A Salesman and Why

Date Published: 
October, 1950
Original Author: 
Jack Robeson
Sales Manager, Fort Lincoln Cemetery, Washington, DC
Original Publication: 
1950-1951 Cemetery Yearbook

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen; thank you, Mr. Donaldson. Before starting I would like to extend the warm personal greetings of Lou Minear to all of his many friends in the audience. Lou was unable to attend this meeting, one of the few that he has missed. We have a lot of construction under way at Fort Lincoln that requires his immediate attention and supervision, plus the fact that our sales manager, Gene Lee, and our general manager, Phil Firman, and myself were attending, so it was necessary for somebody to keep the home fires burning.

My appearance on the program this morning following Dr. Halberstadt is almost comparable to the proverbial ham sandwich served after a seven course meal. However, the only consolation I have is that it is one of the penalties of youth. In the convention meetings so far I have received a lot of valuable information. I listened to a speaker yesterday, a very dynamic speaker. One of the first things that popped into my mind this morning as I dragged myself out of bed was that talk on "Enthusiasm," so when I went into the bathroom, I grabbed hold of both sides of the wash basin, looked at my reflection, in the mirror. But the only thing I could think of was, Boy, I wish you hadn’t been so enthusiastic last night. (Laughter)

In the number of years I have attended conventions all over the country at the conclusion of every meeting I have made a firm and solemn resolution that next year things were going to be different. I was going to go to bed early, behave myself, attend all the meetings, and be on time. However, this morning as I reviewed the experiences of the last several days, I adopted an entirely new philosophy. If I live through this one I will do it again! I have enjoyed every minute of it.

The subject assigned, "A Salesman and Why," is very, very interesting to me. After receiving the assignment, I gave considerable reflection over my experience the past several years. If you will pardon my indulgence in personal references, with the assurance that on my part it is not an attempt to inflate my ego, I would like to make a point of "A Salesman and Why."

My entry in the cemetery industry in 1938 was a result of economic necessity. I had to find a way in which I could earn money, money to pay those bills that always seem to come in. That was the initial attraction. However, I feel cer¬tain that is not the thing that has kept me in the cemetery business. Not that I haven't made money, not that I haven't enjoyed the work! I am the product of many, many people. My first introduction to the business was with Bill Dowding, God bless him. I can never think back without thinking in terms of sincere gratitude for the aid and help that he gave me. Through the years I have been associated with many, many people, a number of whom are in the audience here today, Ches Sparks, Bill Boyd, Bill Mershon, and a great many other leaders in the cemetery field. They have taught me many, many things.
They have taught me many fine methods of presenting our product; they have taught me a lot of sales technique. The thing, however, that I think has been responsible for my success as a salesman in the cemetery industry has been something that goes a lot deeper than that. In looking beneath the cynical exterior of some of these gentlemen, I found something else, something that's been a great help to me. I found in them a deep-rooted conviction about the business they were in. I found that they really enjoyed the jobs they were doing. I found that they sincerely believed in the job they were doing. I have come to believe in the job that I am doing. I believe in it just as surely and just as sincerely as I believe in my religion.

When I sell a family a cemetery lot, I know I have rendered a definite and positive service. That to me means a great deal more than the money I receive for having made that sale. I think that through the years the thing that has helped more than anything else is just that, the belief in the business I am in. I think that anyone in this field who has been successful has certainly had that belief, sincerely and honestly.

Now, in the hiring and training of salesmen, I feel we have the responsibility of not only teaching them sales technique, but in teaching them the responsi¬bility that they have to the families they are going to see, the responsibility of serving that particular family. Through the years I imagine all of you have had star salesmen who for no reason at all sort of slacked off. There didn't seem to be any apparent reason for it. They were still using the sales tools you had given them, but yet their production sadly fell off. We have had that experience too, in many, many instances. One of the finest things that we have found to rejuvenate a salesman is to get him back to the basic fundamental principles of his job.

We have had salesmen who have gotten into slumps, and in all sincerity and in all honesty one of the finest things that we found to get them out of that slump was to make them handle an immediate need case, to make them service a family who had experienced a death, was at the cemetery to make arrangements. In practice, every case where we have taken a salesman and had him do that, his production has immediately gone back up to par or above par.

Why? Simply because he regained his faith in the job that he was doing. He was again convinced of the many fine things that he was doing for families in pre-need selling.

I haven't any theories to give you this morning. I haven't any jokes to tell, but I would like to pass on a few concrete things that we have used successfully, things that have helped to keep our sales force active. Through the years all of us have tried to acquire every sales tool that we could get our hands on to help our men do a better job, all the gimmicks that have come down the pike we have latched onto and tried to put them in the hands of our salesmen.

A number of years ago we got sold on the idea of tape recording machines, as a medium for training salesmen. After salesmen had been given the indoc¬trination the background of the business, and had been taught the sales story, we used the tape recorder to allow them to practice. They could play back the recording and we could make corrections. They could hear themselves give the presentation. However, the most difficult task in the world is to give a sales presentation to a machine or to a fellow salesman, a sales director or sales manager. It is far more difficult than giving it to a flesh and blood prospect. You can't seem to whip up the same enthusiasm that you can generate when you know a sale is in the offing.

