My First Week In Selling
At the age of 32 I left the furniture industry,
where I had spent 10 years working in a factory.
My father was the general manager and he had
designed a production line to produce
I worked through the various departments until
I finally became the assistant manager.
But I’d worked myself to a state of nervous
exhaustion, because of the stress involved in
producing endless quantities
of upholstered furniture, and then organising
its assembly and loading vehicles with the
finished product, doing all of this in adverse
working conditions, with no great prospect of
further career advancement.
The other great motivation for my move was
based on the fact that I was not particularly
happy with the kind of person I had become.
I was brought up under the Victorian attitude
toward children, e.g. “speak when you’re
spoken to” and “if you’ve nothing useful to say
- shut up!”
Because of this I became introverted, and I
needed to break out of this mental trap.
I believed that becoming a salesman would help
me achieve a change in my personality.
When I told family and friends of my decision
to leave my job, they said I was crazy,
because I had 'a job for life'.
I also had a wife and three children to
support.and here I was about to sail into
A step in the dark
I had applied in writing for a position
as a salesman with the local newspaper.
They had advertised for a new sales team,
for their classified advertising department
promising that training would be given.
I had been for an interview, which had seemed
to go quite well, but I had not yet had a response.
After a particularly bad week at the factory,
on the Friday evening I quit.
On the journey home
I saw a sign outside a city centre hotel, saying,
“Interviews are being conducted today for salespeople”.
I parked my vehicle and went into the hotel.
I found that the person doing the interviews was
just wrapping up for the day, but I persuaded him
to interview me. He told me the job on offer was
selling magazine subscriptions, of which he was
carrying about 400 titles. I explained that I had
no experience in this kind of work, but he assured
me that he would give me full training.
It was a commission only job but as I had nothing else
going for me I was glad of the opportunity.
The following day was Saturday and we agreed
to meet early in the morning at the hotel.
We would then go together to commence the job training.
I arrived with my vehicle, which
the large bundles of magazines, which I was
required to load into the back.
Then we set off. He directed me to a small town
about 5 miles out of the city. We parked my van
and then he said,
“Now I’ll show you how to do it
He took two magazines from the back of my van,
one was a Ladies Hairdressing Journal and
the other was a Hardware Journal.
We walked along the street and entered a ladies
hairdressing salon. He identified the proprietor
and asked her if she would be interested in taking
out a subscription for the journal.
She said “no thank you” so he turned about,
and we left the salon.
Then we walked along the street until we found
a hardware shop. We entered, and waited until the
owner had finished serving a customer, then he asked
the owner if he would like to take out a
subscription for the hardware journal.
The owner said he was already subscribing to the
magazine. So once again we turned about and left.
By now we had spent about two hours together, and
I was amazed when my trainer asked me to take him
back to the city hotel,
He was taking the train back to Glasgow early that
afternoon. I had no option but to do as he asked.
Back at the hotel he told me I would get on fine.
He gave me an address at which to contact him,
which was somewhere in Glasgow.
He told me to send him any subscriptions I sold,
less 40%. This was when I learned that the 40% was
to be my income.
So that was the end of my training.
The value of asking questions
The rest of that weekend was spent worrying about
the situation I was now in, having left the secure
job at which I was earning £1000 pounds a year
(this was almost twice the national average income
at that time).
However, by Monday morning, having no other visible
source of income, I set off to try to earn a living.
I re-traced my steps and called once again upon the
hardware merchant. I went inside and asked him why
he subscribed to the magazine, in order to find out
what benefits he got from buying it.
He told me that it was a very useful tool, as it
contained up to date lists of steel prices and other
By the nature of his trade, he carried
lots of small steel items such as screws, nails etc
and the price list enabled him to keep the value and
price of his stocks up to date, no matter how long
they had been on his shelves.
I questioned him further and he admitted that this
benefit alone made the subscription worthwhile.
Armed with that knowledge I then studied the
hairdressing journal that I carried and found that it
contained a detailed guide to the very latest styles,
along with a tutorial in every issue.
This showed hairdressers how to perform the cut and
also how to perm the hair to create the new style.
