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Lessons from a great salesman

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 10 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

Verizon Wireless store salesman Antione Haynes looks out the front door of a Verizon store with an Apple iPhone advertisement in foreground in Mountain View, Calif., Thursday, Feb. 3, 2011. Verizon Wireless said Friday, Feb. 4, its first day of taking online orders for the iPhone produced record sales.

Paul Sakuma, Associated Press

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He may be one of the better salesman I have known. A native of Venezuela, he is called Vlad by his friends. I first met him several years ago when attending a free entrepreneurial seminar called Junto. Among all the participants, he was the most outstanding student.

Vladimir Canro arrived in the United States several years ago while still a young man. He had spent his youth in the streets of Caracas selling fruits and vegetables to any customer he could find. Over time, he obtained an associate's degree in engineering. He left Venezuela at the peak of President Hugo Chavez’s crackdown on the opposition. Using a green card, he found a construction job in Texas and decided that America was the best country for him. In time, he came to Salt Lake City to attend college with the hope of finishing his education. He landed in Utah on a chilly day in December without a warm coat, money or a place to live. For the first few cold nights, he found slept inside a large metal dumpster full of cardboard. He tells me cardboard is an excellent insulator from frigid temperatures.

If ever there was a person who could overcome the barriers in life, it would be Vladimir. His story, like that of so many emigrants, is one of perseverance, hope, faith and an inextinguishable fire in the belly to succeed. Today, he has surmounted every obstacle. He is working on a computer science degree from Weber State University and has a very good job as a salesman for Geiger Rig, and he is married with two young children.

What I have told you so far is in itself a terrific story. There is, however, much more to say about this amazing fellow. As part of the Junto class, he and his 20 classmates were told if they were to be successful in business they will need to sell their idea to investors. The instructor, Greg Warnock, an accomplished entrepreneur himself, first gave Vlad and his fellow students study materials on how to raise money for a new business. The students were then asked to apply what they had learned and report on their successes or failures.

The students were invited to meet with strangers, not friends or family, over a course of a week and raise $5,000 to fund a business idea. I am sure I don't need to tell you how very daunting this task is. Following their efforts, class members assembled to report their results. The outcome: Not one had been able to raise the money, except Vlad. Over several days, he had gone into high-rise office buildings, from business to business with no appointment, hoping to tell an owner about his idea. Receptionists hesitated. Owners balked. Vladimir waited and waited. Eventually the owners, hoping to dismiss the young foreigner, invited him into their offices for an anticipated very short visit. Once seated, Vlad went to work. Using amazing skills, both learned and natural, he marched along, collecting a whopping, mind-boggling $135,000.

“Vlad, how is this possible?" I asked. "Not even the best salesman would have achieved such success. Your barriers are significant. I can hardly understand you when you speak. You have no company; you have no brilliant idea to commercialize. What’s your secret?”

With a wide and pleasant smile on his face, he respectfully taught me the five key principles of selling that he uses and that the rest of us should employ as well.

The principles are as follows:

1. Never accept no for an answer. Vlad tells me customers say no six times but on the seventh request, they say yes.

2. Listen to customers. Don’t mention what is being sold until the customer explains what’s on his mind. Earn his respect, trust and confidence first.

3. Tailor the solution to meet the customers’ needs. It is critical to make the solution a perfect fit.

4.Never give up. Be persistent and patient.

5. Think outside of the box. Approach a sales opportunity with innovation and creativity. Do the unexpected. Think big.

Do you have a favorite sales story? Let’s hear about it. Please contact me at alan@doobizz.com.

Alan E. Hall is a co-founding managing director of Mercato Partners, a regionally focused growth capital investment firm. He founded Grow Utah Ventures, is the founder of MarketStar Corp. and is the chairman of the Utah Technology Council.

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