Senior Moment: What Our Elders Can Teach Us About Sales


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Yesterday I received a sales letter that hit me like a breath of fresh, un-digitized air. I wanted to share it with my readers:

Dear Friend:

As we enter the new year, conditions are not very good for purchasing new supplies and equipment. However, there are some signs that this may improve as the year progresses.

Your responsibility as a department manager or property manager is to maintain your facilities in the best possible manner. I have three things to offer:

Excellent products
Good service
Fair prices

If the need arises this year for you to replace or add to your equipment, please don’t hesitate to give me a call. I will be happy to furnish you catalogs and written quotations for your consideration.


My friend Stanley’s name follows below his hand-written signature.

Three paragraphs, two sentences each. There’s purity of form and a sincerity that rarely emanates from today’s marketing communications.

Stanley began his sales career before most of us were born, and he hopes to achieve the milestone of entering his ninth decade this year. He’s a retired CEO who is passionate about selling. He’s never stopped. When he started working, ‘personal selling’ meant . . . personal selling. Telephones, “snail mail,” appointment books, and cars were the indispensible tools of the sales trade.

Most of all, face-to-face dialogs created the trusted bonds between buyer and seller, and were an inextricable part of the sales process. Little wonder that Stanley’s letter says “I care” so clearly, without using those two words. He perfected that skill in the trenches, by looking at his customer in the eye.

In our Twittered, Blogged, and Web 2.0’d sales world, Stanley’s selling talent has become rare. The forces of information technology, product commoditization, and cost reduction have pushed legions of salespeople from the prospect’s office to the deep innards of the call-center cube farm. Millions must make their quotas using far more sophisticated tools than Stanley had—but without ever physically shaking hands with a customer.

As Stanley approaches his 80th birthday, he has become rare in other ways as well. He’s part of a shrinking population that will all but vanish in twenty years: a self-selected group of senior citizens who choose not to use a computer. He doesn’t use email or a have website for his company. He puts up with my e-marketing hubris when I rib him about not being able to accept orders online (FAX and phone work fine for him). The few times he needs Internet access, he taps an eager pool of web-savvy grandchildren. It would be easy to dismiss his knowledge as outdated.

Stanley has taught me how courtesy, respect, and sincerity have great power in sales, and the wisdom contained in his letter reminds me that when it comes to selling, seniors have a wealth of knowledge for the rest of us. I wish Stanley many more great years in selling. I still have much to learn from him.


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