Personal Wealth Management /
All the World’s a Sale
Lest you think it’s for lightweights, two classics remind us sales is survival of the fittest. And even a key life skill.
Books reviewed in this article:
Glengarry Glen Ross— David Mamet (writer)
Winning Through Intimidation— Robert J. Ringer
“Start by learning to sell. There’s time later to learn finance and investments. Learning selling is like skiing—the younger you start, the faster and better you learn.” – Ken Fisher, the Ten Roads to Riches
Ken is talking to those who’re thinking of getting into the investment business, but personally I’d make this rule much wider—understanding sales is a boon to life success. “Salesman” is often a pejorative in today’s culture. It’s amazing how wrong that is. Here are some common attributes of people who are good at sales:
- Pragmatism—they see reality clearly; they forge a relationship with reality that doesn’t sugar coat the way things are. There’s virtually no way to be good at sales and also delusional about how the world works.
- Persistence and Failure—sales folks fail commonly and spectacularly and have to figure out ways mentally to get over it and ultimately win.
- Thick-skinned—similar to the above, imagine how thick-skinned you have to be (getting “no” over and over again) to be successful.
- Psychology—you have to let go of your own self and views and get into the skin of others—figure out how their minds work.
Those are all fantastic attributes of any human in my book, and they’re on display in Robert J. Ringer’s 1973 classic, Winning Through Intimidation. It’s a book about real estate sales, and Ringer gives us his philosophy through anecdotes about how he learned, the hard way, to be a great salesperson. But the application is far wider. Here are a few of his many useful theories:
- The Theory of Reality: Reality is not the way you wish things to be, nor the way they appear to be, but the way they actually are.
- Relativity: Define all problems carefully and with precision, because most folks don’t know how to scale or see facts in a relative light.
- Relevance: How relevant is what you’re doing to what you’re trying to accomplish?
- Ice Ball: The harder you press for something, the more difficult it often becomes to obtain.
- Posture: It’s not what you say or do that counts, but what your posture is when you say or do it.
- Fiddle: The longer someone fiddles around with something, the greater the odds the result will be negative. Get it done!
- Boy-Girl: Every person wants what he can’t have, and doesn’t want what he does have.
But Ringer’s greatest wisdom of all is probably the simple notion of “doing the right thing instead of the instinctive thing” and is similar to his theory of reality. How much money could be saved if investors simply followed this one rule?
Now, on to Intimidation. The theory is: “The degree to which a person obtains results is inversely proportionate to the degree to which he is intimidated.” That is, from experience, preparedness and confidence in one’s self there should seldom or never be a life instance where you’re intimidated out of achieving what you want. Think of how often outcomes are decided by who is the alpha leader of the discussion, meeting or even relationship, and who is not. One of the beautifully capitalist observations about this book is, when it comes to business, everyone is out for themselves, even when they don’t think they are. In fact, those who believe they’re “fair” or “altruistic” are usually the most dangerous types to deal with. Business is business.
Ringer considers himself a “tortoise” and the über-cheesy illustrations in this book depict him as literally green and hard-shelled. What he means is he learned everything he knows by experience—and taking care to really get the right lessons from his experiences (read: failures). He didn’t repeat many mistakes, and that’s likely the key to his success.
Lastly, it’s impossible to talk about sales and not mention David Mamet’s classic Glengarry Glen Ross. Mamet is one of the best playwrights of his era because, well, he’s an actual playwright. His work is foremost about punch and zip and entertainment; the social commentary comes second. The play is the thing! The drama! His dialogue is snappy, his characters archetypal and yet mercurial, his plots compelling—you love watching his plays. I could quote a hundred lines from Glenngarry but it’s taboo because basically every single line features an abundance of cursing. This play is about the black heart of sales—the real, often sad, underbelly. And no doubt there is much of that hucksterism out there. Alec Baldwin’s now legendary speech at the film version’s beginning has all but crowded out every other image of a salesmen we have in culture. But don’t mistake it for the whole—as Ringer shows, sales is unforgiving and sales is pragmatic, but it’s a skill that often makes for a better individual.
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*The content contained in this article represents only the opinions and viewpoints of the Fisher Investments editorial staff.
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