We have used this machine with considerable success. However, there was still something lacking. It still didn't fill the needs that we felt it should. We stumbled across an idea a little over a year ago. Very few things are original, but borrowed from somebody else. We found a sales organization that was using tape recording machines with the salesmen right in the home and record¬ing sales presentations under actual selling conditions. That seemed like a very excellent idea. It seemed to be the answer we were seeking, a better way of training a salesman, to get him at his best when he was really pitching on the firing line.

Mistakes that came up then could be rectified. However, the machine we had weighed a hundred odd pounds and was too difficult to take in and out of the homes. We experimented and found a portable machine, this Eicor that we have on the platform, a machine that was a little over thirty pounds, a machine that after a little revamping could take a thirty-minute tape and record full two hours on it if necessary, an hour on one track and an hour on the back track, getting two full hours of presentation. The only thing we, lost in cutting it down was the fidelity or reproduction of music, which we weren’t interested in anyhow. Voices came through good.

For the past eight or nine months now, we have been using these machines. We have purchased six of them to date. We send a salesman out with a machine and have him record his presentation in the home. That is not as difficult as you might imagine. It is a simple and easy job to get the recorder in the home and get the family to consent to having that presentation recorded.

We experimented and finally have a plan which is working very effectively. We get into a home and after the small pleasantries are over we have sold ourselves to the family to the point where they are willing to listen to the pres¬entation we merely ask them if we can record the presentation. "Mr. and Mrs. Jones, the plan we would like to explain to you is very new. We would like to record your reaction to it so that the company can better judge whether or not to continue the plan. Would you mind if we recorded the presentation?"

We have never had a family not give their consent to it. We have now a library of sales presentations. What we were particularly interested in was getting the concrete answers to objections recorded under actual selling con¬ditions. The old objections that all of us have difficulty with, "I have no money," "I have a lot back home," "I am too young to think about that," and the various other things that they propose as an objection to purchasing cemetery property pre-need. We have built a library of answers to those objec¬tions. We posted prizes in order to encourage men to take the machines out and bring back the recordings.

When a new salesman comes in now after training, while he is preparing his maps, we can hook up a recording and let him listen to a sale successfully closed in the home, let him listen to an answer to a definite objection. The machine has many, many uses. When a salesman gets in a slump, he takes the machine out, records his presentation, brings it back, we can sit down and analyze the presentation. It is far more effective than having him give you the presentation. You can stop the machine at any point where he made a mistake without fear of having him lose completely the continuity of his presentation. It was difficult to makes notes while he was making the presentation, and it was difficult to remember later after the presentation was through, exactly what mistakes he had made. You often forgot the main points you wanted to correct him on.

However, with this you can stop the machine at any point that you want, correct his mistakes, show him a better way of answering or stating the particular phase of your story, and then continue on.

I brought with me several of these recordings. We have played them around in some of the rooms. 1 have one here this morning that I would like to play for you for a definite and positive reason. It is not an excellent presentation. That is the reason I want to play it for you! It is a presentation full of mistakes. It is a presentation we can tear apart. I checked with the electrician and he hooked up a gadget for me here that perhaps will let you hear this. This is a presentation by one of our salesmen, Leonard D. Kitlinski, who has been with us approximately four years, a salesman who sells from $3,500 to $5,000 a month, a consistent producer, not a top-flight salesman, not a star salesman by any means, but a steady, consistent hard-plugging producer.

I don't know whether this will be clear in the back. If it isn't I will have to forget it. There seems to be some difference in the time element between the microphone and the speaker. Let's see if we can pick up part of it. This is actually in the home. (Plugged in recording machine, but was not understandable.) He's gone through the story, created a desire, and is getting down to closing the sale, and you hear both sides of it-the husband and wife giving the objec¬tions and his attempt to answer those particular objections. Let's see if we can get it.

VOICES: Can't hear it.

MR. JACK ROBESON: I am sorry we can't play it for you. The presentation was actually made in the home. I think you would have found it interesting if you had been able to understand it. The point I wanted to bring out, if you had listened to it, was this-that when this presentation was brought back to the office we sat down with him and listened to it. We were able to point out the mistakes that he was making, mistakes that probably could not have been uncovered in just a presentation to me or Mr. Lee in the blank four walls of an office. After correcting those mistakes, the rate, or percentage of his closing ability raised tremendously.

We have a mandatory Daily Work Report. We have all of our salesmen turn in a report giving the number of homes that he canvasses each day, number of hours he spends in canvassing, the number of prospects that he has gotten that morning, and on the bottom half of it, the number of calls made that evening the actual name of the family and the address and the time he was there and remarks as to what happened, gave the presentation and didn't get the sale, etc.

