Update: See this post for a free ePub eBook version of this long post.
From a 1922 issue of The American Magazine, something that is just as true today as back then. In fact, it probably has even more importance today, given how things — apps and services — are marketed and sold on the Internet without ever seeing the customers and users in person.
Follow This Rule — If You Want to be Popular
A great salesman, A. MacLachlan, says that the only way to “sell” yourself, or anything else, is to get other people’s interest by showing your interest in them. Read how he applies this to girls who want to be successful socially
by B. C. Forbes
Across the desk from the chief electrician of one of the largest manufacturing plants in America sat a young salesman. He had been talking steadily, marshaling all his forces of logic, reason, and argument. But the man across the desk was unmoved. They didn’t need safety switches. While the salesman leaned back, desperately racking his brain for additional facts, the telephone rang. Out in the works a man had been killed on an open knife switch. Followed by the salesman, the electrician hurried to the hospital, where the safety engineer had already arrived.
While the doctor was making futile efforts to find a spark of life in the victim’s body, the general manager rushed into the room.
“Is there any hope?” he demanded.
“No hope,” answered the doctor.
Turning to the safety engineer, the general manager thrust out an incriminating finger. “You killed that man,” he said.
“Not I!” replied the safety engineer. “The electrician is in charge of the electric switches.”
The general manager looked at the electrician. “You killed him!” he shot out accusingly.
The electrician colored. “He was careless,” he stammered. “It’s the first—”
But by this time the general manager had spied the salesman hovering in the background. “Who are you?” he demanded of the stranger.
“I sell safety switches,” said the salesman, calmly and confidently. “I have been trying to convince your electrician here for two days that safety switches would prevent—”
“You have been trying to convince us for two days that accidents like this could be prevented!” interrupted the general manager. “After forty-eight hours of talking you could not get our order? Humph!”
As he turned away, he flung back over his shoulder, “You certainly are a whale of a salesman!”
I must explain here that there are places where the knife switch fills the bill. But there are others, as in the case I am describing, where it is dangerous.
Well, when the young salesman got back to the hotel that night — with an order so large that it startled him — he sat down to do some straight thinking.
Since his college days he had been selling books, advertising, telephone contracts, belt dressing, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, and all manner of electrical goods. He had been alert, aggressive, resourceful, and self-trained. He had always managed to find some high spot in each product he had sold. He had been able to put romance into each sales story. But safety switches —
Back in those days safety switches were regarded as contraptions for safety fanatics; it seemed as hard to construct a sales romance about a safety switch as about a Bermuda onion. There was a real need for the product; but nobody bought. Apparently, something was lacking in the method of presentation.
Finally, it dawned on the young man that if a workman were to be killed whenever the salesman was trying to convince an obdurate electrician, safety switches would become standard factory equipment within short order! But actually to kill a workman every time a sale hung fire was neither possible nor desirable. So he decided that henceforth he would kill them verbally.
He did. And the sales made by A. MacLachlan during the few months that followed still stand as the record for the Square D Company, pioneers in the production of safety switches. When, a short time later, he was made sales manager, the entire sales force was trained in his methods.
Advertising of a similar nature was used to startle the public out of its ignorance — you may have got a sharp shock when monkeying with the ordinary electric switch in your own cellar when the lights have gone out.
State after state, city after city, began passing laws compelling the installation of safety switches. MacLachlan’s selling methods were adopted by companies in a similar business, as brilliant examples of the proper way to get results.
“Personal success is a matter of personal salesmanship,” declared Mr. MacLachlan. “Let’s take the simplest case, that of ‘selling’ yourself to a child. You know children are pretty good judges of human nature. To win a child’s confidence requires the same tactics that are used on grown-ups. When you go home, your little son rushes up to greet you. You ask him, ‘What have you been doing to-day?’ And right away he starts to tell you all about himself — as long as you will ask him questions and listen to his answers. The moment you cease to show interest in him, his own interest dies down and he wanders off to his playthings.
“So it is with men and women, for they are only kids grown up. The first, last, and fundamental principle of all successful salesmanship is that men and women are interested in you only as long as you show that you are interested in them.
“We are put in the world to survive, and to strive to succeed. Every one of us is trying to sell himself, or herself, either consciously or unconsciously. The doctor sells himself to gain the confidence of his patients. The minister sells himself to persuade his congregation to seek spiritual salvation. The actor is perpetually selling himself to maintain his popularity, which is his greatest asset.
“Some people are born with compelling personalities, which they exert naturally and without effort. But others of us have to try consciously to gain the attention and liking of people. To do this successfully, we study the art of developing a good opinion about us in the minds of other people. We conceive a method of doing it; we study that method and practice it until it is as nearly perfect as we can make it. And that method of developing good opinion is what we call personality.
“Theodore Roosevelt was a man of that nature. He studied himself, recognized his shortcomings, developed his abilities, and sold himself into great personal popularity by his boundless energy, and his interest in other people and their affairs.”
“But how about us average mortals, who are not salesmen?” I asked. “Could a girl, for example, do that?”
Mr. MacLachlan paused and stared out of the window. “Yes,” he said; “it’s just as true for them as for the trained salesman. Any girl can be popular if she follows the fundamental law of salesmanship.”
‘Tell me how,” I interrupted.
“All right!” he replied.
That’s one thing about MacLachlan. He never side-steps, or crawls, or dodges; he overcomes difficulties by facing them; he solves problems by tackling them. From his forbears he inherited Scotch grit; or, as they would say, “guts.” He was born at Port Huron, Michigan, thirty-five years ago, early became a newsboy, thirsted for a college education, and earned it himself (at the University of Michigan) chiefly by selling books.
He knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to sell things. So, when he stepped off a train in Minneapolis, with only sixty cents in his pocket, to try to sell oil on a commission basis for a New York concern, he refused to quit when he had a tempting offer to do something else. For six long, hungry, hustling days he lived on that sixty cents, working eleven hours a day, walking from one factory to another, eating nothing but doughnuts and coffee. It was tough going. Then he was offered a job as night clerk in a hotel, at thirty-five dollars a month, a good bed, and meals. Though hungry and tired, he didn’t accept. He stuck to his big idea of selling. If part of the price was going hungry for a while, all right, he would pay the price. He did pay it; and before long he made a real selling record.
He has developed, too, a personality that attracts. He follows his own prescription. Although radiant with energy and vision, he keeps his feet on the ground. He is very human.
“Let’s begin at fundamentals,” Mr. MacLachlan started, in answer to my challenge that he tell how any girl can make herself popular. “All of us are essentially egotists. We think more about ourselves than about almost anybody or anything else. This doesn’t mean that we think more of ourselves. You may think more of your children than you do of yourself. But the greater part of your thoughts and personal attention concerns not them but you.
“The common fault is that most of us, thinking in this manner about ourselves so intensely, allow our conversation to center about ourselves most frequently. This doesn’t mean that the average man goes about praising himself or his ability. It merely means that he talks about himself, his personal likes and dislikes, his affections, and so forth.
“Now, isn’t it silly of me to sit and talk to another man about myself when he is across the table thinking about himself? All of us do this — except trained salesmen. The conversation of trained salesmen is based on the other man’s thoughts — the other man himself. Of course, his thoughts go further; but that is the fundamental principle of selling — and if anyone wants a serene, happy life, following that principle is the easiest and surest way to obtain it.”
He suddenly stopped and tossed over to me the photograph of a banquet at which we both had spoken. “Some nice-looking fellows in that picture, aren’t there?” he said, while I examined it.
“I’ll bet you a golf ball,” he continued, “the first person you looked for in that picture was yourself! Honest, now, didn’t you?”
“You’re right,” I admitted. “But what you undertook to tell was how any girl could become popular by personal salesmanship. What has this picture to do with proving that?”
“It absolutely proves the principle! You have got to put the other fellow into the picture to get more than his casual interest. At seventeen, a boy tells a girl all of the wonderful things that he is going to do. He tries to dazzle her with tales of mental adventure; but she soon tires of it — until he gets her in the picture by appointing her queen of his day dreams. From that instant she becomes interested in him.
“Riding on the train the other day to Boston, tired of reading, I looked about the car to find some interesting person to talk to. Sitting at the other end of the car was a man in clergyman’s garb. I said to myself, ‘Here’s a man who is selling religion. In his daily work he has had many experiences which would be valuable to me. I’ll find out how he gets his message over.’ I talked to him, and in a few moments we were chatting most interestingly.
“‘Tell me,’ I asked, ‘how do you sell your congregation religion?’
“‘Well,’ he said, ‘last week I preached a sermon on divorce. The members of my congregation are mill workers, and most of them are French-Canadians. Six days in the week they get up early, eat a heavy breakfast, and go to the mills to work. On Sunday they rise, eat a heavy breakfast, and come to church to sleep. The first thing I did in starting off this sermon on divorce was to hurl this question at them: “Do you know the number of divorces among the French-Canadian people in this city that were granted last month? The number of divorces among French-Canadian people in this city is startling — just think of the figures — it’s tremendous!”
“‘I held them in suspense until I had them thoroughly awakened, and then I told them the figures. From then on I preached my sermon on divorce — and closed with an emotional appeal. There you have — let’s see, what do you call it in your business?’
“I smiled. ‘Why, that’s making a sale; and the first thing you did was to get your congregation into the picture.’
“What is the difference between a great motion picture and a poor one? Simply that the director of the first put you into the picture, while the second one put only the actors into it. Douglas Fairbanks is a popular star because the whole audience sees in him their own ideals and aspirations. All men have hidden desires to be energetic, dynamic, brave, and tender. They watch Fairbanks zip through eight reels, and while they watch him they themselves are in his place doing the things that he is doing. The women see in him the personification of their ideal; down in their hearts each one of them desires to be fought over and courted in the strenuous Fairbanks fashion. David W. Griffith is a great salesman, because he is a master of getting his audience into the picture.”
“That may be all true,” I remarked. “But how can a girl apply this principle so as to gain the interest and attention-of men?”
“Well, aren’t the most popular girls the ones men find to be the best listeners, or the most sympathetic and most interested in their (I mean the men’s) ambitions and ideas?” he came back. “Open flattery isn’t the way. She must study the man; search out some commendable characteristic, and then make proper use of it. If he is a good golfer, she might begin by saying, ‘What is there, John, about golf that makes it the game of successful men?’ Then watch John begin to talk!
“Or, if he is an engineer, she might ask, ‘Tell me which of these characteristics is most important to a wonderful engineering career — a mind of precise accuracy, the power to dream great dreams, or the ability to carry visions to successful completion in spite of all obstacles?’
“But she must remember that one question doesn’t make an interesting conversation, any more than one swallow makes a summer. The first question, which puts the fellow into the picture, should be one that is near to his heart; and as each is exhausted, she must be ready to throw out additional leads. He can’t be expected to perform without assistance. He requires direction. Even when stars are working before the camera, the director is near them, constantly suggesting new action while the camera clicks.”
“All that you have been saying,” I interrupted, “has dealt with getting the other person into the picture. Where does the girl come in? Where do I come in? How can I profit by making the other fellow the star? That’s what each reader wants to know.”
Mr. MacLachlan grinned. “Well,” he said, “once you have made him the star, he will not object to your entering as a supporting member of the cast. And when you are both in the picture, there is a semblance of equality, an exchange of interest. I’m convinced that if you want to live happily you must learn to sell artistically. And this is just as true personally as it is commercially.
“To be interested in everyone you meet, think of them as a source of pleasure and profit. Every man and every woman has something, somewhere, helpful to you. Maybe it’s only part of an idea. But to produce his or her best, every one of us needs encouragement — just as a rosebud needs the encouragement of the sunshine and rain to develop into a beautiful flower. Men must be encouraged to expand and give off their best; they must be led on by a resourceful mind that has been trained to keep them in the picture.”
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Original page images (third image a composite of two partial pages), click to enlarge: