In the spring of 1974 I was close to graduating from Valdosta State College and only six months away from a December wedding. I figured it might be a good idea to get a job.
The economy wasn’t great but there were some companies that came on campus to recruit employees. Richard Gaddy drove over from Tallahassee to represent Burroughs Corporation. It was a national company whose main product was computers.
Richard was manager of the sales team of eight or ten guys. That was in the days before someone discovered that women could sell too. The salary was more than most companies paid, and I could tell that Richard would be a great boss. A few weeks later I was renting an apartment at 2600 Miccosukee Road and had my own business cards.
Burroughs had a great training program that lasted almost a year. It included two weeks in Philadelphia, four weeks in Tampa, then another two weeks in Philadelphia. The intense classroom training was interspersed between periods of going on calls with Richard and other veteran salesmen like Bob Abernathy.
When I gave my final sales presentation in Philadelphia, I drew hearty applause from the 20 or so young men in the room. Back in the real world in Tallahassee, however, I was terrible. I’ve often told people that my best line was, “I don’t guess y’all want to buy anything today do you?” That wasn’t something that I actually said, but it’s a pretty good representation of my approach.
I was 22 years old and making cold calls on crusty old guys who were often in their fifties or beyond. None of them were enthusiastic about some kid explaining how a computer could help them cut back on staff. The staff weren’t always real excited about that either. The company training on how to overcome objections was seldom used on my calls. When the prospect said “No!” it was like a fire drill at school. I headed to the nearest exit.
Eighteen months after signing on I reluctantly told Richard I was leaving. Burroughs had invested a lot of time and money in me, and I felt bad about that. Richard suggested that I give it a little longer, but the shoes of a computer salesman were killing my feet. I knew they would never fit.
My cousin, Rooney Bowen, asked me about working with him at his Chevy dealership in Vienna. Rooney’s close friend, A. C. Daniels, worked there also. Between the two of them I got some classic on-the-job sales training. I don’t remember them ever giving me any specific pointers, but I paid close attention to what they did.
We traded in an old car that had barely escaped the junkyard. We priced it at almost nothing, maybe $300 or so. A fellow looked it over, cranked it up, and gave it a test ride. When he came back he asked Rooney if it used any oil. Rooney said, “I don’t know, but if it does it’s got a good place to put it in.” That response remains one of the best examples of overcoming objections that I’ve ever heard.
A.C. was a master of conversational selling. He sold life insurance on the side. One day a few men were standing around the shop visiting when A. C. started excitedly telling them about a new insurance product. One of the fellows asked A. C. if he could help him get a policy. A. C. told him that he would be glad to try, then he walked him to his office. A. C. had presented his product in such a way the customer was asking if he could buy it. That doesn’t happen often.
After five years of selling Chevrolets, I spent the next 35 years in banking. That’s where I found the shoes that fit me best. I found my sweet spot in selling people on the idea of trusting us with their finances, then trying to make sure we kept their trust.
Somewhere along the line I discovered a valuable lesson. I learned that even when the shoes we are wearing are a bit uncomfortable, they can still help us to get farther down the road. Burroughs wasn’t the place I needed to be, but it was a good stop on the trail that took me there.
I don’t know as I ever thanked Richard for putting his confidence in me, or for his kind understanding when I needed it at the end. So, thank you Richard for everything. I wanted to send you a nice gift certificate, but the bank says it’s best not to write checks without having funds in the account. I’m still not a good enough salesman to know how to overcome that kind of objection.