it. Sometimes the friend will give a letter or a card of introduction. Sometimes he will telephone or speak for an appointment. It is best when these come unsolicited, though it is permissible to ask for them. No man should depend upon the help of his friends. A salesman should be able to stand on his own feet, and if he and his product together do not form a strong enough combination to break down all obstructions there is something wrong with one or the other of them.

The best card of admission at the door of a business office is a pleasing personal appearance coupled with a calm and assured manner. This is a universal standard of measuring a man's character and calibre. Until we have heard him speak we judge him by the way he looks. It is a dangerous practice, as the proverb warns us, but the percentage of hits is high enough to make us continue to use it.

A favorite device with a certain cheap type of salesman is to give his name to the girl at the en-trance desk and ask her to tell Mr. Brown that Mr. Green has sent Mr. Smith to call. The Mr. Green is entirely fictitious, but since Mr. Brown has several business acquaintances of that name, he interrupts his work and comes out to see Mr. Smith and discovers that he is a life insurance agent who thinks that if he can once get inside he can "put it across." Most business men have no use for such practices and rarely allow the salesmen who employ them to stay in their offices any longer than it takes to get them out. Besides, the salesman places himself under a handicap to begin with. He will find it pretty hard to convince the man in the office that he is not dishonest about his goods just as he is about him-self. He is the greatest enemy of his profession. And he makes the work of every one else en-gaged in it infinitely harder. It is something every business and profession has to fight against —the dishonest grafter who is using it as a means of swindling society.

Most salesmen give their names at the entrance desk instead of presenting their cards. Psychologists and experience have taught them that the card is distracting and that even if the interview is granted it is harder to get the attention of the other man if he has a card to twiddle between his fingers. It is more conventional to send in a card (a good card is a letter of introduction in itself) but if the salesman finds it a handicap, however slight, he should by all means dispense with it. If the card is cheap or flashy or offensive in any way it arouses prejudice against the man who bears it before he has had a chance to present his case in person. The business card may be the same as the personal card, simply a bit of pasteboard bearing the name and perhaps the address, or it may be larger than the ordinary personal card and bear the name of the firm for which the salesman is working, and in addition, if it is a very simple design, the trade-mark of the firm.

Whether to rise when : a caller enters and shake hands is a question to be settled by each person according to the way he likes best. It is certainly more gracious to rise and ask him to be seated before resuming one's own place. But promiscuous handshaking is an American habit which Europeans as a rule frown upon and in which a number of Americans do not indulge, for they like the grasp of their hand to mean something more than a careless greeting and reserve it for their friends. In any case, the caller should not be the first to extend his hand.

If a man is accustomed to see a great number of people he will find it too much of a strain on his vitality to shake hands with them all. Roosevelt used to surprise strangers with the laxness of his grasp, but the Colonel had learned to con-serve his strength in small things so that he might give it to great ones. The President of the United States has more than once in the course of the history of our country come to the end of the day with his hands bleeding from the number of times people have pressed it during the day. Now the President ought to be willing to give his life for his country, but he ought not to be required to give it in this way. It probably meant a great deal to each one of the people in the throng to be able to say, "I once shook hands with the President," but how much more it would have meant if each one of them could have said, "One day I helped my President," even if the help was so small an act of thoughtfulness as forbearing to shake his hand.

But to get back to salesmen: Some of them have a way, especially the over-zealous ones, of getting as close to the prospect as is physically possible. They place their papers or their brief cases on the desk before which the prospect is sitting, hitch their chairs up as close as they can, and talk with their breath in his face. No one likes this and it is only a rude and thoughtless salesman who is guilty of it. One man who had been vexed by it over and over again had the visitor's chair nailed to the floor in his office some little distance from his own. And he never had a caller who didn't try to move it nearer to him !

For years it has been the habit for business men to receive their callers at their desks, but lately there has been a turning away from this. The desk is usually littered with papers and letters which the caller can hardly help reading, and there are constant interruptions from the telephone and the other members of the office. For these reasons a number of business men are going out to see their callers instead of bringing them in to see them, a practice which is much more cordial than the other if one can afford the time for it. One big business house abolished its large reception room and built in a number of smaller ones instead. In this way each visitor has privacy and there is a feeling of hospitality and coziness about the little room which the bigger one failed to give. Each room was fitted up with comfortable chairs, books, and magazines so that if the caller had to wait he would have the means of entertaining himself.

