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Did You Know
May 2012


Did You Know?
by Ken Carr
May 2012

The Birth of Modern Salesmanship ----Part 5
            Having provided the tools for becoming successful salesmen, Mr. Patterson began to educate his sales force on how to improve their salesmanship beyond just applying those tools.  Above all he hated the backslapping, joke telling salesman of the era.  As much as he wanted to sell cash registers, Mr. Patterson wanted to sell them the right way.  “Right is right and wrong is wrong” was a favorite principle that he constantly drummed in to ever organization within the company, none more so than sales.
            Often he put across this point in a dramatic fashion. Visiting a branch sales office, Mr. Patterson requested one of his salesmen to demonstrate a cash register. The salesman had an annoying way of shaking his finger at the customer whenever he reached a high point in his presentation.  Mr. Patterson grew redder and redder as the presentation proceeded until finally he stopping the salesman. He explained to the salesman that finger pointing was a display of poor manners and should be stopped immediately.  Unfortunately the pointing gesture was such an ingrained behavior that he could not stop it immediately.  As the presentation continued, along with the shaking finger, Mr. Patterson suddenly got up from his chair, crossed the room and calmly kicked in the side panel of the salesman’s desk.  “When you learn to stop shaking your finger at the prospect, I’ll get you a new desk, “Until then, you can use this desk as a reminder,” said Mr. Patterson
            When he thought the right thing was to criticize and even embarrass, Mr. Patterson did so and without apology.   On one trip to the field he kept running into salesmen who obviously paid little attention to the Company’s policy on “neat dress and general good appearance.”  Mr. Patterson found one of these incidents particularly aggravating.  The salesman was not properly dressed, unshaven and smoking a cigar.  Mr. Patterson told him he was a disgrace to the Company.   He said to the salesman, “you have not the time to shave every day; you cannot afford to wear clean clothes every day; you have no money to buy a safety razor; your beard looks like music box cylinder, yet you spend two dollars a day for cigars.” There is no indication how this message affected the salesman, however, you can bet on two things.  First, the message didn’t fall on the deaf ears of the other salesmen in the room and, two, if the salesman didn’t change he wouldn’t have been around to be chastised a second time.
            Biographers have stated that if Mr. Patterson had chosen a career in the theatre he would probably have been as successful as he was in selling cash registers. He had a keen sense for the dramatic and was always ready to become the actor in order to arouse the curiosity and to hold the attention of his audience.  Although, by most standards, he was not a good public speaker in the sense of a radio or television personality, Mr. Patterson had a rare gift for selling his ideas from the stage.  For one thing his audience could never be sure what he would do next.  If he sensed the interest was fading, Mr. Patterson would sometimes knock over a water pitcher. As his audience sat there embarrassed for him, he would mutter an apology for his awkwardness knowing for sure that he had their attention once again.  At another time he might swat at an imaginary fly and in doing so knock off his glasses with such force they would shatter as they hit the floor. There sat the audience embarrassed for Mr. Patterson, not knowing that he bought his glasses by the dozen with this moment in mind. Having gotten their attention, he would reach into his pocket and pull out another pair of glasses. He would often seem to be groping for just the right word to get across his meaning.  He would finally ask for help from the audience. When someone came up with the right word, Mr. Patterson would thank them, reach into his pocket pulling out a $20 gold piece and toss it to the salesman that had guessed the right word.  It paid to pay attention because the salesmen never knew where Mr. Patterson’s lightning would strike next.
            Perhaps no other person is responsible for raising the self-image and the public-image of the salesman more than John H. Patterson.  He transformed an often ridiculed profession into a time honored one and gave his salesmen the skills to be successful in what still today is one of toughest of all professions.
            Down though the years, salesmanship has evolved with time and technology.  However, if a look at its evolution company by company , you will find those companies that have been around a long time have as their salesmanship foundation those basic principles Mr. Patterson taught to his NCR salesmen.
            Why did those companies move in that direction? The answer comes from Mr. Patterson himself. He seldom bothered to explained his unorthodox actions but when pressed he would simply say, “It Pays.”