Chapter 3: Learn, Learn, Learn!

My lessons in entrepreneurial endeavors were delivered early and often by my father.  And every lesson was earned through shock, blood, sweat and sometimes tears … I’m talking real boo-hoo, crying like a little new born tears!  Tough lessons like before you can sell something you’ve got to know what it is that you are selling.

You see, I thought I was entering a world where I would be the BMOC (Big Man On Campus), but what I was about to find out was that for the first 90 days I was going to be someone’s lap dog.  Very early on my vision of a lush, cushy sales job calling on builders to sell floor covering, having luxury lunches and dinners with clients and making tons of cash was smashed to pieces.

My father believed the best sales people had to know everything about the product they sold.  He didn’t want me to just know what kind of fiber the carpet had or how the yarn was tufted into the backing, he wanted me to know more.  Stuff like how the carpet was installed.  What an installer’s day was like and how the product was shipped to the site.  I had to understand every aspect of how carpet, hardwood and vinyl were manufactured, shipped and installed and oh what a lesson that was!

Side thought:  Remember that early morning meeting at the Waffle House.  It was on that fateful day that I learned that I would start my career in the floor covering industry as an installer’s helper.  Yes, I was not going to start with the lofty, glamour filled position I had envisioned.  I was going to be the lowest of the low.  A carpet installer’s helper.  An unskilled laborer toiling away as an errand boy destined to fetch and ‘tote’ and handle the ugliest most tedious parts of the installation job.  Oh misery!  How I know thine name!

I won’t bore you with the details but let’s just say that not only did I learn everything about how to install flooring products but I got an intimate, close-up and personal understanding of those products.  After my stint as an installer’s helper my father then took me on several trips to Dalton, GA … carpet capital of the world.  There I met the owner of carpet mills, hardwood flooring manufacturers and vinyl flooring manufacturers.  I learned how carpet was made, how yarn was extruded, how refinished wood floors were coated.  By the time I was finished I knew all that a person could know about flooring.

The advantage I had over my competitors was huge.  My confidence in my knowledge of the product I sold allowed me to enter any situation with the ability to sell like I was an expert.  I remember one client that I was trying to sell to.  He was an elderly gentleman that wouldn’t give me the time of day.  I was just a young buck full of piss and vinegar but I didn’t have the knowledge and experience he needed … or so he thought.  And he wasn’t shy about stating his feelings.

I approached him in many different ways.  My father told me to keep trying.  I had to figure out what the man needed and then I had to satisfy that need.  We adhered to the Rule of 100 which I go over in the chapter Never Get Discouraged later in this book.  So I didn’t take the closed door as a no, I pushed on.  I still had a chance, the man had not said NO yet, he just said I was to young to be trusted.

One day I approached him in a creative new way.

I said; “You know Mr. Jones, we always have good conversations and you never give me an outright NO when I ask for the sale.  That’s why I keep coming back, because I believe I can help your business and you can help mine.”

With a slight chuckle he told me to go on, he was listening.

So I continued; “Well, I know you like your current floor covering company and I’m sure they are doing a great job, but I just want you to know that we are knowledgeable and hard working and we’ll be here for you if you ever need an expert!”

He chuckled again: “So young man, you’re an expert?”

I had my in; “Yes sir, I know everything there is to know about floor covering and I even know how to install it.  If you ever need a job done and I don’t have an installer available I’ll come out and install if myself!”  I then went into a litany of facts about the carpet and vinyl his current company was using and about how my product was not only different but better.

I had tried to talk about my product in previous meetings but he had little interest.  But now I had his ear and I wasn’t going to let him get away.  After a few minutes he smiled that gentle smile that a grand father gives a child and with a chuckle he said; “let me see your hands.”  Confused I stuck them out for inspection.  He rubbed his fingers across the callus on my palms and gripped my hands tight.

He then looked me in the eye and said; “You actually do work don’t you boy?”

I said; “Yes sir I do.”  I then explained that my father made me learn every thing about our product including the way it was installed.

He said; “Well Mr. Gross, I guess you are not some fly-by-night operation.  I’ll give you a shot.”

Bam!  It was done.  I landed my first real account.  A lot of factors won that account.  The fact that I was persistent, the fact that I could read that he wasn’t giving me a solid NO and the fact that he was open to listening to me all played into my success in landing the account.  But the kicker was my knowledge of the product I was selling.  I new every detail of the product and services we offered.  Even though I was young and inexperienced, my knowledge was what finally sealed the deal.

I truly believe that in order for a salesperson to break down barriers and break through the existing relationships that potential clients may have, one must be extremely knowledgeable about their products and services.  As the cliché goes, knowledge is power!  In sales product knowledge is real power.  It can help a salesperson break down barriers and break through to close deals.

The Lesson:

The lesson here should be obvious.  Learn everything you can and never stop learning.  In this world things are always evolving.  I don’t care if you are in sales or not, you still need to know everything you can about what your company does.  Knowledge is the key to advancement. To be an effective manager or salesperson you have to know more than your competition inside and outside of your company.  (That’s right, whether you realize it or not, you’ve got competition inside your company too!  They want that raise, that next promotion or that bonus … that’s competition)

Here’s why you need to learn, learn, learn!

  1. It’s the best way to solidify a competitive advantage.  Knowing your product or service backwards and forwards means that you know your strengths and weaknesses.  This is powerful in the fluid game of negotiations.  Knowing these things can help you win in all kinds of situations.
  2. Knowledge opens doors.  In my case it opened a door to an individual that wanted to judge the book by its cover.  Had I not been so knowledgeable about my product and service I would never have broken down the barrier of my youth and apparent inexperience.  In truth I was inexperienced, but my knowledge allowed me to overcome those facts and to succeed in spite of those hurdles.

Want to attain a higher level?  Want to overcome shortcomings or misconceptions about you or your product?  Then take to heart the cliché that knowledge is power and learn, learn, learn.  Never stop learning!