SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Salesmen are rarely heroic figures in American culture. They're often shown as sad, defeated people like Willy Loman in "Death of a Salesman," who says...
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
DUSTIN HOFFMAN: (as Willy Loman) It's funny, you know, after all the highways, and the trains, and the appointments, and the years, you end up worth more dead than alive.
SIMON: Or slick, unscrupulous characters like Ricky Roma in "Glengarry Glen Ross." But then that's a David Mamet play, so it's hard to repeat any line.
Yet sales drive the economy. The cleverest invention or product will disappear - creating no income, no employment - unless someone can sell it.
Philip Delves Broughton was a world-roving reporter for the Daily Telegraph of London. But he left journalism for Harvard Business School, where he was astonished to discover, most MBA programs teach nothing about sales. Mr. Broughton decided to find out on his own. His new book is, "The Art of the Sale: Learning from the Masters About the Business of Life." Philip Delves Broughton joins us from New York.
Thanks so much for being with us.
PHILIP DELVES BROUGHTON: My pleasure.
SIMON: Haven't Americans long held some long contradictory views about selling?
BROUGHTON: Yes, they have. And you mentioned Willie Loman and "Glengarry Glen Ross," and that's the sort of negative view. But the much more positive one is the sort of log cabin to the White House view, the idea that in an essentially flat, very Democratic society, if you can sell, if you can persuade others of your abilities you can essentially rise up. You look at the entrepreneurial heroes, whether it's, you know, Donald Trumps or the Steve Jobses, they're all great salesman in their way and they're difficult and contradictory characters. But what really marks them out is their ability to persuade us that whatever they have is worth buying. So it's both heroic and depressing. And again, that's what really drew me in; this story of capitalism, the Willy Loman, the defeated man who's become nothing but a tool of the economy. On the other hand, if you can sell you can really triumph in an essentially flat and Democratic society.
SIMON: I guess I didn't quite understand until you put it this bluntly in your book, that like baseball players, the best salespeople spend most of their time striking out.
BROUGHTON: Yes. And that's why it's so important to be optimistic and tenacious. It's a career where you are rejected many, many more times than you're accepted. And a lot of the really good salesmen thrive on that - knowing that at some point there will be a triumph, and that triumph is going to be what validates everything they do.
As you said, like baseball players, hitting .300 would be tremendous in sales. Hitting one out of 100 is tremendous in many types of sales. So to really succeed at it, you have to understand the odds, you have to understand that you're going to be told no more than yes, and that's very, very hard. And that's psychologically hard. And again, that's one of the things that drew me in. Business can often seem sterile about numbers, about spreadsheets, about strategic reports, but sales makes it really human. It cuts to the heart of who we are, what we're willing to do to make a buck, the masks we're willing to adopt and our ability to persuade.
One salesman told me that sales is the greatest laboratory there is for studying human nature, and I completely agree. And that's the antithesis of much of what we think about business.
SIMON: And what do you learn in that lab?
BROUGHTON: You learn the most fundamental things about human nature. You know, I say at the end of the book, I talk about the lemonade stand as a great American rite of passage. You know, why is it we encourage our children to go out to the end of our driveways and sell lemonade? A sales trainer told me, asked me this interesting question at one point. He said what do you most want for your children - I have two young sons who are six and nine - and I said, you know, I want them to be happy, I want them to be, have great relationships, have great work, all these things. And he said no, no, no. One thing. And I said OK, I give up. What is it? And he said if you were to die tomorrow you would want for them to be able to take care of their needs, to meet their own needs. And he said selling is how you do that.
And I think that's what the human laboratory is really all about; how do you take your talents and turn them into a livelihood? How do you take who you are and know that in certain situations you'll have to be a different person in front of different audiences? To what extent are you willing to do that? What are you willing to do for a buck? Everyone will have a very different answer to that. But I think that's where it becomes such an interesting subject and takes it beyond the realm of business into all our understanding of who we are as people.
SIMON: Tell us about some of the great salespeople that you profiled in this book.
BROUGHTON: So I start in a Moroccan souk with a rug seller called Majid El Fenni, who started out selling sheepskin jackets to hippies in the '60s and is now one of the great purveyors of Moroccan carpets, rugs, tiles to hotels and movie stars and rock stars all over the world. I went to Japan; I met a life insurance saleswoman called Mrs. Shibata who's the top saleswoman at a company called Dai-ichi Life, which is one of the great life insurance companies. I met a guy called Guillermo Ramirez - known as Memo - who's a Mexican contractor in Baltimore, who arrived in the United States when he was 19 and now runs a very thriving contracting business in Baltimore. And again, a terrific salesman, completely untaught but just wonderful with a huge array of different clients from, you know, wealthy bankers in Baltimore to kind of 20-year-olds who have their first home, a terrific reader of people, and a great enthusiast and a great manager of people.
SIMON: Let me draw you out a bit about Memo because you spend a few days with him in the book. And I found this - I found your time very instructive. You begin with the fact that you really like him.
BROUGHTON: Yeah. He dragged me out of bed at 4:30 in the morning to go on the run with him, which I don't do as a matter of course. But he does this every single morning. And he's a sort of handsome fellow; he's got long dark hair which he keeps in a ponytail. And he said to me he says he does this every single day and then he comes home and he drinks his carrot juice and then he has a large black coffee and he hits the road in his car and starts picking up his painters and his decorators and all the people who work for him. And he says I have to control my mood because what I do all day is so buffeted by people complaining; they want something more done, nothing is ever enough, people want more. He said I am the person in the middle of this who has to stay balanced and steady and alert and aware of everything. And if I get this knocked off course at any point, the whole thing goes to hell. You expect salesman to be resilient and he is, but he's highly conscious that he has to be consistent and constant all the time. He's very - he has strict routines to maintain that.
SIMON: Are you because of what you've learned, easier or harder to sell things to?
BROUGHTON: I'm probably easier. I'm much more sympathetic to salespeople.
BROUGHTON: A lot of salespeople I met said they're terrible buyers and I think I may be falling into that trap because when you start to see salespeople coming at you, you know what they're up to. They know what you're up to, you know, you know, when the person walks away from the car dealer, oh, they're trying to pull this one, they're going to try to pretend they're not going to buy the car, and you can start to enjoy it when you realize it's that's kind of a game and you don't get too hung up on are they telling the truth? Is this a lie? It's really gets no more the monopoly. That's not to say there aren't terrible sales that go on. There's all types of bad practice, like (unintelligible), you know, selling of subprime mortgages. It was appalling and you see very, very bad behavior in sales. But I think the more you learn about it the more you can see it as this advanced human game, and then it can be a more enjoyable experience.
SIMON: Philip Delves Broughton. His new book, "The Art of the Sale: Learning from the Masters About the Business of Life."
Thanks so much for being with us.
BROUGHTON: Thank You.
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