Sales Moves

What can you do to get better? Follow the masters

June 5, 2015
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I began this year in retrospect by reading a 60-year-old book on the masters of selling. The book, “America’s Twelve Master Salesmen,” was written and published by B.C. Forbes & Sons in 1953.

It was based on the fact that each one of these master salespeople had one extremely powerful overriding principle or philosophy upon which his or her success was based.

Not that it was their “only,” but rather it was the words they stood for. For example: When you think of Martin Luther King, you think of “I have a dream.” He stood for those words. When you think of Patrick Henry, you think of “Give me liberty or give me death.”

It is amazing how self-truths become self-evident truths after 30 or 40 years of exposure one way or the other.

Back to the book. Suppose you could adopt (or adapt) all of these masters’ single best characteristics into your own set of capabilities — that would be power.

And so, to challenge your 2015 thinking, here are the masters’ philosophies from 1953. And yes, I have added my own to the list — even though in 1953 I was a mere child.

1. James A. Farley (corporate executive): Principle: “Idlers do not last long.”

Starting as a door-to-door salesman, rising to vice president of sales for Universal Gypsum, and ultimately a board of director for several large companies including Coca-Cola, Farley believed doing several things at once was the key to accomplishment. His secret was doing new things at the same time he was following up and building relationships. Often sending 100 letters a day, he was renowned for making and keeping friends.

2. Max Hess Jr. (retail store chain owner): Principle: “Strive for specific goals.”

Hess’ father used to say, “There’s no fun or excitement in just running a store. That way it’s drudgery. The fun and excitement come out of always figuring ways to stay ahead of the other fellow.” He believed in the stimulating power of keeping Hess Brothers forever exciting — not only for the people who shop there but for those who work in the store. Hess made a business plan full of goals. And in a small town environment he achieved big city results by working his plan every day and having a happy army of people (his employees) helping him every step of the way.

3. Conrad N. Hilton (hotel owner): Principle: “Make them want to come back.”

“It is our theory that when a hotel is in the top-glamour category … you just can’t make it too luxurious. You heap it on. You never stop pondering the question, ‘What aren’t guests getting that they might be getting in the way of elegance and personal attention?’” Hilton knew that one hotel is like any other hotel. The difference is in how you treat the guests. All he asked of his employees was to be nice to people so they will want to come back. They have been coming back for nearly 100 years.

 4. Alex M. Lewyt (manufacturer of the Lewyt vacuum cleaner): Principle: “Believe in your product and love it.”

So will the world! Lewyt was an engineer who was convinced he had built the world’s best vacuum cleaner: He advertised it before production was finished; he created a demand in the market with no product (a market vacuum, if you will pardon the pun). When the cleaner finally emerged on the market, it was swept up (sorry again). Four million sales in four years. Lewyt said that having the best product is not enough. You must believe it’s the best and share your passion through every marketing and advertising means.

5. Mary Margaret McBride (radio broadcaster and columnist, influencer of millions): Principle: “Honesty is the best policy.”

“If I am convinced in my heart and mind that I’m speaking the truth, I approach the job as I would a sale — with zest and interest. And in my heart I know that I am actually performing a service on behalf of my listener, who is in reality, my customer. Honesty breeds loyal customers.” Her values made her a fortune.

Gitomer note on honesty: When you hear a corporate message like: “To serve you better …” or an employee says, “We’re doing the best we can …” — no matter how you want to defend those words, they’re lies.

The Orison Swett Marden quote, “No substitute has yet been found for honesty,” is a benchmark that everyone will read and agree with — yet very few will follow.

OK. There’s five of them. Pretty cool so far, huh? Next week in part two, more of the master salespeople of their time, including Red Motley and Elmer Letterman, will reveal sales insights that will take you to the next level.

Stay tuned …

Free GitBit. The author of “America’s Twelve Master Salesmen,” the late great B.C. Forbes, had a formula for sales. It’s yours for the taking. Go to and enter FORBES in the GitBit box. Jeffrey Gitomer is the author of 12 best-selling books. His real-world ideas also are available as online courses at For information about training and seminars, visit or, or email Jeffrey at

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