OK, I admit it. I’m that guy. The one who will turn away kids when they morph into door-to-door salesmen.
Well, if the product is good and I need it, then I’ll entertain the idea. And of course I do try to support the kids that I know. After all, there’s an unwritten rule that you buy things from your neighbors’ children and your neighbors will support your children.
(There is also an unwritten rule that you tell your kids to skip your immediate neighbors so that they don’t feel obligated to buy the junk that your youngins may be peddling. I like this rule better.)
But in general, I decline almost all sales inquiries made on my front porch. Even pitches from children.
Given that I’m that guy, I had mixed thoughts on helping Finn, my 12-year old son, sell “camp cards” to earn money for Boy Scout summer camp earlier this year. In the end, I set my reservations aside. Learning how to sell something is important, I thought.
The product wasn’t that good but it wasn’t terrible either. Remember those bulky coupon books that we used to sell? Well, this was the more modern version – a discount card that sold for $5. There were six promotions on the card itself. $8 off an oil change, 50% off a second cup of frozen yogurt, the latest pizza deal, etc. And one could immediately get his or her money back using the promotion of $5 off a purchase from the local grocery store. Plus there was a code that the buyer could enter online to gain access to thousands of more discounts.
Not long after my son received the camp cards, he was ready to race out the door. Without any preparation. Perhaps I should have let him go. He certainly could have sold the cards (most people don’t turn away kids like I do). But, for me at least, the money really wasn’t why I was letting him sell the cards.
There were much more valuable skills and lessons to be learned . . . things that will help youth like Finn but are also important for adults like you and me as we strive to earn money and increase our influence.
Sales Pitch Delivery
Finn is a soft-spoken kid. A review of some delivery basics were in order. Smiling, speaking loudly, and being enthusiastic all aid in making a sale.
Personalize the Message
“My name is Finn and I live down the street. I’m selling discount cards to earn money to attend Boy Scout camp.” It’s important for people to know who you are and why you’re on their doorstep, I told him. Making a personal connection is important in all matters of business.
“What happens when someone hands you a 20?” I asked. It seemed Finn hadn’t thought about having change available. Luckily I had picked up a bunch of fives from the bank earlier that day.
The Power of Visual Aids
Finn didn’t like my suggestion of making a small poster showing the types of discounts our family would be using the card for (there’s that personalization again). But he’s hooked on Google Images so it wasn’t hard to convince him to search for and throw some company logos on a sheet of paper that also included the $5 price tag at the top. “Having a visual aid catches people’s attention”, I explained. “Plus you’re going to want to have something that your potential buyers can look at besides you!”
Dress for Success
Finn hesitated when I recommended that he wear his Boy Scout shirt. I don’t blame him; I didn’t like wearing that shirt either when I was his age. I enjoyed and learned a lot from being a Boy Scout, but I never cared much for the pageantry of it all. But since he was selling Boys Scout camp cards, the uniform was an important part of the presentation. Change out of his athletic shorts and tuck in his shirt?? Yes, that too. How you look and present yourself is important in selling both a product and yourself.
Practicing a Pitch
“I got it. I don’t need to practice,” Finn told me. OK, let’s just practice once, I replied. After that anticipated first debacle, he understood that running through his lines several times would be beneficial. And he even came up with the idea of writing down talking points on the back of the small poster (that he didn’t want in the first place)!
So, with a practiced, enthusiastic pitch and a small poster and change in hand, off we went. I was tagging along as the records keeper and for moral support in between houses. But I wasn’t going anywhere near the door, as I remained several houses down out of sight from each potential transaction. It was important for my son to make the sale on his own.
So how’d Finn do? He crushed it of course. How many people are going to turn down a 12-year old in a Boy Scout uniform selling a relatively cheap product? Besides me? I do need to give a lot of credit to my son, however. It can be quite challenging to be brave enough to knock on a stranger’s door and try to sell something to an adult. He did well.
Besides the lessons of preparation that Finn learned, there turned out to be several other positives.
Confidence, Persistence, and Rejection
That first sale, and those that followed, were a huge boost in confidence for my son. This was terrific to witness, as confidence is so important for any youth to have. It was also good to see him be persistent. Finn initially wanted to go home after he had tasted some initial success, but he stuck with it and got in a nice groove. He recognized that it was a good idea to continue to knock doors. And while Finn benefited from the positives like confidence and persistence, having him experience rejection was equally important. We face disappointment throughout our lives so it’s best to experience that early and often. Helping our children have experiences in which they “fail”, especially when the consequences aren’t too significant, is an important part of parenting.
Working for the Man
Finn only had to sell 20 cards and he worked hard during the first evening out to sell 10 of them. This provided a great learning opportunity, as Finn only kept half of each $5 card. Once we returned to the house, I was able to discuss with him that all his effort up until that point went into filling someone else’s pocket.
Marketing and Coupons
We discuss these marketing, coupons, and other sales tactics frequently in the Fox home, but selling these discount cards provided another opportunity to review the fact that what Finn was selling was just a way for the retailers to entice people to purchase their products. There wasn’t really a discount if the buyers weren’t going to make a purchase if they didn’t have the card to begin with.
Finn and I were both pretty pumped when he sold his last discount card. We were obviously excited that he had accomplished his goal of earning $50. But the experience was beneficial in more ways than either of us had imagined at the beginning. In fact, I probably would have paid $50 to have Finn learn and experience all that he did. There is much more to selling a product than the product itself.
Finn’s broad range of lessons are something every kid should experience.
I’ll have to remember that the next time I want to quickly turn away a child or teenager trying to peddle something on my doorstep. Perhaps I’ll buy something.
Or perhaps I’ll help them learn that valuable lesson of rejection!