Once a man agrees to see a salesman or other visitor he should give, in so far as it is possible, his full attention to him. It is better to refuse an audience altogether than to give it grudgingly. A prominent man cannot possibly see all of the people, salesmen and whatnot, who want to talk with him or he would have no time left to keep himself prominent. A busy man has to protect himself against the cranks and idlers who try to gain access to him, and most men have to have devices by which they can rid themselves of objectionable or tiresome callers. One man who has a constant stream of visitors has only one chair in his office, and he sits in it. Another never allows a visitor to enter his office, but goes to the outer reception room and stands while he talks. One man stands up as a signal that the interview is at an end. Another begins to fumble with the papers on his desk, and the salesman does not live who is not familiar with the man who must hurry out to lunch or who has only five minutes to catch a train. One man has his secretary or his office boy interrupt him after a visitor has been in as much as ten minutes, to tell him that Mr. So-and-So is waiting outside. Another rises to his feet and walks slowly toward the door, the salesman following, until he has maneuvered him out. If the salesman is a man of sense none of these devices will be necessary. He knows that a courteous and prompt departure helps his cause much more than an annoying persistence, and the man who stays after his prospect's mind has lost every interest except to get him out of the way is lacking in one of the fundamentals of social good manners as well as business good manners. Rarely, perhaps never, does he succeed. For the successful salesman is the one who can put himself into his prospect's place and let him know that he has made a study of his needs and is there to help him.

Carefully prepared approaches and memorized speeches are worth much to the beginner, but an agility in adapting himself is much more important. Ludendorff failed to get to Paris because his original plan was upset and he could not think quickly enough to rally the German army and attack from a different angle. Most salesmen have to talk to men who are continually interrupted to attend to something else. And most business men know what they want, or think they do, and when they ask a direct question they want a direct answer. Many a young salesman has ruined himself so far as his career was concerned because he went out with instructions to keep the interview in his hands and every time the man he was "selling" asked a question he passed airily over it and kept stubbornly on the road he had mapped out for himself. The salesman cannot think in theoretical terms; he must think concretely and from the point of view of the man he is trying to convince. As one very excellent salesman has put it, he must get the prospect's own story and tell it to him in different words, and if he can actually show him a way to decrease expenses or to increase output he will win not only his attention, but his heart as well.

The salesman must be absorbed in his commodity, but not to the exclusion of the man he is trying to "sell." A beginner of this type went into a man's office some time ago and rattled off a speech he had memorized about some charts. The man listened until he came to the end the boy was talking so rapidly and excitedly that it would have been hard to interrupt him except by shouting at him—and then quietly told him that he had not been able to understand a word of what he had said. "You have not been talking to me," he explained. "You have been talking at me."

Another salesman of the same general kind went into the office of a busy lawyer one morning recently in a building which happened to be owned by the lawyer.

"I am going to give you some books," he announced.

The lawyer asked him what they were, but the salesman refused to be diverted before he had led up to the dramatic moment in his carefully planned speech at which he thought it best to' mention the name of the books. He went through the whole of his canvass and then thrust a paper under the lawyer's face with "Sign here" above the dotted line.

"I thought you were going to give them to me," the lawyer said.

The salesman began to explain that of course he could not give him the books outright and so on and on and on—everybody has heard this part of his speech. The lawyer laughed and the sales-man lost his temper. Very angry, he started out of the room. Near the door which opened into the hall was another door which opened into a closet that contained a shelf which was a little more than five feet high. The salesman opened this door by mistake and struck his head smartly against the shelf. This made him angrier than ever. He jerked the other door open and slammed it behind him with a crash that nearly broke the glass out. This was more than the lawyer could stand. He sprang up and started in pursuit of the salesman, who by this time was on his way into another office in the same building. The lawyer asked him where he was going. The salesman told him.

"Not in my building," the lawyer said. "I can't have the men who have offices here disturbed by people who act like this. Now go on," he added kindly but firmly, "and let's forget that you ever came here."

And the salesman went.

Salesmanship is service, and the man who persuades another to buy something he knows he does not want, does not need, and cannot use, is a scoundrel. "Good salesmanship," and this is the only sort that any self respecting man will engage in, "is selling goods that won't come back to customers that will." It is cumulative in its effect, and the man who sells another something that really fills a want wins his eternal gratitude and friendship. He tells his friends about it, they come to the same salesman and the product begins almost to sell itself. But it takes patience and courtesy to bring it up to this point.