Selling the Benefits worked
I then moved onto the next village, where I sought
out the local hardware merchant and approached him
with the journal, emphasising the value of the price
guide within its pages.
He ordered the magazine and gave me the money for
Next, I went into the local ladies hairdressing salon
I showed the proprietor the tutorial within the journal
relating to the latest style.
I illustrated how this would enable her staff and juniors
to offer her customers the very latest fashion.
She also took out a subscription.
By the end of my first week I had earned £10 pounds.
The second week I earned £20 pounds. The following week
I felt I was really getting the hang of it, because I
earned £25 pounds.
This was more money per week than I had earned at the
factory. By now, I was beginning to feel that I could
make a career out of selling subscriptions.
My Career in Classified Advertising
The following week I started my career in Classified Advertising.
On my arrival at the Western Mail and Echo offices I learned that Lord Thompson had recently bought the newspapers and that I was now working for him. I was one of a team of six men who were to be trained as classified advertising salesman.
Lord Thompson was just about to start a training centre within the newspaper offices in Cardiff.
His objective was to develop the sale of classified advertising using the American model. At this time, classified advertising was not actively sold by newspapers in the UK.
I was in his first batch of recruits.
I learned that day that all the other recruits had a lot of previous sales experience, which made me feel quite anxious.
We started the week’s course. We were taught about classified advertising, how it worked, how it was priced, and how to write copy based on the nemonic IDEA. How to create Interest, Desire, Enthusiasm and Action.
Early in the week, we were told that we were to meet the man who Lord Thompson had brought to Cardiff to train future classified ad managers. These were recruited for the rest of Lord Thompsons growing Newspaper Empire. The man was an American named George Papas, and we were to meet him in the company’s boardroom that evening.
I had formed my own mental image of George Papas. I saw him as a tall, good-looking, raconteur. He would probably be wearing a Stetson, (I imagined most Americans wore Stetsons). That evening when he entered the room, I was taken aback.
He was not at all as I imagined. He wasn't wearing a hat. He wasn't tall. He wasn't good-looking, and he seemed to be far too serious to be good at telling jokes.
It gave me heart. I felt that if this guy was the best in the business, it must have been by hard work alone, and that’s something that I could certainly offer…
Next day we were told that we would all have to demonstrate our sales ability in front of the class at the end of the weeks training, with our manager, and George Papas looking on.
The thought petrified me, and the fear grew, the closer we got to the event. Friday afternoon was the appointed time, and we were to make our sales pitch in alphabetical order of our names. As my surname starts with W guess who was going to be last!
We had to walk to the front of the class, where the sales manager was sitting behind the desk acting as a customer. We were to approach him with a handshake, tell him our names and that we were from Western Mail and Echo. Then we had to try to sell him classified advertising within the Echo.
The other five men had made their pitch. Now, it was my turn, I had been trembling ever since I arrived in the class. My mouth was dry and, as I stood up to walk to the front of the class, I felt as though I was choking,
I held out my hand and said: "My name is Don Westacott, I work for the Western Mail and Echo," -- Then I froze in absolute terror, with my hand stretched out in front of me.
My inhibition and fear of public speaking had totally immobilised me. Two of the class had to help me back to my seat. I thought that was the end of my selling career!
However the manager said I had done well enough through the week, and everything would be fine once I got out on the job.
I went home that evening feeling quite dejected. The next day being Saturday, I went to the library as was my habit, and found myself at a section on “salesmanship”. One particular book seemed to jump into my hand. The title was ‘How I raised myself from failure to success in selling’ by Frank Bettger.
I took the book home, and laid it on the cabinet beside my bed, intending to read it over the weekend. However, something came up, and I never got around to it.
During the weekend, I decided that I would show the rest of the class that I could do the job. I would prove this by calling on one of the biggest businesses in the city to make a sale.
With this in mind, I reported in to our office early Monday morning and left to go straight to the offices of the city’s largest wholesaler. I arrived out side the front doors, and then realised just how big the place was.
Fear struck. I decided that it was too early, as the directors would still be opening their mail, so I walked around the block. When I arrived back at the entrance some while later, the sight of the doors filled me with terror. I stood there and concluded I should walk around the block again.