In analyzing those work reports we found Kitlinski's biggest difficulty was his closing ability. As far as canvassing was concerned, he was doing an excellent job. He was making the desired number of calls and call-backs each day, he was consistently working, he was going back at night, he was getting into homes, and that he was giving a great number of presentations, but he wasn’t closing.
In listening to this presentation, we found out why and we corrected the mistakes he was making. Prior to making this recording, prior to a six-week period, his closing ability was roughly thirty-one percent. In other words, three out of ten presentations were closed; he gave ten presentations and only closed three deals. The last eight weeks of analyzing his work reports have shown that for the number of sales he has made and the presentations he has given, his closing ability has raised from thirty-one to seventy-two percent. He is closing now better than seven out of ten presentations. Certainly that is worth while.

If you can take a salesman who is a worker, who is doing the things that you prescribe, and you can pinpoint the mistakes that he is making and correct those mistakes and increase his earning ability, then certainly you are doing a job.

I sincerely and earnestly recommend to you the use of a recording machine. There are several well-known makes on the market. There are a number of wire recorders. Our experience with the wire recorders has been in that they are more temperamental than the tape recorder. The wire has a tendency to foul up and you ruin a lot of recordings. Second1y, they are expensive for this type of use. I think the average spool for an hour’s recording runs $4.50 to $5.00 in most communities. Buying in quantity reduces that slightly, but it still repre¬sents quite an investment. The tapes cost about $2.25 a piece. If you are buying them in quantity you can get them a little cheaper than that.

The machine, as I remember, cost $144. We got a purchase discount on it which brought it down to a fairly nominal cost. If the machine or the cost of the machine only resulted in correcting one salesman, the expenditure of that amount of money would certainly be worth while, because I know all of us have spent far more money than that on a lot of other things, trying to correct certain things that were happening, without the success that we have been able to get from the use of this recorder.

The recorder has a multitude of other uses. I have merely brought up one or two, but it has a great many advantages. I think that you will find the majority of your large sales organizations today, particularly in the insurance field, are using this medium to train their salesmen.

I think we have gone a step further in the use of the machine by actually taking it in the home and getting those recordings. It would be a definite advantage to have a library of such recordings so you are in a position to answer objections to any salesman, any time he has spare time to listen. Put him in a room, turn it on and leave him. He gets a renewed confidence in his own ability to overcome the specific objections that are given in the field. We found it extremely useful in the training of new men, but the biggest thing is the point I tried to make, in the recording of the presentations in the home for the individual salesman. When he hears the mistakes that he is making, it is a lot easier for him to correct it, particularly if you are there with advice. Those mistakes are not repeated too often.

Let me add a little something else to that. I have mentioned this one case. We have several others in the organization that we have been able to help through the use of this recorder. The increase of Kitlinski's ability to close was accomplished through the use of this machine in showing him his mistakes in mode of presentation, but the biggest help was the fact that prior to sending him out to make the recording, we had him handle an immediate need case. In addition to getting him back on the track of the fundamental sales story, we were able to do something a little more deeply, to strike him more deeply; we were able to renew his belief in the services he was rendering; we were able to get him back on the right track, to get him back to that belief in the job that he was doing.

Any of you can think back to immediate need cases that you have handled, and I don't believe any of you can reflect upon them without realizing that because of handling that immediate need case, it made you a better pre-need salesman because you could see very definitely the advantages of pre-need selling more clearly than at any other time. When you are with a widow, grief stricken, her eyes full of tears and you try to help her solve the financial dilemma she is in, you certainly realize the wisdom of pre-need selling; you certainly realize that somebody, somewhere along the line, should have done a better job of pre¬need selling that particular family.

That tragic occurrence or occurrences that happen each and every day in our own offices are the result of inefficient salesmen, because somewhere along the line some salesman had the opportunity to sell that family a lot pre-need, and he fell down on that particular job. He didn't accomplish the purpose of his mission. Perhaps one of the reasons why he didn't would be the fact that his belief wasn't as strong as it should be. It slipped off. He had gotten too much interested in the returns, his commissions, and he had forgotten his real function and his real job of serving.

Anybody who is completely sold finds it a much easier task to transfer those beliefs to families that he is talking to. I can't urge you too seriously to earnestly think a little bit about it. Think in terms of yourself, the reaction that sets in as you wait on immediate need families. Think in terms of a salesman who is in a slump at the present time. In analyzing his difficulties and get down to the rock bottom of it, I think you will find in most cases that it is the loss of belief in the job that he's doing, because his enthusiasm stems from the firm conviction that the family should have the protection he is striving to give them. He is able to make a more convincing presentation, and when he gets down to the close of it, he certainly is in a much better position to close the family because he believes sincerely and honestly the statements that he is making to them, and that wells from the heart. That is something that isn't easily faked. You can get by with it for a while, but to successfully continue to make presentations and close deals, you must have that belief.

We are running a little late. I could take a little more time and give you a further insight, but I urge you to consider it, because we firmly and sincerely believe it has been a definite aid in helping us to keep our salesmen producing.

In closing I would like to thank you for the help I received in the past from each and every member of the Association. It is a wonderful thing to have these meetings where we can get together, exchange ideas, and go back home with a renewed purpose and the intent of doing a better job in the coming year, a better job of training our salesmen, a better job of convincing the public. Thank you very kindly.

From the publication:
“1950-1951 Cemetery Yearbook”
NCA 21st Annual Meeting
Hotel Schroeder, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
October 18, 19, 20 and 21, 1950