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John Henry Patterson: The Father of Professional Selling Part II


Early on, Patterson was concerned about the quality of sales, and so –in true Patterson style – he decided to learn firsthand what was happening in the field. In a period of 51 days, he visited sales offices in 50 towns and cities. What he found appalled him. "One half of our salesmen are so ignorant of their product that they will actually prevent a man from buying, even though he wanted a cash register," he said.

Returning to Dayton, he proceeded to gather the sales talks of the NCR's most successful salespeople, writing up every known selling point related to the cash register. The document became one of the first canned sales presentations – the NCR Primer.


Patterson made it a requirement that all salesmen learn the 400-word document by heart. Many of the older reps balked. When Patterson discovered their resistance, he implemented tests; those who failed or refused to memorize the primer were fired. The remainder saw their sales soar. The reason: For the first time ever, they had a consistent presentation that covered all the important features and benefits of their products.

July14_1 The primer divided a sale into four steps: approach, proposition, demonstration, and close. In the approach, salespeople made no mention of the cash register. Instead, they explained that they wanted to help the business owner find ways to increase profit. In essence, the salesperson assumed the role of a consultant.

In the proposition, the salesperson described the register for the first time and explained how it would prevent theft and give an accurate account of the day's receipts. The goal of this stage was to schedule a demonstration of the machine in a nearby hotel where the salesperson had set up a display.

The primer was soon followed by the Book of Arguments, which later developed into the NCR Manual, a compendium of answers to every kind of question a prospect might ask. The manual was the first ever systematic approach to handling customer objections. It also discussed topics such as introductions, first interviews, critical sales situations, and closing arguments. Like the primer, it was drawn from the minds of the best NCR salesmen and compiled, again, with the goal of establishing consistency.

Many salespeople today would benefit from the wisdom of the NCR Manual. Always, it had one objective: to help the prospect understand the value of the solution, not merely to batter and cajole the prospect into placing an order or to win in a series of arguments – still major stumbling blocks today.


Providing the primer and manual was one thing; assuring that salespeople would commit to memory the techniques outlined therein was another. Even with these marvelous tools at their disposal, many salesmen balked at learning. It must have seemed to Patterson that, time and again, he had to drag mule-headed reps to a trough that brimmed with milk and honey.

While attending the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, Patterson stopped off at the NCR display booths and quizzed the young salespeople. To his astonishment, hardly any of them knew what they were talking about, despite all the sweat he'd devoted to creating the primer and manual.

Patterson promptly hauled the reps off to a hotel room for a training session. This class was neither more nor less than a review of the most basic Q's and A's about NCR products – material drawn straight from the primer and manual. Patterson was so delighted with the results of the impromptu sessions that he decided to inaugurate training schools for all of his salespeople.

The first sales-training school was opened in Dayton the following spring. Though based on the timeworn teacher/pupil format, the classes were as exciting as Patterson himself – a man who once deliberately shattered a water pitcher on a podium to get the audience's attention.


Before every sales meeting, Patterson wrote “Think!” on a flip chart. He also had a plaque on his desk and created this placard (22x14 inches) to alert visitors that thinking was a prerequisite before speaking with Patterson. His sales manager, Thomas Watson Jr., copied the idea, and when he started IBM, he placed a sign on his desk, sending out the same message to his team. Years later, IBM created the ThinkPad laptop. (Later, Apple dropped the word “Think” and placed an “i” before “Pad.”


With illustrations, demonstrations, and a good bit of Pattersonian drama tossed in, NCR sales-training instructors coached salespeople on the very modern concept of thinking in terms of the prospect's needs, rather than in terms of the product. These training sessions were really classes in the art of communication, understanding the prospects, and making sure that they understood the sales message.

This was a hot topic with Patterson. He was often quoted as saying that fully one half of all lost sales could be attributed to the salesman's failure to communicate. The erring sales rep might fail to clarify a point, talk indistinctly, make confusing claims, or in some way fail to relay his own mental picture to the prospect.

Patterson rectified the problem of poor communication by teaching salespeople to listen to prospects. They were taught to modify set sales presentations depending on the type of customer and sales resistance shown. Patterson even hired elocutionists to teach sales agents to speak like masters of the stage.

A firm believer in "teaching through the eye" using charts, graphs, drawings, or any other visual aid to get a point across to his sales force, Patterson told salespeople to use the same technique with prospects. Salespeople were schooled in how to illustrate a presentation on a scratch pad while talking about cash registers. Later, outline charts were printed on the pads, which salespeople would complete as they developed their presentations.

The salespeople turned out by the NCR training school were a well-honed lot. Estimates made at the time show that this training was directly responsible for doubling business in the first year.

See Part III tomorrow!

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Harvey Mackay Suggests You Use Your Head to Get Your Foot in the Door

Mackay1_1In 1988, he trained you to navigate shark-infested waters in the runaway best-seller Swim with the Sharks without Being Eaten Alive: Outsell, Outmanage, Outmotivate, and Outnegotiate Your Competition.

Mackay2_1 In 1990, he warned you about the naked man who tried to sell you his shirt: Beware the Naked Man Who Offers You His Shirt: Do What You Love, Love What You Do, and Deliver More Than You Promise.

Mackay3_1 By 1993, he was shark-proofing your job search, Sharkproof: Get the Job You Want, Keep the Job You Love... in Today's Frenzied Job Market.

Mackay6 In 1997 he taught you the value of digging your well before you are thirsty: Dig Your Well Before You're Thirsty: The Only Networking Book You'll Ever Need.

Mackay4b_1 Two years later, he was back on the New York Times best-seller list with Pushing the Envelope All the Way to the Top.

During the last two weeks, Harvey embarked on a multicity tour (riding high in a private jet) to promote his latest book, Use Your Head to Get Your Foot in the Door: Job Search Secrets No One Else Will Tell You (Portfolio Hardcover, 2010).

I recently had a chance to spend an hour with Harvey in his New York hotel suite (St. Regis) to talk about his latest and greatest book. Check out this six-minute video.

While his new book focuses on getting a job in this tough economy, Harvey also offers great advice for keeping the job you have.

More advice from Harvey

On networking: Avoid "working the room." Greeting someone while looking over that person’s shoulder for the next person you'll talk to is no way to build a network, Mackay says.

"I don't all of a sudden come in, shake hands with you, say, 'How do you do?' then let my eyes wander right over your shoulder to meet the next person. Just deep-six it. Scrap it," he says.

Instead, he recommends trading quantity for quality. "When I go into a room, I will have a meaningful conversation and dialogue with just several people during an event.”

On hiring top performers: “Much more scarce than ability is the ability to recognize ability,” he says. “So what can you do if this talent is not hardwired into you? For one thing, I’ve never hired anyone without sending him or her to an industrial psychologist. Say you’re concerned about a candidate’s work ethic. You’re not sure if this person is a hungry fighter. You share those concerns with an industrial psychologist. Then in two to four hours of testing, you can zero in on those areas. And boy, is that exploratory work ever meaningful! I consider it a valuable investment. And remember, you’re not giving the decision over to the industrial psychologist; you’re just using this as another arrow in your quiver when making these critical decisions.”

On sales leadership: “The most important trait in a successful manager is leadership ability. And some people, even if they’re great sales reps, just don’t have that talent for leading. Too many business executives confuse leadership with authority. But leadership doesn’t mean barking orders and yelling at people; it doesn’t mean micromanaging people so that you monitor exactly what minute they walk in the door in the morning and when they walk out in the evening. No, a leader has to provide a vision for where the organization is going and then inspire people to follow, even if that path may not lead to every individual’s personal best interest.”

On the art of helping others: Ask not what your contact can do for you...the contacts you develop should be beneficial to you – and you to them. If you want your contacts to help you, you should do all you can to help them.

Mackay says former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz is a shining example: "Lou Holtz understands networking as well as anyone I've ever met in my whole life," he says. "If there's any kind of chemistry between him and the person he's speaking with, before he says goodbye he'll say, 'What can I do for you? Is there any way I can be of any help to you?' That's from a guy who's as busy as the president. So isn't that a nice touch?"

On cold calling: "My whole philosophy of life," Mackay says, "is that people don't care how much you know about them once they realize how much you care about them."

In other words, strong networking relationships shouldn't be strictly business. "There are no cold calls at Mackay Envelope," Mackay claims. "We don't make cold calls. Before I call on your company, I'll know everything about it: whether it's privately or publicly held, how many factories you have, if you sell overseas, your product line, your strengths and weaknesses. Then I'll do everything to find out about you before I make a call – anything that might be a common denominator between us. That's why there are no cold calls."

A genuine interest in and desire to learn about other people is, in fact, one of your most successful selling tools.

Great quote: Grace Hopper, the first woman admiral in the US Navy, put it best: “You manage things, but you lead people.” That’s a lesson that every sales manager who wants to be successful has to learn. There is a big gap between a sales manager determined to make the numbers and a sales leader committed to making a difference.

Disclosure: Neither I nor Selling Power have a business relationship with Harvey Mackay or his company

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It's the Top Talent that Helps You Win

Effective sales managers believe in that recruiting is a race without a finish line. Their mantra is ABR which stands for Always Be Recruiting. It is good practice to continuously compare new talent to the existing performers on your team.

Mary Delaney, President of Personified, a division of CareerBuilder has hired thousands of salespeople during her career takes a closer look at the soft skills in job interviews such as the drive to win. Personified is a talent management company. In Mary’s view, winners are not afraid of doing the hard things they need to do to win, and they have the capacity and willingness to do them over and over again.

In order to get to the truth in essential matters, she looks for consistency in the responses across five different interviews. Another great way to measure the capacity for winning is to ask the candidate to share success stories from three different time periods such as college, the first job and the last job. The idea is that past achievement factors are predictors of future success potential.

Watch this five minute video interview today. It’s likely to stretch your thinking on hiring better talent so your company will be ready to cash in on the emerging opportunities during the recovery phase of the economy.

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Clicking on the thumbnail above will expand and play the video.

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