"Donut Boy"Aug 17, 2021
Most of my writing applies to the world of Software as a Service (SaaS) technology sales environments, but I intend this "Lessons from the Field" series to highlight more generic lessons learned on my journey that apply more broadly. My hope is that these lessons are equally applicable to those starting out in their career as well as those in their final session, whether they be in Sales or another discipline.
Lessons from the field: What I learned from door-to-door sales
1999: Sydney, Australia
My life journey from being born in Malta into a working-class military family, to a C-suite technology executive in California is full of colorful stories, some fun, some dark but all of them full of valuable lessons that I continue to iterate on today.
One of the most valuable periods of my career was a 6-month hiatus from backpacking, in Sydney, Australia as a 23-year-old.
Fresh off the boat, and broke from excesses in the US, Fiji, The Cook Islands, and New Zealand I discovered a 'community' of fellow backpackers supposedly making great money in a multi-level marketing (MLM) company in the Strawberry Hills part of Sydney, selling fixed-line telecoms all over New South Wales.
At first, I remember just wanting to join them to continue the whole backpacker in Oz experience, but that soon changed.
100% commission, no sales…..hungry
For anyone unfamiliar with MLM sales cultures, think Glengarry Glen Ross. High energy, lots of banter, and a good amount of ego. It's all part of the culture, and what keeps people going back for more, despite long working hours on their feet. Here's the typical day:
7:30am motivational session >>training >> assigned your patch & hit the streets >>knock on doors for ~8 hours >> 6pm back to the office, bang the gong >> beers after work >> party hard >> rinse and repeat.
It's obviously not for everyone, and despite following the same proven process that top billers were following, my first 2 weeks were an unmitigated disaster! 12 hour days, 6 days a week, for 2 weeks. 144 hours of work, no sales, and $0 earned. In that 2nd week, I remember skipping meals, and making my excuses to not go for beers after work, because I was broke!
Lesson #1: Back your people, salespeople thrive on confidence 👊🏼
Supposedly no one had ever had 'a donut' (0 sales) every day for their first 2 weeks. I was breaking the wrong kind of records!
My new nickname was "Donut Boy!"
From time to time our managers would pick salespeople they could trust to do deals and be responsible, to head to the suburbs and try their luck there. A trip to Kiama, 2 hours south of Sydney came up for the team I was on.
I remember my new boss taking me aside and having no doubt that I should go on the trip. She explained the trip would do me good, and that things would click into place. "People are nice down there, you'll enjoy it" I recall her saying.
Lesson #2: Be yourself, and smile 😀
There was something that made me very uneasy about the MLM approach to sales training. It felt fake. It felt contrived. It was ultra-rigid. It just didn't feel natural. On the 2 hour trip south from Sydney I decided I would develop my own pitch based on the value proposition as I saw it, and most importantly I resolved to be 100% certain that the person I was selling to actually needed this product. To do this I would have to get to know them very quickly.
Smartly dressed, with freshly polished shoes, and a pressed shirt with a tie, I knocked on my first door. It was a bungalow with a neatly kept small front garden with a black door.
When the door opened, I smiled and was greeted by a well-dressed lady in her 50s and everything felt different. I received a smile back, and I proceeded to explain that I was in her area today exploring whether the company I was representing might save her and her neighbors, money on their international telephone calls.
Lesson #3: Be consultative, teach yourself to listen👂🏼
I had come to my own conclusion that this product only offered value if you made international calls. Luckily for me, this lady made international calls, but if she didn't I would would have not wasted her time (or mine) and politely moved on.
We proceeded to do some basic calculations on the savings she would make with the switch and it was a no-brainer. We covered the fact she could cancel within 10 days if she wanted to at no cost, and we laughed at how she no longer had an excuse to hang up on her brother back in the UK! Not only did she sign up, she told her neighbors to expect me later in the day!
Lesson #4: Know your ideal customer profile 👩🏼🦰 👨🏼🌾👮🏿♂️
Time is a salesperson's worst enemy. If a salesperson spends their time trying to sell to someone who is unlikely to buy, they are damaging themselves on 2 fronts:
1) They are wasting time, there are only so many hours in a day. Every minute counts. When knocking on doors, this was literally the case. You had to cover your patch within a day, and when it got dark you didn't want to be on the streets.
2) You are damaging your confidence: salespeople thrive on confidence. Every small victory compounds the confidence of a salesperson, every small defeat does the opposite. It's critical that you build a cadence of these small victories throughout your working day in order to maintain a winning mentality.
Lesson #5: Speak the language of your buyer.
Day 1 in Kiama, I did 14 sales! I did 60 in the week we were there. The transformation was so stark people assumed I was signing my own contracts! I never looked back, for the rest of my time doing door-to-door sales was a breeze.
I remember getting so good that I could look at a front door, a house, and a garden, the time of day, and predict with uncanny accuracy the persona type of the person that would open the door.
This became a valuable skill because I iterated my pitch subtly for each of the persona types I found myself selling to. A couple with no kids, got a slightly different pitch, tone, and non-verbals to a couple with older children versus someone who was retired for example.
Accurately predicting the persona type before they opened the door meant I hit my stride that little bit faster meaning we were both at ease that little bit quicker, split seconds really count in sales!
Lesson #6: Commit, stay curious and you'll find value
I'd be lying if I said I did not consider quitting, but I never considered it seriously even though I was broke. I was confident that my work ethic would eventually pay off and intrigued if it would, but most importantly I was curious. Curious about a better way to personalize a communication style and approach that worked for me, curious about how to optimize my time for the greatest return, and ultimately curious about how much money I could make.
There are at least 10 more lessons in this true story! These lessons have helped shape how I operate, however, I have also iterated on each of them every day for the last 20+ years, and now they've become second nature, whether I like it or not they are part of my DNA.
For those of you early in your careers, don't be afraid to seek out challenges that scare you. Be considered in your approach, take the scars of those experiences, keep your chin up, focus on your work ethic, and if you really believe in the opportunity "close the back door", and you'll come through the other side much stronger for it.
For those of you later in your careers, you have many of these scars already. They are incredibly valuable, they make you who you are, cherish them, remind yourself and others of these experiences to give you confidence. But always commit to never stop iterating. Bring a growth mindset to your every day. We are all a work in progress.
Wayne aka 🍩 "Donut Boy"