Book Review March 2007
Reviewed by Soroya Brantley
If someone offered to show you tools that would make you as effective a salesperson as Elmer Wheeler, your immediate response would probably be, “Who?” Yet, that is exactly what Tom Sant is offering in his book The Giants of Sales: What Dale Carnegie, John Patter-son, Elmer Wheeler, and Joe Giraud Can Teach You About Real Sales Success.
An experienced salesman himself, Sant contends that salespeople are just as important today as they were in the past, and that practices that proved effective in the past can work just as well to sell today’s products and services. The concept behind his book is that by studying and incorporating the methods that these four “giants of sales” used, one will become just as great a salesperson as they were.
Sant describes four selling methods. “Process-oriented sales” treat sales as a series of steps, with the assumption that the salesperson who follows them correctly will be successful. “Relationship-driven sales” encourage the development of strong bonds, forged with trust and respect, between seller and buyer. “Linguistic approaches” are based on the premise that certain words or phrases impact buyers’ decisions. “Tactical methods” focus on various techniques to overcome the potential buyer’s objections.
Part Two of the book is dedicated to the story of John Henry Patterson, who, in the 1880s, purchased the rights to the cash register. At that time, sales were recorded in ledgers and the money was kept in a drawer. Patterson had to convince others that the cash register was a sound investment, no easy task at a time when even the lightbulb was still a new concept. He eventually made a success of his product and developed a selling process that his salespeople were expected to learn and use. His employees went on to hold executive positions at major corporations, including IBM and General Motors, a testament to the effectiveness of his sales method.
In Part Three, Sant introduces Dale Carnegie and his principles for developing relationships. Carnegie’s idea was simple: Be sincere when speaking to potential clients and make them feel that their opinions are important. While this method may seem to be common sense, few people incorporate it in sales pitches today. It isn’t uncommon these days to encounter a salesperson who doesn’t stop talking long enough for you to make a comment or ask a question.
Carnegie also believed that the salesperson should leave a vivid impression on the potential buyer. The salesperson should always exhibit confidence, be informed, remain optimistic and think positive thoughts.
Elmer Wheeler’s story is the focus of Part Four. Although probably the least known of the four subjects, Wheeler is no less interesting than the other giants. He believed in the power of words, and particularly in the power of suggestion. He argued that if you use the right phrase or ask the right question, your success would be tremendous. For example, it is better for a gas station attendant to ask a customer whether he should fill the tank than to ask how much gas the customer wants. The first question sends a subliminal message to the customer, who more likely than not will ask him to fill the tank.
Wheeler parlayed his gift with words into a successful business, using lines such as “Don’t sell the steak, sell the sizzle,” and “Say it with flowers,” to demonstrate the power of words.
Part Five focuses on Joe Giraud, who became a car salesman in Detroit after a failed foray into real estate. Despite his lack of experience, Giraud proved an effective salesman. Eventually, he sold on average six cars a day, 18 on his best day. He is cited in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s greatest salesman.
In some ways, Giraud’s approach resembled Carnegie’s. He, too, believed that the client should feel important and appreciated. However, Giraud held other principles, such as making the customer believe that the salesperson is on his level. He argued that talking and dressing like the customer makes the salesperson seem more trustworthy. Basically, however, Giraud employed whatever method it took to help sell his product, developing the versatility to change his methods to suit the client.
The Giants of Sales is a dense book that requires more than a quick skim to absorb the principles Sant carefully explains. It is partly a history book and partly one of self-help. Sant is adept at making the methods of old relevant to today’s sales environment. Whether you are looking to improve your numbers or simply to try something new as a salesperson, this book is a good place to start.