Gillian Zoe Segal, the author of Getting There: A book of mentors, advised in a Forbes article that people should stop and think before they or their parents invest a lot of money in a university business education. She suggests instead learning door-to-door sales skills.
While Zoe Segal was researching her book, she spoke to 30 leaders from a broad range of fields. Each of them credited early sales jobs for equipping them with the skills which they needed for their ultimate success.
Among those she spoke to was John Paul Dejoria, the co-founder of the Patrón Spirits Company and John Paul Mitchell Systems. He said the three years he spent selling Collier's Encyclopaedia was one of the most formative experiences of his life.
"If that job existed today," he said, "I would make every one of my kids do it." DeJoria, as a residential direct sales representative, would travel the country persuading strangers to buy a set of encyclopedias. This helped him to hone his powers of persuasion and learn how to overcome rejection.
"After you've had 15 doors slammed in your face," he said, "you need to be as enthusiastic at door number 16 as you were at the first door if you want to make a sale."
When DeJoria launched John Paul Mitchell Systems, he was able to utilise the same set of skills, going from beauty salon to beauty salon getting people to purchase his hair care products. In her article, Zoe Segal explained how Dejoria was turned down by four out of the five salons, but due to his direct sales residential experience, he had acquired a determination to succeed and not let previous rejection stop him from persevering.
Zoe Segal got a similar story from the billionaire founder of the shapewear company Spanx, Sara Blakely. She also attributed her business success to the sales skills she learned in the eight years working for a company that sold fax machines door-to-door.
Blakely recalled: "I would wake up in the morning and drive around cold-calling from eight until five. Most doors were slammed in my face. I saw my business card ripped up at least once a week, and I even had a few police escorts out of buildings.
"It wasn't long before I grew immune to the word 'no'."
When she started Spanx, she needed to find someone to make a prototype of her product, and she began by telephoning local hosiery mills. Without exception, they turned her down. So she drew on a lesson she had learned from cold-calling: face-to-face makes a huge difference. She took a week off work and drove around North Carolina, visiting many of the same mills that had already rejected her on the phone. She sat in the lobby and waited to speak to the founder or owner.
It eventually worked, and the Spanx prototype was born. Reading the article, it is clear that residential direct sales do not just teach you a set of skills to persuade someone that your product is worth buying, its a life-changing lesson. It transforms who you are. You become resilient. Through perseverance, you grow in strength; no is not rejection; it is a challenge to overcome.
From cold-calling, Blakely also learned that you have about 15 seconds to capture someone's attention. However, if you can make them smile or laugh, you may have an extra 15 to 30 seconds. Through her residential sales experience, Blakely's personality developed. She had no choice but to be charismatic and confident to the point that she was funny. This allowed her to win in later life.
With no money to grab people's attention the conventional way, through advertising, she decided to infuse her product with humour wherever she could, from naming it Spanx to writing "We've got your butt covered!" on the package. She ended up turning Spanx into something people love to joke about, creating free advertising through humour, it has even been mentioned on the Oprah Winfrey show.
Zoe Seagal also reveals how models face more rejection than most, and it is personal. During her early modelling years, Kathy Ireland sold herself door-to-door. She explained: "Back then, agencies would send models on 'go-sees' to get jobs. The people in charge of hiring would look us up and down and dissect us right in front of our faces. I was rejected a lot. It hurt at first, but I soon learned that it was just part of the process."
She eventually became a successful Sports Illustrated swimsuit model, but as she got older, she wanted to
pursue a career that was not dependent on her looks. After years of failing with various start-ups (a microbrewery, a skin-care line, and several art projects), she finally launched her own brand, Kathy Ireland Worldwide, with a line of socks. It is now a $2 billion enterprise with its name on more than 15,000 products. Ireland frequently advises others: "If you never fail, it means you are not trying hard enough."
In her book, Zoe Segal explains that, in any field, success depends on persistence, being open to failure, and inspiring others to follow your ideas. The success stories of John Paul Dejoria, Sarah Blakeley, and Kathy Ireland are just a few of the many examples that are a testament to this.
She suggests that there is no better way to acquire these essential traits than through the process of residential direct sales.
Who knows where that could lead you.