Many years ago, soon after my discharge from the United States Air Force, I was a hearing aid fitter. This was primarily a sales position for my company offered a style of hearing aid to meet not only most levels of hearing loss, but for varying degrees of vanity with the smaller devices coming at the highest cost (and paying the highest commissions).
Like every good salesman does I knew my product, I knew my presentation, and I knew my stats. In order to make my $1000 weekly commission I needed to provide 9 hearing tests per week and lead generating and appointment closing were incredibly important to meet this goal.
Appointments that were booked for us by telemarketers (back in those days, such things were not only legal but common) normally did not do well and on the night of the event leading to this story, I had one solitary appointment on my schedule that had been set by a telemarketer that was a one hour drive to get to.
Since it was my only appointment that day, I wanted to make the most of it and I convinced myself that it would have a positive result. It did, but not in the way I had intended.
I arrived on time, looking professional and presenting my company and my product in stellar form. My client was an elderly woman in her late 80's, widowed and while in apparent good health, she moved slowly and deliberately as she showed me to her kitchen table.
Her home was small and her table had one chair which she offered me. I declined and had her sit at the table as I set up the hearing testing equipment. As I did this I noted that I could view almost the whole interior of the house. The living room had a small television console with a recliner, the bedroom had a small single bed, and the walls were covered with yellowing photographs of people who seemed to have been a part of her life at one time or another.
As I administered her hearing test to her, I noted that her hearing was not impaired at all. She did not fall into the pattern of hearing loss that would benefit from a hearing device of any kind...and I could now see my week falling below $1000 in commission. I was very disappointed...and almost angry.
Putting away my equipment, I said to her "Your hearing is perfect, ma'm. Why would you have me come out here to test your hearing when you have perfect hearing?"
Without looking up at me, but looking at the end of the table where there was not a chair, she said "Young man, do you have any idea at all what it is like to have perfect hearing and to have no one to talk to?"
That moment was a turning point for me.
Success as a salesman was not going to come to me from memorization, product quality or statistics. It was going to come to me by connecting with people...real people with real hurts, needs, and wants. This woman was more than a sales presentation and much more than an opportunity to make money.
With tears in my eyes, I asked her to forgive me. I told her that I still had an hour and I would be happy to talk with her about anything she wished. We started with the first photograph in the living room and, one at a time, she introduced me to her family and friends who were surrounding her, but still so far away.
More than any book on selling or sales seminar ever taught me, this wonderful woman showed me the value of opening my eyes, my ears and my heart before opening my mouth at every presentation. Learning more about the needs and wants of my customers has helped me to better apply the axiom that selling is something that you do FOR people, not TO people.
James H. Bushart, CMI