famous-salespeople

7 Famous Salespeople and What We Can Learn From Them

The definition of a great salesperson varies from one source to another. Find out the lessons you can learn from our analysis of some of the world’s most famous salespeople of all time. 

As the stereotype goes, the archetypal salesperson is extroverted, aggressive and pushy among other traits. Are these the qualities and qualifications of a great salesperson? The best way to learn what defines a great salesperson is to consider examples of famous salespeople and identify their defining traits.

Let’s take a look at seven of the most famous salespeople of all time and the lessons we can draw from each one:

1. Mary Kay Ash

Highly famed for developing the very first multi-level marketing strategy, Mary Kay Ash is considered a pioneer for business women. Just like Ogilvy, Ash too had humble beginnings, selling books door-to-door.

Her main sales tactic involved convincing women to host parties where they would sell to their friends. The principle behind this was that people are more likely to buy from friends rather than strangers. Another signature strategy was the use of sales incentives. Her company made headlines for awarding the top salesperson with a pink Cadillac.

Due to frustrations at her workplace that kept her from advancing because she was a woman, she founded her own cosmetics company. Here she applied her sales philosophies. One of her rules was to treat others as you want to be treated. By its second year, the company sold almost $1 million worth of products and has received countless accolades since then.

Lessons:

If you are in a position of power, empower the people around you and offer incentives and rewards for great performance. Treat everyone as you would like to be treated and use frustrations as opportunities. And always expand your network to increase sales.

2. Joe Girard

Famed for being one of the best car salespeople of all time, Joe Girard, started his business career at the tender age of 9. Initially, he was a shoe shiner, moving on to become a news carrier at 11. For every new customer, he got a box of Pepsi-Cola and soon established a soda pop business, selling at unbeatable prices to neighborhood kids.

From his early days, he learned the value of hard work and sacrifice. After struggling through life and finally landing a job as a car salesperson, he realized he was good at selling cars. He set the record for selling 13,001 cars in a span of 15 years, once selling a whopping 18 cars in one day!

His secret to success? He sold more than just cars. Girard always told customers to come back and would take great care of them when they came for service, even paying for parts. He would also keep sending handwritten greeting cards to his customers every month.

Lesson:

Getting a spot on the list of famous salespeople requires more than just sales. It requires great aftersales service and personalized touch to show customers that they matter.

3. Dale Carnegie

Most highly famed for his book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” Dale Carnegie came from a really humble background. In spite of this, he realized early on that he had a way with words and went on to become a pioneer in modern sales.

He was so good at public speaking that his college mates were willing to pay him to get his skills. Soon, he started adult public speaking classes, and two years afterward, he founded the Dale Carnegie Institute. The book mentioned at the onset was his second and has sold over 8 million copies to date.

He outlined lots of social and business lessons in the 1936 book which still remain relevant to date for salespeople. 

Lessons:

Carnegie believed that influence began with relationship and that to engage someone, you need to make them feel important. His sales secret to success was to show genuine interest in people, asking questions, remembering names and avoiding flattery.

4. Zig Ziglar

One of the world’s most popular motivational speakers, Zig Ziglar, left a rich sales legacy in the form of books, recorded speeches and so much more. He started out as a humble salesman, becoming exceptionally good at it, and later went on to be a renowned author.

As a salesperson, he started out selling pots and pans, and later cooking equipment. Following his success at sales, he became field manager and later, supervisor. Later, he left sales to become a full-time public speaker and then started authoring books.

In his lectures and writings, he taught attitudes needed to succeed in life and professionally.

Lessons:

Confidence in your ability to help others, being able to showcase your value to prospects and the ability to get up when knocked down are the qualities that make famous salespeople what they are. He also emphasized the value of teamwork saying you can achieve more with others than you can alone.

5. Erica Feidner

Landing a spot on the famous salespeople list for her prowess at selling pianos, Erica Feidner was a force to reckon with in the field. During her career, she sold at least $40 million worth of Steinway Pianos, a product with little repeat purchase and long sales cycles.

She was able to bring out a passion for piano in people who had never played nor had musical ambitions. Feidner insisted that she was not a salesperson, but rather, a matchmaker matching customers to their perfect pianos.

She would take her time to teach novices the basics of piano playing. For more seasoned players, she would listen to them play and guide them to the right instrument for their needs. Her secret was preparing for every sale and tailoring each session to the client’s needs.

Notably, she would avoid going for a quick-sale and refuse to sell a piano when she felt it was not the right match for a customer.

Lessons:

Become an expert in your field, take time to understand your prospect and tailor your approach to every individual’s needs.

6. Napoleon Barragan

Like many other famous salespeople, Napoleon Barragan came from a humble background. His career in sales started off when he was 17, delivering soda and beer on a donkey. He was determined to start his own business despite his small beginnings. 

He borrowed money to start his first business, a second-hand furniture store. Then one day, he got the idea of selling mattresses over the phone and 1-800-mattress was born. It goes on to become an iconic slogan that spurs him on to fame.

Lessons:

Be ready to take risks and handle challenges, always excited to take the initiative. Always be ready to change and adapt so as to remain relevant and successful. Focus on the big picture, your long-term dreams, not on individual sales.

7. David Ogilvy

Known as the founding father of advertising, David Ogilvy had rather humble beginnings in the sales career. His earliest foray into sales involved door-to-door sales of cooking stoves. Notably, Ogilvy was so successful at it that his boss had him write out a sales manual for other salespeople to use.

More than eight decades, later, the manual, “The Theory and Practice of Selling the AGA Cooker” is still hailed as one of the best ever written. In this book, he urged salespeople to research their prospects as much as they could before the first meeting.

He also firmly believed that the worst mistake a salesperson could make is to bore the customer. To him, sales is a game of numbers; the more prospects a salesperson talked to, the higher the number of sales they would be exposed to. 

However, he was quick to add, “Never mistake quantity of calls for quality of salesmanship.” He urged salespeople to be persistent, reaching out regularly until they got a “no.” He favored the long-term soft-sell model over the quick-sale style of the time.

Later in his career, he went into advertising where he established the principles that underpin the industry to this day. He is also renowned for iconic campaigns for Schweppes, Hathaway, Rolls Royce and Shell.

Lesson:

Customer relationship development is one of the most important paradigms of successful sales. Take time to research prospects, establish a rapport, cultivate it and then make your pitch.

Charting Your Own Path 

Clearly, there are lots of lessons to learn from these famous salespeople and their secrets to success. No matter whether you are employed in sales, run your own business or simply dream of running one, there will always be hurdles on the path to success.

Fortunately, these famous salespeople have been there and were able to navigate successfully. Mimic their tactics and learn their philosophies to chart your own path to success.

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