If you want to sell, Cutco is a good place to learn. The legendary knife company has put hundreds of thousands of students through its sales training program, sent them out into the world to make their pitches and coached them on how to handle rejection.
The majority go through the training, learn some sales skills and then ultimately quit. A few select people have risen to the top of Cutco's sales force. But out of the 1.5 million sales reps in Cutco's 68-year history, there is one person who has sold more knives than anyone else: John Ruhlin.
Ruhlin isn't the slick, fast-talking sales charlatan that you might picture. So, what gave him such an edge over his fellow sales people?
As a freshly minted Cutco intern, Ruhlin pitched his girlfriend's father, a local businessman and attorney by the name of Paul Miller, on the idea of using Cutco pocket knives as gifts for clients. Miller surprised him by accepting, but he said he wanted paring knives instead. When Ruhlin asked why, Miller said, "Most of my clients are married, and their wives tend to use paring knives a lot. I learned a long time ago that if you take care of the family, everything else seems to take care of itself."
Ruhlin took this lesson to heart and started customizing his Cutco sales approach. After integrating a far more personalized and selfless sales strategy, business quickly took off. He went on to become founder and CEO of the Ruhlin Group, a company that helps businesses use gifts to strengthen relationships, and he wrote a book on gifting, Giftology.
If you want to boost sales, consider taking these three lessons from Ruhlin's book:
1. Be generous.
"Radical generosity" is a concept that more of us should embrace in our personal and professional lives. The basic idea is that people appreciate generosity, so it's worthwhile to give grandly because it predisposes others to feel generous in return.
After starting his own business, Ruhlin writes, he saw sought-after coach Cameron Herold speak at a conference. Eager to pick his brain, Ruhlin offered to take Herold to dinner and a sports game. However, when the day they were to meet arrived, Ruhlin learned that Herold was wiped out from his speaking tour and wanted to rest.
Knowing Herold's favorite store was Brooks Brothers, Ruhlin bought one of each of the store's new fall items and had the gifts sent to Herold's hotel room. When Herold got to his room, he was blown away by the thoughtful gesture. Even though he only kept a few of the gifts, he ended up giving Ruhlin all the time he wanted--and he still does so today.
2. Don't make it about you.
In his book Networking Is Not Working, author Derek Coburn talks about moving from Networking 1.0 (asking what your network can do for you) to Networking 2.0 (asking what you can do for others) to Networking 3.0 (adding value to your network). Coburn writes that he has used this strategy to grow his business more than 300 percent in just 18 months.
Why does this work? The bottom line is that people don't want to meet with you to hear about you and your needs. They have their own issues. So, ask your clients or prospects what they need. Consider what problems they are trying to solve.
The best sales people usually ask the most questions. Your sales strategy should be targeted at presenting your company as the solution for the prospect.
3. Treat people well.
Don't underestimate the simple art of appreciating people. At the end of the day, there is a lot of value in just putting positive actions out into the universe. Generosity often leads to reciprocity.
Ruhlin apparently once sent a top prospect 15 gifts before that person agreed to a meeting. The point of this approach isn't about volume, or even expense. It's most impactful to dig deep and find what's important to the other person. It's this personal touch, rather than the gifts per se, that make the difference.
At my company, Acceleration Partners, I've used this same strategy to reward employees: Finding out what's important to each of them and using gifts to make real differences in their lives. Examples have included trips to places on their bucket list, classes and coaches to pursue personal passions, and even helping employees find lost relatives.
Success in sales and business is all about people. If you do your research and truly put the customer's needs first, you will come out on top.