Sales Lessons From My Father

September 24, 2013   //   Digital Marketing, , , , ,

My dad grew up in New York City shortly after World War II. Both of his parents worked, so he became one of the countless children who would define the term “latch key kid” – coming home to an empty apartment and learning the ways of the world alone.

Alone can mean a lot of things, but to my father it meant alone and without money, which meant alone with nothing to do. The other day I caught my old man imparting this part of his childhood to my own kids. We were at a local burger joint and I had stepped away to grab some ketchup. As I came back to the table I could hear him pontificating.

“You know how I solved this problem kids?” I heard him say.

“We don’t care,” my children responded.

“You care,” he replied. “You care because there is a good lesson in this story.”

He lost them at lesson.

“Listen or you don’t get ketchup,” I said. It was the best I could do and by some miracle it worked. Both of them shut up and looked over at my father.

“I learned how to sell. Do you know what I sold? I sold pencils. Can you two imagine that I sold pencils door to door?”

I had heard this story, which in truth is an impressive little ditty. Indeed he had sold pencils and at the age of eleven and had found the courage and initiative to “find” some inventory. Living in an apartment building, he went door to door, floor to floor selling number two pencils to his neighbors. In the end, he made enough money to do whatever eleven year olds did in New York during the early fifties.

When my dad tells the story it tends to focus on his impressive selling skills and how pencils turned into more substantial products and how the art of selling has been lost over time. Usually he has something to say about technology and how it’s the problem with people today. We’re too busy staring at our phones and communicating through text that we have forgotten how to complete a sentence.

Lately I have gotten something else out of his tale.

Because I spend all of my time thinking about technology and digital marketing, I tend to draw things back to that facet. As I listened to my father speak I kept imagining him with his pencils, looking up at some unsuspecting neighbor and at times (despite his superior sales skills) getting the door slammed in his face. My guess is that he had very little time before his first sentence and the door actually butting up against his nose. And I think, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Today, when we talk about websites we usually focus on the reality that we have very little time to make our point – actually 20 seconds. According to the Nielsen Norman group the probability of a visitor leaving a webpage in the first 10 seconds is exceedingly high. If the viewer makes it past 20 seconds there is a much higher propensity to stay. It seems like a “no duh” statement but it’s a reality. In many ways we are like my father with the pencils. We have to quickly convey our intent in a compelling way and create a call to action.

That’s the digital lesson in all of this. And it’s a reminder – anything and everything we create on the web should be (1) compelling; (2) concise and lead to a (3) call to action. If you are not hitting these three items you are going to end up with a bunch a pencils and a lonely afternoon at home.

“Good lesson, huh kids?” I ask.

Both look at me and with a shared expression of pity ask for the ketchup.

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If you enjoyed reading this post, please take a moment to read a few of Elliott’s other posts on Digital Design: