How To Sell Anything: Lessons Learned From Door-to-Door Sales

Reelio’s Co-founder and VP of Marketing brings us back to basic, but not-to-be-overlooked sales tactics, as he reflects on his first sales job in college.  

Everyone is a salesperson. Not in the traditional sense of sales, but rather in the fact that no matter your role, you are selling your brand, your idea, or yourself. Job interview – why should I hire you? Give you my number – why should I go on a date with you? Funding – why should I invest in your company? Million dollar contract – why should I choose your product over a competitor’s? You get the idea.

In college, I spent a summer selling educational materials door-to-door. I knocked on my first door at 7:59am and my last at 9:30pm six days a week. 81 hours weekly. Few things will prepare you for the workforce life, post college, like door-to-door sales. It definitely helped me to develop my own internal discipline needed for startup life.

The job was entirely commission based, so I started out the summer making about $100/week. I can still feel the dread that washed over me, as I knocked on complete strangers’ doors. I was sunburned and sweat-soaked, and despite how perfectly I delivered my rehearsed pitch, the only people who bought from me were the few kind grandmothers who felt sorry enough for me to invite me in for lemonade and a few minutes to cool off. I wasn’t sure I was cut out for it, but I was determined to finish the contract. I knew it was going to be a LONG summer.

I learned a tremendous amount about myself and how to connect with people throughout that time. I remember about three weeks in, there was a turning point. I had enough sales, that I was able to use referrals to more easily get into doors, but (aside from the rote pitch) there was no consistency to my process. I never knew one way or the other how the conversation was going to go.

Then one evening I was sitting on a front porch with a family. I told them what I was doing, but didn’t pitch them. Then I asked them about their needs. I listened to them for 15 minutes, as they discussed how their son was doing in school. What was working for him. What wasn’t. Then when they were finished, I was certain I had the solution that would help. We continued to have a conversation. A dialogue. It was amazing! I had been thinking of sales as selling. This was a waste of my time and a waste of time for every person I was trying to sell. Sales isn’t selling. It’s filling a need. In the last few weeks I was making just north of $2500/week. I’m confident that if it hadn’t been a 12-week summer job, I would’ve dwarfed that number over the course of the year. Over the course of that summer I knew I had found the way to sell anything. Below are the key takeaways from that summer. These have been instrumental in my successes so far, and will be instrumental in my successes down the road:

  1. It takes work – We’ve all heard it. Nothing worth having comes easy. Steve Jobs was fired from Apple. JK Rowling was depressed and penniless before Harry Potter was published. Karen Kaplan worked nights and weekends as a receptionist (who didn’t even know how to type) for Hill Holliday to keep up – she’s now the CEO. Malcolm Gladwell writes that it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery. If you want to be good at something, do the work. This includes sales.
  2. People buy for two reasons – You either fulfill an immediate need or there is a genuine connection – preferably both. I cannot express enough the importance of listening to your “customer”.  This is crucial in building that connection and knowing you can fulfill an immediate need. You can have the most amazing product in the world, but if you are talking about all of these brilliant features and they don’t address a potential customer’s need, then you are wasting their time and your time. Ask questions. Take the time to really listen. Relate to them. Then, and only then, transition into how you can meet that need. If you can’t meet their need – don’t try to sell them. The goal should be a relationship, not a quick sale.
  3. Perception is everything – The easiest thing in the world would have been to focus on the number of doors shut in my face. The number of days I was rained on. The number of mosquito bites. I could’ve gone back home and hung out by the pool with my friends. However, I didn’t focus on those things. I focused on the people who bought. I focused on the smiles I was given. I focused on the adventure I was having. I chose to say, “This is going to be hard as hell, but I am going to make the most of each day.” You don’t have to be a glass half-full kind of person. You just have to keep your thoughts in check. You are what you think about.
  4. Just knock on the next door – You’re going to hear no. A lot. All is not lost. You “walk next door and knock”. Opportunity is waiting. You just have to go after it.

There you have it, how to sell anything. If you have anything to add feel free to drop a comment. Also, if you want to hear some of the horrors or successes from that summer, feel free to message me. I’d love to connect and swap stories.

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  • Awesome tips! Selling yourself isn’t easy at all.