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Chicken Strips, Gravy, & Sales Lessons From The Deep South

Selling Skills Training,Sales Lesson,sales and marketing,professional sales training,

Back-Against-The-Wall Selling

In April of 1998 I was living in Mobile, AL to be near my father.

After being apart for nearly a decade as I was serving in far away places like Korea, SoCal, and Abu Dhabi in the UAE during my five years of active duty upon graduation from the U.S. Air Force Academy, it was time to get back to family.

After a unique turn of events (and a 3-year arbitration case that I eventually, painfully and anticlimactically won) I found myself unemployed in a town where the only people I knew were my father, step-mother, and step-sister just six months after resigning my commission as an Air Force officer.  

My wife and I had been married barely two years.

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Our first-born was 11 months old and my wife was about to deliver our second child, another boy, any day. (Don't believe that old wive's tale about not being able to get pregnant while breast feeding. Two boys born 360 days apart proves that just ain't so!)

After several months of unsuccessfully trying to explain the unethical treatment I received from my first employer, I found myself sitting at the desk of Sam Payton, GM of Oakwood Homes on Moffett Rd in the northern part of Mobile, AL.

Sam was a smart sales manager. He was always recruiting sales people. But don't confuse that with hiring sales people.

Sam knew that great sales people and great sales managers sorted and sifted. They DIS-qualified prospects quickly so they could spend more time with the qualified candidates. That's why Sam was always running an ad in the paper for "Great Sales People Wanted!" 

When I arrived I told Sam I needed a job and (later on) Sam told me he needed me. He said I could start that week and that I could make a lot of money right there in Mobile, AL "slingin' trailers" while we ate chicken strips and gravy each weekend...and he was right. 

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To Make a Great Sum Of Money In Sales, Get Great Sales Training

Sam Payton knew trailers. He also knew how to deliver great sales training to a hungry, motivated husband and father of two. 

In that little Oakwood Homes doublewide trailer we used as an office I got live, real time sales training that turned into exactly $100,000 in earnings my first 12 months between April 1998 and April 1999. (That's like making $150,380.37 in 2017...in my first full year of being in sales!)

I was motivated to acquire the professional sales training Sam was offering because my family was depending upon me to do so. It wasn't easy or glamorous but making a lot of sales and knowing how to make them predictably and reliably sure was fun.

At the end of the day, selling mobile homes is retail sales, plain and simple.

We were open 7 days a week and we were vertically integrated. What that means is that we manufactured the mobile homes, owned the retail center, and owned the financing so when the customer was ready to close, I had metric sh*t ton of paperwork to prepare to make it happen. (And they always wanted to come in and sign on my days off!)

Being vertically integrated was both good and bad for sales people. It was good because if we could get the prospect qualified we could sell a higher-priced trailer with lower payments if we knew how to work with the finance department to structure the loans. (And higher priced sales meant higher commissions!)

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To Make a Great Sum Of Money In Sales, Pay Attention To The Details

It was bad news if you were lazy and didn't want to take the time to master the intricacies of sales, trade-ins, down payments, land-home packages, credit scores, interest rates, finance options, and paying attention to whether the customer was more interested in sales price or monthly payments.

We also had to pay attention to two key elements in every purchase:

  1. Who was the real decision maker in the negotiation?
  2. What was their motivation for buying?

Sometimes the wife was the driving force in the purchase, sometimes it was the husband, and sometimes they were equally motivated. You could tell by who spoke first, most often, most passionately, and/or who had the checklist for everything they wanted in their new home and wasn't shy about telling you.

Then there was the motivation. It's nice if the wife really wants a new trailer, but why does she want it was the real key. Were they newlyweds? Were they moving onto family property to save money or just to be closer to family? Were they moving onto their own property to establish their own lives away from their overbearing family? Was this a second home to be placed on the river or on their deer lease? Were they keeping up with the Joneses—in the South they were keeping up with the Hatfields and McCoys—and simply got the bug to upgrade their mobile home?

When someone is motivated to buy, sales come easy. But you can't tell their motivation or ability to buy based on the car they drive or the clothes they wear.

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Don't Judge Bubba By The Truck He Drives

The way retail stores distribute leads is via a complex, closely-guarded, time-tested, proven algorithm known in the industry as the "Up System."

It's a high tech, environmentally-friendly, low-fume-emitting grease board just inside the front door on the wall. The first sales person in that day put his name on the top of the list.

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That meant he got to work with the first visitor to the lot that day, which we called an "up," as in,

Wes, A 1984 Chevy Impala with duct tape on the windows, no hubcaps, chicken wire holding up the muffler, and 110 Jeff Gordon NASCAR stickers just pulled into the parking lot. You're UP!" (I wish I was exaggerating.)

Being a morning person served me well with this fancy lead distribution system. It also helped that I was competitive, motivated, and understood basic statistics.

You see, with five of us working a typical shift, if I was the first salesman in that day I only needed one person to come to the lot for me to have a chance to make a sale...and we always got at least one visitor, but sometimes we didn't get much more than that.

If I got to the office five or 10 minutes later and signed in second that day I would need 100% more people to come in for me to get my first shot at making a sale.

Extending those numbers out, if I was first on the board I only needed six prospects to walk on the lot for me to have two opportunities to make a sale. However, if I was fifth in that day, I needed 10 people to come onto the lot to have two opportunities to make a sale. 

Order # of Visitors Increase
1 1 -
2 2 2x to get 1
3 3 3x to get 1
4 4 4x to get 1
5 5 5x to get 1
1 6 2nd Oppty
2 7 14% to get 2
3 8 33% to get 2
4 9 50% to get 2
5 10 66% to get 2

"Showing up is 80% of life." ~Woody Allen

That's a 66% increase in prospects that would have to come to the lot in order for me to have two shots at making a sale, all because I wanted to tie one on the night before, hit the snooze a few more times, or otherwise drag my butt in to work late. 

Knowing those numbers and having a household depending on me ensured I had no problem being the first one in each and every day. To further stack the odds in my favor, there was always a supply of dry erase pens in my desk and my car to make sure I had one handy as soon as I walked in the front door. (I may have also broke a few land speed records racing co-workers into the office if I saw them on Moffett Rd, but that's another story.)

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Which brings me to the three-part moral of this story:

1) Professional salespeople know their numbers

Even if you're new or in a slump or otherwise struggling to succeed at sales, the more opportunities you give yourself to improve and grow, the greater the likelihood you'll succeed at sales.

2) Professional salespeople never assume

Many of those smoke-billowing vehicles that pulled into the lot had enough money to buy a $20,000 to $40,000 mobile home with a 20-year mortgage with ease. (Which put $1,500 to $3,000 in my pocket, by the way.)

In fact, one of my best clients-turned-referral partner was a good-ol' boy that pulled up in an average pick up truck wearing Red Wing boots, a sweaty T-shirt and Wrangler jeans with a Copenhagen ring in his back pocket.

Nobody wanted that "up" so I took him.

Turns out he owned his own septic tank installation business and was good with his money. (He didn't do septic tank maintenance. That was too messy. He just installed new ones.)

He had a flatbed trailer, a Bobcat, a backhoe and a crew of two...and he made more money than he could count. His wife drove a Mercedes. They lived on a ranch and raised thoroughbred race horses. And he had a lot of names of people that needed trailers and he sent them to me! (Guess who I had install the septic tanks for all of my other clients?)

Meanwhile, many of the prospects that pulled up in new cars and jacked up trucks were owned by people that were over-leveraged and couldn't get a loan because their debt-to-income ratios were too high.

Regardless of what they drove or how they dressed, I greeted and treated them all the same. I followed the exact sales process Oakwood Homes taught me with every prospect for the entire first year on the job.

3) Daily Discipline Done Diligently Determines Destiny

As I mentioned above I made exactly $100,000 my first 12 months on the job. (I made $20,000 in January 1999 alone.) 

It was the first time I ever made that much money and let me tell ya somethin', $100,000 in Mobile, AL in 1998 when we were paying $365/mo for a 2 bedroom apartment goes A LOOOONG way!

In June of 1999, less than 15 months after I started working there, I was promoted to GM and given my own store with hiring and firing and P&L and marketing and inventory control. (I inherited a $63,000 PER MONTH deficit, which I turned around in 90 days, but that's the material for another post.)

The money and the promotions and the experiences came my way because I showed up early, stayed late, knew my numbers, followed a sales system, and didn't assume anything about my prospects.

Key Questions I Ask In My Professional Sales Training:

  • What assumptions are holding you back?
  • Do you assume people don't have money?
  • Do you assume they do have money?
  • Do you assume you're speaking with the decision maker?
  • Do you assume people don't need what you offer?
  • Do you assume the competition has a better doo-hickey than you do?
  • Do you think you can just show up and wing it?
  • Do you think scripts are for rookies?
  • Do you think checklists are for amateurs?
  • Would you bet your paycheck that the way you open every phone call or in-person encounter is the best they've ever heard? 

Many of my co-workers couldn't answer those questions as a professional would, hich is a big part of why they're still average sales people showing up late, getting fewer "ups" and complaining about people not having money.

Are you ready to do what it takes to become a professional sales person?

Market like you mean it.
Now go sell something.