Some of my early 'sales rules'

I recently read this post about Apple maps and I guess because of the start of it, I started reflecting on my younger years as a salesman as well.

When I was a kid (I think the summer between 7th and 8th grade actually), my friends and I got jobs selling popcorn and peanuts at the local minor league baseball games (in Erie, PA). It was a great summer job, where I had a blast and learned a ton.

Though the lessons were plentiful, I thought I would share a few of the key ‘sales rules’ I came up with way back in those days:

1. People were there for entertainment. (know the motivation of your target)

If the game was in a lull, give them something else to entertain them. My thinking was, if you’re eyes aren’t on the game, they should be on me.

I would sing, I would dance, I would tell jokes (or at least try to tell jokes)…whatever I could do to make your experience more fun, I would try to do. The idea being that the more fun you are having, the more snacks you’ll buy…and of course the more you notice me, the more you notice (and want) the snacks I’m selling.

Being about the entertainment, and not just selling snacks, had the benefit of making an impression in people’s minds and generated higher tips (yes - sometimes to *stop* singing as I have *no* musical talent at all). The point is though, even if they weren’t ready to buy my snacks right now, when they were some would remember my show and specifically ask for *me* to be sent up to them.

2. Be helpful. (know how to add value)

If there was something beyond selling you snacks that I could do for you, I would do it. You want me to track down the beer guy? You need directions to the bathroom? You want inside information on what players are hurt? The more helpful and non-selfish I could be, the more people went out of their way to buy from me (and again, the more helpful I was, the higher the tips they would give me).

I wasn’t just a kid doing a job, I thought of myself as a resource for the crowd. Conversations where the secret weapon (a theme I’m still infatuated with). Take a few seconds to talk with someone who you are sharing a physical space with and it almost *always* had positive results.

3. Location, timing, and attention matters. (decide the type of business and reputation you are building)

On busy days, the quickest spot to sell out was right next to the concession stands (people already had the intent and so you were simply saving them standing in line time)…but the higher tips, and larger/repeat sales, were still up in the stands.

If someone put in a request on my way back to refilling the bin, I did everything in my power (including passing up other sales on the way – though I was happy to go right back to them after my current task was complete) to make sure I got back to them as quickly as possible with the requested item.

It didn’t take long for many customers to learn my name and specifically request me because they knew I would give them the attention they wanted.

4. It was a team effort. (everybody wins has the highest cap)

For me it was never about trying to outsell the other vendors, it was about trying to give the crowd as good an overall experience as possible. If I didn’t have something they wanted to buy, I tried to direct them to the vendor that did. If I ran out of something they wanted, and one of the other vendors could get it to them quicker, I would facilitate that.

It didn’t hurt that most of the other vendors were actually my friends outside of work as well, but even still this approach made everyone a lot happier (including the customers) and as a side effect we always had a lot more fun working together (instead of against each other).

5. When all else is equal, friendly hustle wins. (the best compensation is based on effort and results, not time)

I figured out pretty early on that the more transactions I made, the more chance for tips I had.

The game was basically a set length, the crowd size was limited, and the real sales window was fairly short. Pretty much no matter what I did, I was going to make at least a few sales…I was going to make a little money…I would probably even get a few tips. But I got more when I worked harder. I had more fun when I worked harder. And more importantly, I built better relationships and repeat sales when I did it all with a smile.

At the end of the day, the majority of the money we all made was based on tips. So I developed the rules above, and the others I didn’t bother to list today, with the intent of optimizing for tips (all of which I would refine and continue to develop in college as a pizza delivery guy).

As it turns out, I didn’t end up going the 'sales’ route directly in my career, but the experience and learnings as a whole has rewarded me many times over as I firmly believe all careers have some version of sales in them. So it worked pretty well for me, I had a blast selling popcorn and peanuts, made many friends (and even a girlfriend or two at the time), and I’ve reused many of these lessons throughout my life. 

So what are some of the 'sales rules’ you’ve learned and lived through your years?

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This is the personal blog of Kevin Marshall (a.k.a Falicon) where he often digs into side projects he's working on for digdownlabs.com and other random thoughts he's got on his mind.

Kevin has a day job as CTO of Veritonic and is spending nights & weekends hacking on Share Game Tape. You can also check out some of his open source code on GitHub or connect with him on Twitter @falicon or via email at kevin at falicon.com.

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