Selling Is A Performance Art


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I spent one whole day in the vacuum cleaner business.

And it was long enough—to learn one of the best lessons.

The fellow I was attached to for my training day was a rumpled dumpling. He was the exact opposite of what you’d expect the company’s top salesperson to look like. He wasn’t cleanly shaven, didn’t speak well, and appeared in every single way to be pathetic.

He drove an ancient Chevy sedan with torn seats. If this guy was a moneymaker, a top earner, number one in commissions, then I was Superman, or so went my teenage thinking.

We knocked on doors, until someone answered.

Soon enough, a housewife straight out of Stepford, greeted us. He asked if he could have the privilege of vacuuming her living room—free of charge—simply to dramatize the amazing Power Nozzle attachment that was exclusive to his machine.

She nodded, looking at me as if to ask, “Where did you get this partner, you poor boy?”

He revved up the one and a half horsepower motor and glided from one corner of the living room to the next, making small talk that no one could hear.

Then, he shut it off and said, “You keep a very tidy house, don’t you?

“I try!” she beamed.

Unlocking the back door of the hot dog shaped appliance, he deftly retrieved a full bag of soot and swiftly plopped it in a pile in the center of her rug.

This demo knocked the wind out of her, she became woozy, overcome by the revelation and humiliation that there was a ton of hidden dirt that her old standby vacuum was leaving behind.

“Oh, my gosh, look at that!” she gasped, reciting her role perfectly in this domestic drama.

Suffice it to say, he sold her this Cadillac of cleaners, and I walked with him to the curb, in a daze of my own.

We drove back to headquarters, and he and the big boss debriefed me. What did I think? Could I do this?

I said I’d think it over, and as we all parted company, I noticed that the frumpy salesman had changed his worn jacket for a snazzy cashmere sweater, and he suddenly looked two feet taller as he put the key into his off-hours car, his real driver: A brand new Cadillac.

His entire sales persona was a masterpiece, carefully calculated to make buyers feel sorry for him.

And it worked beautifully.

Although I didn’t feel I could do his act, I did walk away knowing one thing about selling: it is an art, a performance art, and some of the savviest practitioners don’t let their offstage identities interfere in the least with their onstage personalities.

That’s one powerful lesson.

Dr. Gary S. Goodman © 2006

Dr. Gary S. Goodman, President of , is a popular keynote speaker, management consultant, and seminar leader and the best-selling author of 12 books, including Reach Out & Sell Someone® and Monitoring, Measuring & Managing Customer Service. He is a frequent guest on radio and television, worldwide. A Ph. D. from USC's Annenberg School, Gary offers programs through UCLA Extension and numerous universities, trade associations, and other organizations in the United States and abroad. He is headquartered in Glendale, California, and he can be reached at (818) 243-7338 or at: .


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