In part I of this series, I discussed how you can teach your children to make something from nothing by sharing with them Marcia Brown’s Stone Soup. There are a number of other children’s books that also serve as good platforms from which you can impart entrepreneurial values and lessons.
One such book comes from a surprising source, the notoriously left-leaning Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. He inadvertently drafted the salesman’s manifesto in the form of Green Eggs and Ham, utilizing 50-different words, 48-of which are one syllable. Not only will your children understand it, it is even accessible by the average salesperson.
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Our protagonist, Sam, is an androgynous creature, which fits well with his / her asexual name. This depiction will make Sam’s appeal universal to either your son or daughter. Man or woman, the tactics deployed by Sam are applicable to any sales situation and can be put to use by any salesperson, irrespective of their gender. For sake of grammatical convenience, I will refer to Sam as a male in the remainder of this entry. However, if you are reading this to your daughter, explain to her that Sam is short for Samantha.
The story begins with the unwitting, future customer relaxing and reading the paper. Sam-I-Am enters stage right, riding a Seussian creature and holding a sign which reads, “Sam-I-Am”.
This is Sam’s cold call. The last thing on the Prospect’s mind is buying something from Sam or anyone else. Sam is undaunted. He introduces himself to his Prospect wearing a large, sincere smile.
Sam is smiling because he knows that he has something the Prospect will love and eventually thank him for bringing to his attention. He is so confident in his green eggs and ham product that he cannot help but smile.
The Prospect’s initial reaction is rather predictable. He is irritated at being interrupted by an unsolicited salesperson, just like you would be if you received a telemarketing call during dinner. Thus, without knowing who Sam is or what he is selling, the Prospect lashes out and tells Sam that he, “does not like him”. Right from the start, Sam must endure the most painful of all forms of sales rejection, the personal attack.
However, Sam remains undeterred. He continues smiling and deploys a rudimentary sales technique. Instead of acknowledging the personal repudiation, he poses a simple question in a form which cannot be answered with a negative response. He asks the Prospect if he would like the product “here or there”, pointing to two spots on the ground while displaying his winning smile.
Despite being a children’s book, Green Eggs and Ham, makes for painful reading, as Sam is repeatedly rejected, at times in a vicious manner. However (Spoiler Alert) Sam’s persistence pays off. In exchange for sitting through a demonstration of the product, he asks that Sam to agree to leave him alone thereafter. Sam happily agrees, as he knows he will not have to continue selling, once the demo is completed. After trying the product, the Prospect grins broadly, puts his arm around Sam and tells him, “Thank you. Thank you. Sam-I-Am.”
Sam-I-Am Lessons Learned
There are a number of practical sales lessons you can impart on your children from this opus, including:
Persistence - Every sales handbook emphasizes that there is no substitute for persistence. Sam exemplifies this truism. Until the moment the Prospect finally experiences the product, it appears to everyone but Sam that he has no chance of success. However, typical of an Optimistically Pessimistic entrepreneur, Sam never loses hope, and does not give up.
Research– Sam’s persistence is not born of ignorance. He is highly confident that his product will provide value to the Prospect and thus it is his duty to ensure that the Prospect experiences the product’s value first-hand. This resolute attitude is crucial to a salesperson’s ultimate success. You must have enough confidence in your product to push through baseless objections and ensure that your Prospect utilizes your product, and thereby evaluates it on its merits, not solely on unfounded preconceptions.
An effective way to bolster your confidence is to pre-qualify and fully understand the congruence between your product’s capabilities and the Prospect’s needs. In Sam’s case, he knows that the product will deliver real value to the Prospect and that the Prospect will ultimately “thank him” for introducing him to the product. This knowledge fortifies Sam against the litany of rejections he must face before closing the sale.
No Drama– Sam also realizes that the Prospect’s reaction is not personal. Rather, the Prospect’s kneejerk rejection of Sam is a coping mechanism that many people utilize to deal with the competing demands on their time.
Thus, Sam is undeterred by the Prospect’s emotional responses. Instead, he remains focused on encouraging the Prospect to experience his product without internalizing the rejection on a personal level.
