( Originally Published 1912 )
A Young man representing, a publishing house, called on a photographer, and said: "Mr. X. I am not a book agent, but our firm has asked me to see you about a special art set which they feel sure you will appreciate. Their original contract calls for a thousand sets, and they have just 83 sets left. We have been selling these at $50 a set, but our contract expires in a few days, and our firm wishes to send a set of these beautiful art books to you tomorrow for only $27."
"It's a fine proposition," said the photographer, "but I am not interested in books just now."
"Better let me send you a set, they are—"
"I am very busy, and you must excuse me."
"Well," said the salesman, "I have not come to force them upon you, you know that very well. It isn't my place to try to make you take what you don't want."
This salesman certainly had not learned how to argue and win. His attitude of mind was entirely wrong, and his argument palpably weak. Failing to see that his prospective purchaser was too busily occupied properly to consider his offer, he prejudiced all his chances by hasty and ill-considered speech. His closing remark would in itself brand him as an unsuccessful salesman..
There are few men engaged in salesmanship who do not have to meet objections, and even rebuffs, in their every-day business. "If you accepted a customer's first answer as final," said a successful road salesman, "you would never secure a single order." Forewarned is fore armed, and the man who wishes to approach others on business should know precisely what to do in given circumstances. If he presents his proposition in a clear, intelligent, and concise manner, he will almost invariably receive a polite hearing. Modern salesmanship is largely a matter of common sense. This man-to-man talking style may be illustrated in the case of a traveler, say, for a glove house. It is the month of November, and the customer says :
"What are you here for, fall or spring delivery?"
`For spring delivery."
"Well, I'll tell you right now I'm not going to place a spring order."
That is very emphatic, and would ordinarily discourage an inexperienced sales-man. But this traveler says quietly:
"I think you ought to.
"Because business will be good next spring."
"How do you know?"
"The whole tendency is that way. We have been short of goods this fall and a great many orders we have not been able to fill because the demand is greater than the supply. If you wait until next season and depend upon the market, I am very much afraid you will have some difficulty in getting your stock. This very season we are refusing half the orders that come into our place because we haven't the goods."
"But," says the customer, who is now half persuaded, "I think we are going to have dull times."
"We have had dull times," says the salesman promptly, "and now business is going to grow constantly better. It is a question of a man having the merchandise to sell. Every far-seeing man to-day says we are just in the beginning of four or five years of splendid business. You as a merchant realize that business today is on the ascending scale." The customer is convinced and his order is secured.
The salesman did not strain his argument at any point. He answered the questions and objections of the customer intelligently and politely. It was clear and simple common sense.
The salesman must be self-reliant, but not obtrusive. He must know the right moment to hit the nail on the head, and without fear or trembling. Said an advertising solicitor, who had been explaining the benefits to be derived from a special edition of his magazine :
"You 'don't need to think it over, Mr. Smith. You can decide it right now be-cause it's right. I'll assure you it's right."
"When must you know"
"Now!" was the laconic but firm reply—and the customer signed the con-tract.
Some years ago a certain New York fabric house had a printed sign that read "In showing samples, salesmen will please refrain from making unnecessary remarks.Sometimes the best argument is silence. Many customers do not want to be told the good points about an article, but wish to judge for themselves. "We are having a great run on these goods-they are selling like hot cakes," is not the way nowadays to convince a man of intelligence. If, for example, a customer is examining a fabric, and asks, "Will this hold its color?" "Will it wear well?" or similar questions, then the salesman should be prepared to answer and to answer correctly. He should have the facts, but he should also know the right . time to use them.
Another silent but effective argument in salesmanship is that of strict integrity. "Honesty is the best policy" will no longer do as a motto. It should be "Honesty is the best principle." One of the strongest arguments certain business houses have is that they maintain one price for everybody. The result is that their figures are never questioned. It is a poor argument to say "Business is business," and proceed to take advantage of a customer. The best of all arguments is service well rendered; that attracts and holds patronage.
Argument as now carried out by means of the printed word, in advertising, circularizing, and letter-writing, has become an important and interesting study. Catch phrases, with a "reason," confront the eye on almost every side. You are told that something "Chases Dirt," or "The Taste Lingers," "Wet Feet Did It" "It's a Happy Habit," or a telephone company bids you "Sit at home and let your voice travel." These are skilfully disguised arguments seeking patronage.
Hundreds of thousands of letters are mailed almost daily, for the sole purpose of securing new business. It is not too much to say that many are an absolute waste of money. They are often couched in indifferent English, and lack every semblance of convincing argument. In many instances the writers use the stereo-typed phrases of others, making no attempt at originality or attractiveness. The following are familiar appeals at the close of a letter :
‘'Send coupon now. It costs you nothing to investigate."
"Mark the coupon now. Finding out costs nothing. Mark the coupon."
"Sign and mail the coupon at once—do it now."
"You can't afford to be without this booklet—it is free.''
"This is positively the chance of a lifetime. Mail this coupon now!"
"Grasp the opportunity now—stop and mail the coupon at once."
"Writing us places you under no obligation—we are merely aiming to `show you.' "
"Let me send my booklet to you now—it's free—and it is for you!"
These are practically in one style. The attempt to vary them has not been successful. One appeal is no stronger than the other. Another common mistake in business letters is that of emphasizing the negative thus:
"Can you afford not to enroll with us?"