I continued to do this, until lunchtime, and then I rationalised that by now, the directors would be at lunch, so I went to a little café in the vacinity and ordered a sandwich. But I was too upset to eat.
At two o’clock I returned to my position, in front of the doors. The terror returned and once again I started to walk around the block.
I continued with this painful cycle, in a constant state of fear, until the lights in the warehouse went out at six o’clock in the evening. I had been too afraid to go through the doors, and also too afraid to leave the job I had come to do.
I went home that evening, in a terrible fit of depression and went straight to my bedroom. I couldn’t face my wife and family that evening. After a while I realised this was going to be a long, hard night, so I picked up Bettger's book and started to read.
Bettger described in the book, how he had been a star baseball player, but had lost his place in the first team and gradually over a few years has gone down the grades into the minor leagues - ending up as a mediocre player.
He describes how his manager called him in one day, and told him he was playing as though he was dog-tired. He said there was no zip in his performance. The advice he was given was, that even though he didn’t feel enthusiastic, he had to act enthusiastically.
If he gave this his maximum effort he would soon begin to feel enthusiastic and that would have an impact on his game
He knew that his manager was giving him his last chance, so he took the advice and he started to act on it. He started playing as though he had boundless energy. He was racing around the field like a maniac. It had an amazing effect on him, and also the rest of the team, who seem to get equally enthused.
They won that match and started winning consequent matches. They went on to win the league that season. They moved up into the higher leagues and Bettger ended up back in his place in the champion’s league.
As I was reading the book the feelings of despair and hopelessness that he expressed at the beginning seemed to be a mirror image of my own feelings.
That night I read the book from cover to cover, it was early morning before I finished. I resolved then that, I would follow that advice myself the next day.
The next morning I went straight to that building, but when I arrived at those huge double doors, my heart sank once again.
All the resolution and enthusiasm drained away at the sight of those huge doors. Once again off I went around the block.
I went through this procedure three more times and on the third circuit I had to face the fact that either I had to do it or give up on the idea of being a salesman once and for all.
When I arrived back at those front doors I closed my eyes so that I didn’t have to see them, and pushed my way through, into the showroom inside.
When I’d composed myself inside, I walked to a counter, and asked to speak to the Managing Director.
The person I asked picked up a telephone and spoke to someone. Then he told me totake the lift to the top floor, where I would be met. I was greeted by a gentleman, who introduced himself as the managing director.
He was in morning dress with frock and coat tails. I introduced myself and told him I was from the Western Mail and Echo. He asked me to accompany him into the boardroom where he and eight other directors were sitting around a huge boardroom table. It was obvious they were having a meeting.
They were all dressed in morning suits.
He took my raincoat and hung it on a coat rail. He asked one of the other directors to move down a place so that I could sit beside him at the head of the table.
He then asked me to state the purpose of my call.
He had been extremely courteous, and despite being awestruck I was able to describe to him the advertising feature about wholesalers which I was about to create and I showed him the kind of editorial it would contain. Because of their company’s leading position in the wholesale industry I advised they should perhaps take a prominent position in the feature. I also told them the cost of a quarter page, half page and a full-page advertisement.
He thanked me for calling and providing them with the information. He said they would consider my suggestion and he would let me know their decision by the weekend.
I left the boardroom, so excited. I was on cloud nine, not because I might get the order and make the sale, but because I had overcome the paralysis that Fear had locked me into.
At that moment I felt as though I had just succeeded in climbing Everest
From that time on, the fact that I could walk into any business under the banner of the ‘Western Mail and Echo’ seemed to me, to be a passkey that I should exploit to the full. I would walk into every shop and factory that was on my territory and start selling the idea of classified advertising.
I was so thrilled with the fact that I had faced the fear and survived that I walked through every business door I could find.
I was the only person on the team that loved cold calling, and within three months I was acknowledged as their best salesman. Not because of any particular skill, but because I was telling my story about classified advertising enthusiastically, more often than any of the others.
Later on in my career I was able to say to trainees: “They made me a sales manager because I lost more sales than anyone else on the team.”
This was because I was making more calls than the other salesmen but at the same time I was also making more sales.
The strange thing is the sales managers don't count how many you lose only how many you sell.
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