Death of a Salesman
By Richard L. Peck, Editor
What makes for a good salesman-and, for the purposes of this magazine, why does it matter?

As to the first question, I can tell you what makes a bad one, and it goes beyond Willy Loman’s “he’s liked-but not well liked” from Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman (and beyond Willy’s own problems as the title protagonist). A brief personal anecdote to illustrate: Having recently graduated from college and having assumed 1-A status for the military draft, I got the only job I could until Uncle Sam called me: as a door-to-door salesman for a coffee delivery company (more like Grand Union than Starbucks). My sales technique, as a budding journalist, was to give the facts, nothing but the facts, ma’am, then watch the homeowner coolly assess the facts, offer a polite “no” and shut the door. I believe I made all of $200 that summer.

But then there were my colleagues Frank and Joe. Both were long experienced and successful in the door-to-door racket, and both had a shtick to stir up the interest of housewives (there being such people in those days). Big, beefy Frank wowed them with a big hello and a fantastic pantomime performance using the “free utility knife” we gave away with every purchase; he sliced and diced the air with gusto, “cutting” everything from cabbage to butter, much to the delight of many a chortling young woman with checkbook in hand. Wizened little Joe, on the other hand, always looked as though his feet hurt. He’d wipe his fevered brow and tell the Mrs. that he didn’t want to sell her anything, it was just that he had been walking all day to put his kid through school, and could he please have a drink of water. Within 20 minutes the poor little fella had rung up another sale.
The point is, they engaged people.

Why does this matter here? Read the interview with the National Investment Center’s Tony Mullen (p. 20), who discusses why assisted living fill-up rates fall short. A big reason, he notes, is that marketers don’t become involved with those who inquire about their properties. Better, he says, that they should position themselves as problem solvers, understanding what it is the inquirer wants and then explaining how the product just might meet that need. Extend a genuine helping hand, and the sales will follow.

In short, assisted living-and all of long-term care-is a people business. Getting involved with people and having them become involved with you is critical to marketing success. Anything short of that and, as a salesperson, you might just end up classed with Willy Loman-or me. NH

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