We finished Part 3 with Mr. Patterson having used and further developed a new concept, Print Advertising, and having pioneered an even newer concept, Industrial Publicity Releases. He had updated the Sales Manual and published a second Sales Manual which answered many of the questions frequently asked by potential customers.
Each innovation Mr. Patterson implemented advanced him closer to the vision he had for the Company selling force and yet he was still not satisfied. The next logical step was the sales training school, another business first for Mr. Patterson. Up to this point NCR salesmen had received formal training at the branch office level in short sessions scheduled around their demonstrations, their calling on customers and their delivery of sold registers. What made this training school different was the centralization. Salesmen from all over the country took turns traveling to Dayton for several days or even weeks for concentrated, uninterrupted training. Their salaries were paid as well as their travel, room and board while in training. This was a considerable expense for any company of the day but especially so for one still in its infancy.
As usual Mr. Patterson was scoffed at. It was ridiculous to pay salesmen to go to school. The only way to learn how to sell was to get out and sell. He didn’t share the common beliefs and had not from the very beginning. “If our men can sell registers by the present methods, they can certainly sell twice as many if they are trained in better methods,” he insisted. His lack of concern with prevailing opinions and his disregard for precedent have been credited for much of his success in achieving sales objectives even during depressed economies. With this mind set he paid no attention to detractors of his plans for a sales training school.
All of the innovations he had put in place: incentive contests, conventions, advertising and now the sales training school were necessary, in Mr. Patterson’s mind, to produce greater sales and greater profit down the road. That was a hard sell to the minority stockholders as expensed rose and the company indebtedness mounted. It was difficult for the stockholders to be patient with Mr. Patterson and equally difficult with him to be patient with the stockholders. In final desperation he sold a large part of the family farm to buy out any stockholder who wanted out. The very disgruntled ones took him up on his offer and walked away happy. Those that decided to stay had the last and most profitable laugh.
Let the buyer beware was the rule of the day. The theory was that selling was a contest between the seller and the buyer. If a salesman could “put one over on the prospect” it was often considered a mark of distinction, a good indication that he was a savvy salesman. Perhaps no man did more to demolish this theory than John H. Patterson and from the beginning he insisted that NCR salesmen avoid this kind of behavior. The job of a salesman, Mr. Patterson kept saying, was to find the weakness of the prospect’s present system and to point out –without misleading-- how the cash register could solve these weaknesses. Behind this dictate was a hard core common sense Patterson belief. He sensed that a dissatisfied customer was worst than no customer at all, because a single disgruntled user might discourage many others from buying a cash register. Nor did he go along with the prevailing notion that once a product was sold, the sellers responsibility ended. Inside the cash drawer of every register shipped was the following note: If the agent who sold you this cash register does not give you complete service until you understand it and are thoroughly satisfied, please write me direct. __John H. Patterson, President. This was no idle gesture. Salesmen whose customers wrote Mr. Patterson found themselves answering to their management and frequent occurrences brought about demotion and even dismissal.
What Mr. Patterson saw, far more clearly than most of his contemporaries, was that in a free market economy the customer is king. It was important not only that the customer like your product, but that he also liked your way of doing business. In line with this conviction, he sent a letter to every cash register buyer when the final payment on a machine was received. Along with his expression of appreciation for the customer’s business went an invitation for the merchant to visit the NCR factory if they ever came to Dayton. Thousands did, and most of them became goodwill ambassadors for the company.
In Part 5, we’ll continue and complete this series on Mr. Patterson’s Salesmanship vision.