(Sales) Book Review: How I Raised Myself From Failure to Success in Sales by Frank Bettger (1949)

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Victor Antonio, Sales Influence

This is a sales classic dating back to 1949 and is considered the first Best Seller in the category of the art of selling. Frank Bettger’s book is an autobiographical account of how he went from debt-ridden failure at 29 to a being in a position to retire at the age of 41 all because he understood the basic principles of selling. Bettger’s was a life insurance salesman who recounts story after story about his sales experience. Each story carries with it a nugget of sales wisdom that 60 years later still applies today.

The Bettger sequence of sales success is summed up as follows: 
• You can’t collect commission until you make the sale.
• You can’t make the sale until you setup the meeting
• You can’t make the meeting until you make the call

This book is grounded in good work ethics. Bettger believed that in order to sell you have to be honest, earnest and persistent. Over a 12 month period he tracked his calls in order to assess how well he was doing. In that period of time he made 1849 calls and was able to setup 828 meetings and as a result closed 65 deals How much was each call worth to him? Total commission was $4,251.82 or $2.30 per call. Now keep in mind that these are 1949 numbers!

While tracking his sales closely, Bettger’s made several interesting observations. 

First, he realized that 70% sales were closed on first meeting, 23% closed on second meeting, and 7% on third or after. Second, he realized he was spending 50% of his time going after that 7%. 
How many of us in sales continue to go after business where the client never buys. It’s always, ‘Come back next week we should have a decision for you by then.’ We all know what happens. We come back the following week only for the decision to be pushed out, project was scrapped or worse, they blind-side you by giving your business to your competitor. 
It was then that he decided that he could improve his close rate and income by focusing more on the first two meetings and less on the 7%. In doing so, he increased his per call rate from $2.80 to $4.27. The lesson here is that you have to know when to cut the line on a prospect and move on to the next. 

My favorite quote in the books is,

“Selling is the easiest job in the world if you work it hard, but the hardest job in the world if you try to work it easy.”
To Bettger selling comes down to one thing; getting in front of people. He reminds us that if a salesperson can see five people everyday and share what he has to offer, he’ll be a salesperson who is not only hitting the quota, but exceeding it.

Bettger’s book is loaded with insightful assessments on the art of selling and he manages to blend them into his storytelling seamlessly. Here’s a quick story in the book where he is approached by a junior salesman named Ed who asked that eternal question about whether salespeople are born or made. 

Ed: Mr. Bettger, tell me frankly. Do you think I am cut out to be a salesman?

Mr Bettger: No, Ed. I don’t think your cut out be a salesman. [pause] I don’t think anybody is cut out to be a salesman-or anything else. I think we’ve got to cut ourselves out to be whatever we want to be.”

Here are some highlights from the book on selling success:
• You got to get in front of them… 50% percent of selling is just showing up.
• Find out what a person wants then help him get it.
• Show a person what he wants and how he can get it and he’ll pay the price.
• Help the man recognize what he wants and then help him figure out how to get it.
• Two factors that motivate people to take action: desire for gain or fear of loss. 
• See things from the other person’s point of view and then speak in terms of their needs and desires.

On Overcoming Objection 
Bettger’s did an interesting study. After five thousand interviews he concluded that in 62% of the cases when an objection was raised it wasn’t the real reason and that only 38% of the time did the prospect give the real reason for not buying. To uncover the real reason for an objection, Bettger gives this little simple 4 word solution, “In addition to that…”  After an objection has been raised you say, “In addition to that, is there any other reason that would prevent you from taking advantage of our offer today?”  Simple, but effective even by today’s selling standards.

On Listening

He quotes Dorothy Dix, the columnist who said,  “The shortcut to popularity is to lend everyone your ears, instead of giving them your tongue. There is nothing that you can possibly say to an individual that would be has as interesting to him as the things he is dying to tell you about himself.”   He further advises that you shouldn’t aim to be a great conversationalist, but aim to be a great listener. Nothing new here, but it’s a great reminder. 

On Failure
He quotes the all too familiar statistic of Babe Ruth who is remembered for being the home run king at the time with 851 home runs but how few people realize that he struck out at the plate 1330 times. The point? Keep swinging. In sales, keep calling. 

Here’s another baseball analogy that is seldom cited. In 1915 Ty Cobb was the all time leader in bases stolen with 96. Seven years later Max Carey set the second best record with 51 stolen. The difference? Cobb made 134 attempts, Carey only made 53. So although Carey had a better success percentage, Cobb is remembered even though he failed more often.

The point? If you want to steal more bases, you have to take more chances (i.e., risk more attempts). In selling, it’s no different. If you want more clients, you have to risk rejection more often than the other guy.

This book is like taking a step back in time.

Although there are a few things that are outdated in the book, the read is worth every minute.  And, if you’re a salesperson, you’ll appreciate how revolutionary this book was for its time and how some sales techniques used 60 years ago are still being used today.

If you’re feeling nostalgic, go out and get yourself a copy today!

Victor Antonio, Sales Influence
“Finding the Why in (How People) Buy”


2 Responses

  1. Wow this is so true…Now I now where mostcompanies get their “statistics”. I’ve asked them in the Q&A sessions how they figured these percentages and they really couldn’t give me a “clear” answer.

    I guess they heard other ppl speak but never new the actual “resource from where it came”..

    Thank you so much for this.

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