Some salesmen kill a territory on their first trip. Bad manners can do it very easily. Sometimes they make themselves so objectionable that the customer will buy to get rid of them, especially if the purchase does not involve more than a dollar or two. Sometimes they carry the customer along so smoothly with plausible arguments that they persuade him to buy something that he knows he does not want. It is all right so long as the salesman is present, but discontent follows in his trail. Sometimes—stocks and bonds salesmen are guilty here—they wheedle the customer into buying more than he can afford, beginning on the premise that since their stocks are good (and the men who sell fraudulent ones use the same methods) a man should if he has a hundred dollars buy a hundred dollars' worth, if he has a million he should buy a million dollars' worth, if he has a home he must mortgage it, if he has an automobile he must sell it. No good salesman works like this. People are very gullible and it takes little argument to persuade them to invest nearly all they have in some-thing that will make them rich in a hurry, but the fact that they are foolish is not quite sufficient justification for fooling them. Even if the stocks and bonds are all the salesman believes and represents them to be, no man has a right to risk his home or his happiness for them. A worth while salesman leaves his customer satisfied and comes back a year later and finds him still satisfied. And this sort of customer is the best advertisement and the best friend any business can have.

Bad salesmen create violent prejudices against the firms they represent. For the average customer, like the average man, judges the whole of a thing by the part that he sees. To most of us the word Chinaman calls up the picture of the laundryman around the corner in spite of the fact that there are some three hundred mil-lion Chinamen in the world engaged in other occupations. Salesmen who are consumed with their own importance do their firms more harm than good. They usually are men in positions too big for them (they may not be very big at that) and are for the most part of not much more real consequence than the gnat which sat on the tip of the bull's horn and cried, "See what a dust I raise!" Glum and sullen salesmen—there are not many of them—are of little genuine value to their firms. It is not true that when you weep you weep alone. Gloomy moods are as contagious as pleasant ones, and a happy man radiates happiness.

It is not easy to look pleasant when one's nerves are bruised from miscellaneous contacts with all sorts of people, but it is an actual fact that assuming the gestures of a mood will often induce the mood itself. The man who forces himself to look cheerful (we are not talking about the one who takes on an idiotic grin) may find himself after a while beginning to feel cheerful. After he has greeted the elevator boy with a smile (it maybe a very crooked one) and the hotel clerk and the waitress and the bootblack and the paperboy he is likely to find that the smile has straightened out into a genuine one. It does not always work—it is like counting to a hundred when one is angry—but it is worth trying.

Salesmen find their greatest difficulties among people of little education. It is the people with fewest ideas that cling to them most tenaciously. Scholars and scientists and business men who have learned to employ scientific methods are constantly watching for something new. They welcome new discoveries and new ideas, but the man in the backwoods of ignorance has a fence around the limits of his mind and it is hard for anything to get inside it. He is open to conviction, but like the Scotsman, he would like to see the person who could "convict" him. It is hard work to get a new idea into the mind of a man who is encased in a shell of ignorance or prejudice, but the salesman is worse than bad-mannered who lets another man, whoever he is, know that he thinks his religion is no good, that this political party is rotten, that his country,. is not worth a cancelled postage stamp, and that the people of his race are "frogs," "square-heads," "dagos," "wops," or "kikes."

Salesmen who are themselves courteous usually meet with courtesy. The people who move graciously through life find comparatively little rudeness in the world. And a good salesman is courteous to all men alike. With him overalls command as much respect as broadcloth. It pays—not only in money, but in other things that are worth more.

A salesman should be especially careful of his attitude toward the representatives of rival houses and their products. His eagerness to advance his own cause should never lead him into belittling them. He need not go out of his way to praise them nor should he speak of them in-sincerely in glowing terms ; but an honest word of commendation shows that he is not afraid of his rivals in spite of the fact that they too have excellent goods, and when it is impossible to speak well of them it is best to stay silent.

It is not hard to see why business men spend so much time and effort in selecting their salesmen. They know that one who is ill mannered or offensive in any way indicates either a lack of breeding or a lack of judgment on the part of the parent concern. And one is about as bad as the other.



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