The Greatest Sales Lesson from my Father (…and he wasn’t even in sales!)

Today’s post is a small excerpt from a book that I am in the final edit process on. It will be the first book in the Commission-Only series, the working title is “Entering The Game”. The book outlines how a newcomer to commission sales can survive and thrive during their first 12 – 18 months. The lesson portrayed that was handed to me by my father, Buzz, was simple, but powerful, and it changed the way I looked at sales at a time when i was ready to quit.

Excerpt: Chapter 6 – The C.A.P.©  Equation

I want to take a moment to illustrate to you, through a personal experience, how critical it is in commission-only sales to place pressure on something predictable and inanimate…like the numbers.

Penn Life was my first REAL outside, commission-only, selling experience. I mentioned earlier that I learned a great deal while with them. I did have a measure of success to build on and take to the next gig. What I didn’t tell you was that I almost quit inside of my first month of being there.

It was a Friday afternoon in the late summer of 1979. I’d pulled out of the field early that day. I had a ‘bad’ day of another anemic production week. I’d made a few sales, but experienced way too many crushing “NOs” for my delicate psyche. As the “NOs” piled up on me like shovels of wet sand I became call reluctant. The reason I was home early that day was that I couldn’t get out of my car anymore and walk into a business…my emotional gas tank was empty.

I was living at home with my parents. My father, Buzz, cruised into the driveway at dinnertime and rolled into the kitchen. While eating the spaghetti and meatballs he asked me how my week went. I was honest with him—told him I pulled out of the field early. I remember the conversation in vivid detail.

“I think I’m gonna’ go in on Monday and quit,” I told him. “I don’t think this thing works and I’m not sure I even like sales.”

He leaned back in his chair and I could tell by the look on his face that he wasn’t thrilled with the decision.

“Okay sport. You can quit if you want to,” he calmly advised. “But I’ve never quit anything just because I was failing at it. If you want to quit you should go out and have a solid week first…and then tell them you’re quitting. That way you’ll be leaving for the right reasons—because you don’t like the work—not because you’re failing at it. You can walk out the door a winner and you’ll feel better about yourself.”

It was hard to argue with his logic, but as a teenager I had to try.

“Dad, yeah, I hear what you’re sayin’ but this thing is hard. It’s all cold calling and I’m just getting beat up out there. I’m not sure their sales process even works.”

He wasn’t going to let me off the hook that easy.

“You got home at what time today?” he asked.

“About 2:30 PM,” I reluctantly answered.

‘Well that doesn’t sound like a full day’s work,” he sniffed. “How many cold calls did they tell you to make each day—how many doors do they want you to walk into?”

“Sixty or more,” I told him.

“How many did you walk into today,” he asked.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out a card Penn Life called Countdown to Success. It had five columns for the five workdays and the numbers 1 – 60 printed vertically down each column.

You were supposed to cross out each number when you walked in the door and approached a decision maker. You were to circle the numeral if they let you give them a full presentation. You were to place a number of units next to the circle when you sold something.

I glanced at my card. I silently noted that there was no day that week that I’d walked into more than 20 doors—and the efforts decreased slightly as the long week went on. There were a couple of circles each day and even a few sales. But when you were selling an accident policy that costs $39.00 a year you must record a lot of circles to make a living. That day was my worst effort of the week. I’d only crossed off 8 numbers before getting back in my car and heading home with my tail between my legs.

“I walked into eight doors today,” I finally admitted.

He leaned back again and rubbed his chin. “Ya know what I’d do if I was you, sport?” he said. “I’d go out next week, walk into the sixty doors a day like they told you. Put their system and products to the test. What’s the worst that can happen…a few people kick you out? Win, lose or draw, if you still don’t like the work by the end of the week you can quit. But you can walk away knowing you gave it a hundred percent. You can leave with your head held high.”

He went back to his dinner plate and shut up. I knew what he was doing. He was challenging me to take their direction, set my emotions aside and put the pressure on their system. I decided to follow his advice. I went out that next week with a slightly different attitude and goal.

         I had only one objective—to cross out all 60 numbers on that Countdown to Success card each day and prove it didn’t work! 

I became obsessed with putting the pressure on the numbers—the system—not myself. Suddenly that week, I didn’t have to be a GREAT salesperson. In fact, when you walk into sixty doors a day you don’t even have to be a GOOD salesperson! Because I focused on putting the pressure on the numbers, the rejection didn’t seem to shake me or have any negative effect on me. I knew my pitch, was an adequate closer and went into the week with a decent attitude. I had unconsciously stumbled on the equation and applied it.

     The rejections became a METRIC RESULT in my mind, part of an equation…not a crushing emotional defeat 

I met or exceeded 60 doors a day that week. One night I even stayed out until 7:45 PM trying to find the 60th person to approach. I had an awesome week! 32 units sold, and over $450 in commissions! (A lot of money in 1979!)

My father wasn’t in sales, but he had tremendous wisdom and challenged me to focus on what I could control…the numbers…the metrics. I hope you enjoyed this excerpt from the upcoming book, Commission-Only, Entering The Game. Have a wonderful weekend! 

Photo: Joe Buzzello & Anthony, ‘Buzz’ Buzzello



32 thoughts on “The Greatest Sales Lesson from my Father (…and he wasn’t even in sales!)

  1. Pingback: The Greatest Sales Lesson from my Father (…and he wasn’t even in sales!) | Burn the Boats!

  2. Hank Yuloff

    that is a pretty awesome story – i have had days when I knocked off early – and giving myself a definite number of calls to make was a great reminder! Thanks for THIS reminder.

  3. Lara Grande

    You took this wisdom and passed it on to me and many others. Your leadership has always been a constant inspiration to my career. We love you!

  4. Donna Deviny

    Enjoyed reading the learning lesson from your dad. I’m going to pass that story onto my son!!

  5. hoovercre8

    Thank you Joe – heard this story at Rampage, but was great to read it again. Please add me to your mailing list. I want to buy a copy when you are published. Mary

  6. Paul Scott

    Joe B., Thanks for keeping me out in the field long after I decided to quit. I just wish I had met your Dad; he seems like the really smart one. ;-))
    Keep me posted on the book release.

    1. joebuzzello Post author

      Paul, Those are very kind words…and, yes, My dad was something else! I wish you could have met him also. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  7. Troy Deslatte

    People will believe more in what they THINK they CAN’T do before BELIEVING in what they CAN. Then they will tell you how it was everything else’s fault and not their own and then in the same breath tell you how awesome THEY are. Just listen to some dummy that was to stupid to believe that he couldn’t do it and he will give you a formula to success. Your dad was a wise man Joe. I think I need to thank him for giving you that advice, otherwise our paths may have never crossed. Great story!

  8. Melinda

    What a treasure your dad was, Joe! And how fortunate you were to receive just the right encouragement at the right time. Don’t we all need someone at times to show us a strategy for success? I like that you focused on working the process instead of getting caught up in the story your emotions were telling you. And how lovely it is that you are now following in his footsteps by passing along your wisdom!


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