Timeless Sales Tips From P.T. Barnum

Lessons from possibly the greatest salesman on earth

Nineteenth-century entrepreneur P.T. Barnum, of Ringling Bros.and Barnum & Bailey circus fame, was more than a mastershowman. Once you get past the image of Barnum as a well-dressedcarny, you'll likely find a salesperson who was far ahead ofhis time. Along with a great respect for the customer, Barnum hadother ideas on how to sell that are as important today as they weremore than 100 years ago. Among them:

Don't play it safe. Too many salespeople areconservative, something Barnum clearly wasn't. Be original. Saysomething daring, and back it up.

It doesn't hurt to be a showman. Barnum used anelephant to plow the yard of his Connecticut house, which wassituated near railroad tracks. Every time a train passed by on itsway to New York, passengers saw an ad for Barnum.

Give people more than their money's worth. Barnumtraveled the globe to find exotic acts, yet kept his pricesreasonable. His six-story show in New York housed more than half amillion exhibits, and a 25-cent ticket allowed people to stay thereall day. (This was in the mid-1850s, when weekly salaries werecommonly $4 to $5.)

Don't accept rejection. This doesn't mean youshould keep bothering someone who has decided not to buy from you;rather, you should reevaluate the customer's needs, yourproduct and your sales pitch. Devise a new reason for the prospectto make the purchase. Every setback Barnum had in life he viewed asa challenge he would overcome.

Give customers the information they need. It sounds likean obvious point to make, but it's worth repeating: Don'tjust pitch your product to prospects; instead, tell them how youcan solve their problems or fulfill their needs. Salespeople spendtoo much time talking without giving customers the kind ofinformation they really want.

Look for customers everywhere. Think of new applications,look for new territories or just make more cold calls to expandyour business. Barnum thought the planet earth was his customerbase; he never thought there was a limit to who could buy fromhim.

Cross-sell. Always think of ways to team up whatyou're selling with another product or service. Similarly, lookto cross-promote with noncompeting businesses. Once Barnumconvinced a hat manufacturer to bid for a ticket for a new act. Thebid reached hundreds of dollars and resulted in more publicity thaneither one of them could buy.

Make customers feel good about themselves. It's notenough to get the sale; you have to make the customer feel good toget repeat business and ensure word-of-mouth recommendations.

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