"Will you not let us hear from you with regard to enrolment in the near future?"
"You can't afford to be without this booklet."
"Send no money. Take no risk. Make no promises. Merely mail the card to-day.''
"Why not write to us to-day? You can't lose anything by it. Are not the possibilities worth your while?"
This is better :
"Write to-day and learn how we can help you to a better position and bigger earnings."
This is doubtful:
"We shall watch every mail for your reply."
This is presumptuous :
"Of course you simply can not sending that ten dollars to-day." This is good :
"Do it to-day and save the work of second thinking.
For the "follow-up" letter the following is disastrous :
"It is impossible to conduct a one-sided correspondence or to convince a person that something is true, when one has no intimation on what feature of the subject a doubt is entertained. If you will let me hear from you regarding the matter upon which you desire information, I shall be glad to enlighten you to the best of my ability."
The great buying public, especially the mail-order public, have grown skeptical. Glibness, self-praise, boastfulness, play upon words, and like methods of certain letter-writers attract few customers. What is most wanted are arguments supported by facts. There must be a good reason why a busy man should take the time even to sign and mail a coupon, and you can not persuade him by any such bald and peremptory request as to "do it now - this very moment before you do another thing!"
The day is past when slipshod English is tolerated in business letters. The following atrocious example is perhaps exaggerated, but it serves as a warning :
"Our goods are the finest in the world. There ain't nothing on earth can beat 'em. We've got everybody else skinned. We don't ask nobody to take our word for it. Just look at the way we are putting them out of business ! There's so-and-so, all of 'em quit in a year. We done it."
One of the largest and most successful corporations in this country issues a manual of instruction to its selling force, telling their men more particularly what they should and should not do in speech. pronunciation, argument and manner.
They hope to make theirs the model selling force in the world. Among their suggestions are to "Always acknowledge a purchase with a genuine `Thank you, sir,' or `Thank you, madam.' Say it out loud as if you meant it." Another is : "A salesman's good judgment ought to tell him when to talk and when to keep silent. Learn what human nature is and be governed accordingly. Look the customer straight in the eye when you address him. Show him that he is your sole concern for the time being." Scattered all through their manual are terse suggestions that are worth heeding by every man, whether he be a salesman or not, such, for example, as the following:
"There is always room behind the counter for a smiling face."
" 'Thank you' can always be given in change."
"You know how you would like the salesman to act if you were his customer —that's the way."
"To get a customer's attention give him yours."
"Talk with your man, not at him, or to him."
"Good salesmen study the book of nature."
"You can have clean finger-nails with-out going to a manicure."
"The pleasanter you look the pleasanter you'll be."
"The man in front of you is entitled to all your attention."
"Get on the most intimate terms with the goods you sell."
"Keep thinking what the man in front
of you will say when he goes out." "Make the man who buys to-day think of coming back tomorrow."
"Good salesmanship doesn't even know failure by sight."
"Show the man with the grouch that you carry good nature in stock."
"A good countenance is the wireless telegraph of salesmanship."
The power and personality that lie in words are little understood, and seldom employed to advantage in business letter-writing. Yet what wonders can be wrought
out of these twenty-six little letters of our common alphabet. Words have been well called "terrific engines," since they can either serve or destroy.
A primary requisite in a letter designed to make a strong business appeal is that it be clearly written on good stationery. Paper and envelopes should be of the best quality that particular business will warrant. Special attention should be given to paragraphing, and the general appearance of the letter should be such as to induce a careful perusal. The first object being to get the attention of the recipient, all the old stereotyped forms should be avoided. It is generally con-ceded that an appeal to the selfish side of the customer best wins attention, and the writer therefore makes free use of the pronoun "You."
But having attracted the reader's attention, having shown him clearly and concisely how your offering vitally concerns him, the best argument you can set forth is a straightforward recital of the merits and facts concerning what you offer. In no other way can you hope to inspire confidence. The entire letter should breathe frankness and sincerity. You should talk directly to the reader, as if he were standing before you. Re-member this is printed salesmanship. You must both convince and persuade. When-ever possible, your statements should be supported by proofs. There should be no appearance of anxiety, of desire to secure business at all hazards, of over-urging a man against his will and judgment. Books of business letter forms are of little value. What the writer must seek principally to do here is just what he would do in speech-stamp his personality upon every word, and send home thought and argument with all the force and individuality that he possesses. No one else can tell him precisely what to say. "The style is the man," here as elsewhere. He must make his own way, coin his own phrases, discover original ideas and ways of presenting them and breathe into them his own spirit. No "Ready letter writer," nothing but his own resourceful and well-trained mind, will enable him to produce a business letter that will appeal to all who read it-and win.
The close of the business letter, like the conclusion of a speech, is very important. Here the final impression is to be made, and here is determined the success or failure of the appeal. The arguments throughout have been presented in order, from weaker to stronger, but in the conclusion we come to the height of the climax, when all the powers of the writer concentrate upon one given purpose. Every word must be in its place, not a word too little or too much, and the very last word or phrase must be just the one needed to win.
The successful salesman must educate his faculties to see further than others, so that, in the face of formidable objections, he will be able to meet them with as formidable arguments, and by clearly seeing the end from the beginning maintain above everything else his clearness and self-possession.