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How A Dating Fiasco Taught Me To Be A Salesman - by : Shaun Rein

jeudi 15 juillet 2010 par William Toussaint


How A Dating Fiasco Taught Me To Be A Salesman

Shaun Rein, 07.12.10, 05:25 PM EDT

Learning from romantic humiliation.

How does one learn to be a master salesman ? I learned not from seminars but from a failed dating attempt.

It was 1996. George Clooney was just getting famous for his role on ER, Monica Lewinsky was years away from hitting the national consciousness, and the biggest terrorist threat we faced came not from Osama bin Laden in Pakistan but from the Unabomber in Montana. I was a freshman in college and a late bloomer in terms of the opposite sex. My main experience with girls had come from watching David Duchovny’s cable TV series Red Shoe Diaries.

But it was then that I learned how to sell. To anyone who focuses more on studying than on socializing, remember that you can learn as much out of the classroom as in. After all, Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple ( AAPL - news - people ), and Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft ( MSFT - news - people ), both never graduated from college.

Let me tell you about the incident in my social life that taught me about sales. I had a crush on a girl I had seen in the school cafeteria. I nicknamed her Cute Girl. I never actually said a word to her until I ran into her in the gym after four months and hurriedly introduced myself.

A few days later a friend of my father’s gave me tickets to the ballet. What a perfect chance to ask Cute Girl out, my dorm mates reasoned. They egged me on and said I had to ask her out or I would regret it my entire life. I made my way over to Cute Girl’s dorm one night, a nervous wreck.

I knocked on her door. No answer. I rushed back to my dorm, where a growing crowd was waiting. They all insisted that I go back or regret it forever.

I went back to Cute Girl’s door and knocked again. Still no answer. I turned to leave, and I heard someone down the hall say, "Is someone knocking on my door ?" I turned to run, but before I could some girl jumped out of a room down the hall. "Are you looking for [Cute Girl] ?" she smirked.

I willed my feet to the doorway she was standing in. What seemed like a dozen giggling girls crowded the room behind her. I will never forget Cute Girl’s face. She looked like she had been tasered.

What did I do ? Did I play it cool, as George Clooney would have ? No. I found myself croaking, "I’m not sure if you remember me, but my father’s friend gave me tickets to see the ballet Friday night. Would you like to go ?" To her credit, Cute Girl looked sincere when she answered, "I would like to, but I’m going away for the weekend."

I didn’t know how to respond—and I did so in a completely wrong way. For no good reason I cocked my head to one side, snapped my fingers, said "Cool," extended my arms like airplane wings, and pretended to fly from the room. The girls’ laughter reverberated through the whole dorm before the door closed.

I never really spoke to Cute Girl after that, but my absolutely humiliating attempt at asking her out taught me more about sales than any seminar I’ve ever taken.

The first thing I learned was that you cannot let rejection from a sale stop you from trying again. As odd as it sounds, many salesmen are so afraid of getting shot down that they wait for clients to come to them rather than cold-calling or being aggressive. Who cares if you get rejected ? Even when Cute Girl turned me down, the world didn’t end.

In fact, a couple of years later I saw a woman eating lunch alone in Harvard Square, walked up, said hello, wrote my name and number down on a napkin and asked her to call me. Six weeks later we were living together, 10 months later we were engaged, and now we have a 3-year-old son.

The key point : You need to be aggressive in sales and not let rejection stop you. Sales is ultimately a numbers game. The more good interactions you have with potential clients, the more likely you will be able to sell. This is true whether you sell Dell ( DELL - news - people ) computers at Best Buy ( BBY - news - people ) or million-dollar contracts to large companies.

Finally, never try to close the deal too soon. Too many salesmen pressure clients to buy right away. Know when to try to close, and don’t be afraid to alter your plan. Not only was Cute Girl totally shocked by seeing me, an almost complete stranger, show up at her door, but I asked her out too quickly and in the wrong setting. I should have been prepared to deal with the unexpected.

Sales calls rarely end up the way you expect, so you need to be both prepared and flexible. One time I was pitching against two major management consulting firms for a seven-figure engagement. The client changed the topic of the presentation at the last minute and said we weren’t talking about the right thing. One competitor insisted on finishing the presentation he had originally prepared anyway, even though it wasn’t what the client wanted to hear anymore. The other freaked out and left the room.

They didn’t realize it, but the client was giving us a behavioral interview to see who would be most responsive to changing needs. I stayed calm, asked what the new topic was, quickly gathered some new information, and within minutes gave another presentation. I ended up closing the deal, because I adjusted on the fly when Plan A was shot down.

Selling is not easy, but it is the lifeblood of a company, and everyone should get sales experience. You have to know when to try to close a deal, when to stay back and when to change your game plan. Although I never got a date with Cute Girl, she taught me more about sales than any seminar ever could.

Shaun Rein is the founder and managing director of the China Market Research Group, a strategic market intelligence firm. He writes for Forbes on leadership, marketing and China. Follow him on


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