by Kenneth Rudich
Prior to his retirement some years back, my best friend’s father was as gifted a salesman as I’ve ever met. For the sake of this post I’ll call him Mitch.
Mitch loved the thrill of launching new businesses, making them profitable, and then selling them off.
Whenever a business of his gained a sound financial footing, he invariably grew restless and yearned for the adventure – nay, the adrenalin rush — of starting a new one. It was in his DNA, and he repeated this cycle more than a handful of times over the course of his forty-plus years in business.
On the last go around, he scored a success so big that it emboldened him to do the one other thing he’d never done but always dreamed of doing: completely trade in his work-a-day life for one of nothing but leisure and travel.
To this day he and his wife are making up for all the time they couldn’t spend together while he was preoccupied with the business of conducting business.
Mitch Loved Making a Sale
Mitch’s story might ordinarily be unremarkable except for one thing: he had a knack for identifying business opportunities where you least suspect they might be found. He had the skills of a bloodhound for sniffing them out, and the intellect of a giant for pulling them off. It was common for his enterprise to be a one of a kind endeavor, and it would darn near take a dissertation to explain the mechanics of how some of them worked.
He also had an aptitude for packaging complex concepts in way that would make them understandable and, more importantly, intriguing. This facility, along with tireless determination, was the source of his many successes.
One summer, after my sophomore year in college, I interned at his New York office. At that time he was pitching an investment plan that had to do with oil and gas speculation. It involved an opportunity to piggyback on a government subsidized program, which made it somewhat more fail-safe than most other investments of its kind at the time.
He offered these investment packages to professionals, mostly doctors and lawyers, primarily by phone. He had fifteen salespeople on the floor, and they were making cold calls for the better part of each day. I believe the least expensive package stood at around $10,000.
The clients-to-be didn’t always easily part with their money. Even when a salesperson managed to spark some initial buy-in, many of the candidates remained stubbornly skeptical. The most difficult of these got transferred to Mitch.
More than once I watched my friend’s father operate through the doorway of his office. Seldom did a call take less than thirty minutes. Upwards of an hour wasn’t unusual.
His talent for keeping these otherwise busy people on the line, overcoming one objection after another, was a treat to behold. It was akin to deep sea fishing, where once you’ve got them on the hook it takes some time to reel them in.
At the risk of employing an already overused word, it was evident this was Mitch’s passion. His demeanor would visibly change into one of deep concentration while listening and responding to every word the prospect had to say.
Psychologists regard this intense immersion as the precursor to a state of mind termed “flow.” Author of the book “Emotional Intelligence,” Dr. Daniel Goleman wrote, “Flow represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performance and learning. It is a state in which people become utterly absorbed in what they are doing, paying undivided attention to the task, their awareness merged with their actions.”
Athletes who are in “flow” will frequently boast about being in the “zone,” which is their parlance for signifying a superior — even awe-inspiring — level of performance marked by the appearance of effortless ease.
The rhythm and flow of the conversations between Mitch and a prospect might have led you to believe they were really old friends. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth; they were in fact complete strangers. They just met, via a cold call no less.
But I could tell the connection they shared was nonetheless real. I suppose a good money-making proposition can have that kind of effect – especially when it’s sold by someone as authentic as Mitch.
All summer long he closed deal after deal despite the prevailing winds of skepticism.
In the last week before I was scheduled to go back to school, Mitch took me out to lunch. By then I was in awe of his artful manner for winning so many favorable outcomes time after time.
So I asked him, point blankly, “How do you do it? How are you able to get so many people to come around as often as you do?”
“Because,” he said, “a no is as good as a yes.”
I gazed across the table at him, amused but also puzzled. “Really?”
“Absolutely. When someone says no, it gives me the opportunity to listen, learn and adjust what I’m saying. Every objection that I answer to their satisfaction brings me one step closer to having them sell themselves on the product. I never sell people something they don’t want. I let them sell themselves on something they didn’t know they want. And they’ll do that as long as it fits with what they find appealing. So while a yes is good, a no is just as good as a yes.”
Still not completely convinced this was the case by the time lunch had ended, I sat at my desk mulling it over for much of the afternoon. That’s when I realized something else about the moment he uttered those words: it was not even so much what he said, but the conviction with which he said it.
In reality, these were not mere words to him but rather something he believed down to the core of his very being.
After that, I sold myself on believing it too. A now, almost thirty years later, I still maintain that a no is as good as a yes.
(Author’s post-script: for the sake of full disclosure, it should be stressed that Mitch mostly received his referrals after the prospect had been qualified by a salesperson on the floor. In relation to this disclosure, and as a corallary to this concept, sometimes a no is as good as a yes when it’s clear there’s no sense in wasting time on a prospect that has no intent of making a purchase.)