Affability– Sam remains affable throughout the entire sales process. Even when the prospect personally attacks him, and is downright rude, Sam realizes that the ultimate payoff (i.e., his commission, the Prospect’s satisfaction and his company’s revenue) more than compensates him for the short-term discomfort associated with a rejection born of ignorance.
Listen and Adapt– Sam listens to his Prospect’s objections and adjusts his tactics to best suit the evolving conversation. He probes to better understand his Prospect’s needs with questions like, “would you like the product, in a box, with a fox, on a train, in the rain, with a mouse, etc”. In each instance, Sam actively listens to his Prospect’s responses, and attempts to satisfy all of his needs by creating third-party bundles that offer his Prospect holistic solutions. Effective salespeople strive to satisfy all their prospects’ needs, even those needs which extend beyond what their product can fulfill on its own. Such value-added selling elevates the salesperson’s role to that of a consultative partner.
Manage Expectations – Sam does not tout his product’s features, nor does he oversell his product. Instead, he focuses on the immediate objective - to get his Prospect to demo the product. By avoiding puffery and overselling, Sam is able to reach his goal of performing a demonstration while following the precepts outlined in Great Expectations. Proper expectation management significantly contributes to the Prospect’s eventual positive user experience.
Inexperienced salespeople frequently oversell. Thus, by the time their prospect finally tries their product, they are often disappointed. Conversely, by remaining positive and passionate about his product, without overly embellishing its capabilities, Sam’s delights his Prospect, once he partakes in the product.
Humility– Sam exhibits a Humble Pride and remains committed to his Prospect’s satisfaction throughout the sales cycle, even after the Prospect becomes a customer and admits that he loves the product.
Once the sale is completed, it would be tempting for Sam to say, “I told you so”. However, he realizes that he is forming a long-term relationship with his customer, which must be based on mutual respect. Any insinuation of, “I told you so” could engender animosity that would undercut the positive rapport that Sam has worked so hard to establish.
Teach Your Children That “Sell” Is Not A Four Letter Word
Silicon Valley is filled with entrepreneurs who, as children purchased candy in bulk and sold it piecemeal to their classmates at school. I was no exception. The math was too simple for me. When I was in Junior High, I purchased packages of Bubblicious gum at the 7-11 next to my bus stop for 25-cents each. Each package contained five pieces. I then opened the packages and sold each piece for 25-cents. I returned my entire investment on the first sale and the remainder was pure profit, which I used to purchase more gum. I quickly learned the value propositions of convenience and instant gratification, as my Junior High target market happlily paid my 5x markup.
By eighth grade, kids were routinely lined up at my locker before I arrived at school. Finally The Man, in the form of the school Principal, shut me down. He was relieved to learn that I was not selling drugs, but still unhappy that I was selling candy (by then I had extended my product line to include a variety of sugary treats).
My very conservative mother was called into the Principal’s Office, along with me, to hear about my shenanigans. She patiently sat through the Principal’s lame tirade and thanked him when he was finished, assuring him that her son would no longer sell candy at school.
As we left the Principal’s office and walked to our car, I was convinced I was going to be punished. After all, I had embarrassed my law-abiding mother. Before we got to our car, looking straight ahead and fighting to keep a smile off her face, my mother said, “I don’t think it’s a big deal, but stop selling candy at school.”
Despite the fact that my mother was a life-long government worker, with no proclivities to take risks or sell anything, she saw that I was driven to do such things. Rather than attempt to squelch such proclivities, she simply asked me to do them outside of school. I have always loved my mom, but I especially loved her at that moment.
Green Eggs and Ham is an excellent primer for teaching children the basic precepts of effective selling. It also allows you to reinforce to your children that effective salespeople are problem solvers and that problem solvers are always in demand.
Point out that Sam does not attempt to trick his prospect. Rather, he is persistent and honest. Like most real-world salespeople, he does not fit Hollywood’s hackneyed stereotype of the shifty, malevolent huckster. In addition, help your children internalize the fact that salespeople are an important element in our society and that selling is a worthwhile, fun and honorable profession.
Many tedious books have been written about sales, some technical, some strategic and some tactical. However, Green Eggs and Ham is only the only book you need to read on the subject. Move over Zigler, Carnegie and Gitomer and make room for Dr. Seuss.