Elmer Wheeler, the famous “sell the sizzle not the steak” man, has some good advice about how to sell your ideas. Have you ever approached your boss with a red-hot idea for increasing efficiency only to have him become resentful instead of enthusiastic? Have you ever offered your wife or husband or the neighbor so-called good advice? If you have, you know what I mean when I say that people resent having other people’s ideas forced on them. When someone approaches us with a new idea, our instinctive reaction is to put up a defense against it. We feel that we must protect our individuality, and most of us are egotistical enough to think that our ideas are better than anyone else’s.
But there are three tested rules for putting your ideas across to other people so as to arouse their enthusiasm. And here are the three rules. Rule one: Use a fly rod, not a feeding tube. Others won’t accept your idea until they can accept it as their idea. When you want to sell someone an idea, take a lesson from the fisherman who casts his fly temptingly near the trout. He can never ram the hook in the trout’s mouth, but he can entice the trout to come to the hook. Don’t appear too anxious to have your ideas accepted; just bring them out where they can be seen. You might say, “Have you considered this,” instead of, “This is the way.” “You think this idea would work?” is better. “Then here’s what we should do.” Let the other fellow sell himself on your idea, and then he’ll stay sold.
Rule number two: Let the other fellow argue your case for you. Now he instinctively feels called upon to raise some objection to save face. Give him a chance to disagree with you by presenting your own objections. “Now the way to convince another,” said wise old Ben Franklin, “is to state your case moderately and accurately. Then say that of course you may be mistaken about it, which causes your listener to receive what you have to say and, like as not, turn about and convince you of it, since you were in doubt. But if you go at him in a tone of positiveness and arrogance, you only make an opponent of him.”
Abraham Lincoln used the same technique in selling his ideas to a jury. He argued both sides of the case. But there was always this subtle suggestion that his side was the logical one. Said an opposing lawyer of him, “He made a better statement of my case to the jury than I could have made myself.”
Rule number three: Ask; don’t tell. Patrick Henry, another famous idea-salesman, knew how to do this. In his famous liberty or death speech he asked, “Our brethren are already in the field. Why stand we here idle? Shall we lie supinely on our backs? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?” Now if you try saying the same thing in positive statements, all you get is antagonism.
Three rules for selling your ideas. One, use a fly rod, not a feeding tube. Two, let the other fellow argue your case for you by not being too sure. And three, ask; don’t tell. It’s good advice.
What Makes the Difference
I’d like to read something to you that was written back in the year 1917. It was written by Bruce Barton, who the following year won a seat in the United States Congress and lived to head one of the world’s largest advertising agencies. The fact that this story was written in 1917 is not important. It’s as true today as it was then.
He wrote, “A little while ago I was in charge of a large organization of salesmen. My chief sent me to a western city to appoint a manager for that territory. There were two candidates. We had their records in detail, but we’d never met either of them. I was to look them over, form my judgment, and appoint the better man.
“I met one in Cincinnati, the other in St. Louis. The man in Cincinnati said to me, ‘What does this position pay?’ I told him. He said, ‘Well, that’s more than I’m getting here, and I should like the job. Every man wants to better himself when he can.’
“The St. Louis man did not wait for me to arrive in the city. He found out what train I was on, rode out on the line, and surprised me by walking me to my car, and he began to talk. He told me about himself, his training, and his selling experience. He had drawn up plans and details for the development of our territory. He told me how many men he expected to have working by the end of the year and just how he thought he could increase our volume of business. I had to hire him finally in order to get a chance to go to bed that night. And in his enthusiasm he forgot to ask me and I forgot to tell him what the salary would be. The first man had wanted a better job, which is commendable enough. But I hired the man who was enthusiastic about the opportunity.”
Napoleon’s adversaries used to speak of him as the “100,000 Man,” meaning that his spirit infused into an army was equal to an additional 100,000 troops. They criticized his tactics, they accused him of disregarding all the rules of successful warfare, yet he won and they lost because his enthusiasm carried his soldiers to impossible achievements.
And then Bruce Barton wrote, “Encourage your children to express their enthusiasm and delight. Let them believe the world is full of wonderful things and they themselves full of splendid possibilities. They can learn self-repression in later years, but enthusiasm, once lost, can be lost forever. ‘Men are nothing,’ said Montaigne, ‘until they’re excited.’ And Montaigne was right.” Well, that’s the story that Bruce Barton wrote in 1917. But you could haul it out 100 years from now and its lesson would be just as valuable.
We should never lose our zest for living, our excitement and enthusiasm, our curiosity and our desire to know. The person who does is certainly blind to the world, its miracles and possibilities, and his own possibilities. And when you put a damper on a child’s enthusiasm, you are hurting, perhaps permanently, his most valuable emotion.
The world is as exciting today as it was when we were children. The trouble lies in the fact that we tend to lose our children’s eyes. And because of it, we lose our enthusiasm for life.