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Hail to Elvis, King of Sales

Chances are, Presley never closed a sale or pocketed a purchase order in his life, but that doesn't mean we can't learn a lot from the King

Hail to Elvis, King of Sales

Chances are, Presley never closed a sale or pocketed a purchase order in his life, but that doesn't mean we can't learn a lot from the King

By Michelle Nichols

Elvis Presley is the King of Rock 'n' Roll, and I don't think that there is the shadow of a doubt that Elvis Presley Enterprises, which controls his estate, is the undoubted king of sales and marketing. This summer, I visited Graceland, sacred ground for Presley fans. The experience got me all shook up.

Consider: Elvis Aaron Presley died 25 years ago, yet his home in Memphis sees more than 600,000 visitors every year. After the White House, it is the second-most visited home in the U.S. Given that Elvis died in 1977, you might assume that seniors represent the bulk of pilgrims to Graceland's shrine. Not so. Half the visitors are under 35.


  Except for five shows in Canada, Elvis performed only in the U.S. -- yet there are fan clubs in 45 countries and 40% of his records are sold outside the U.S. It is estimated that better than a billion Elvis records have been sold -- more than any other artist. Of those releases, more than 140 albums and singles have been certified gold, platinum, or multiplatinum -- again, more than any other artist. His estate generated $37 million in the year ending June, 2002, and THAT leaves any and all deceased artists in the shade, including Peanuts creator Charles Schulz and Beatle John Lennon.

While Elvis really has definitely left the building, it's obvious his legacy continues to touch many -- including those of us who have goods and services to sell. Here are a few timeless lessons we can learn from Elvis and his music.

Shake, Rattle, and Roll. Elvis was famous for those gyrating hips, and there's no reason why you can't put some excitement into your presentations, too. For example, I recently spoke with a representative of an outfit I was considering hiring. At our first meeting, the salesperson brought two advertising specialty items and a one-inch thick book filled with information on the outfit. Her selling style sure needed some sizzle, though, so much so that the presentation should have been marked Return to Sender.

I would have preferred if she left the toys back at the office (we know it's the customer who pays for them in the end) and focused instead on probing my needs and concerns. Then she could have given me just a few pages of important information, saving me the time of wading through the whole, entire book. Or, after hearing me describe my needs, she could have marked the pages of greatest interest. For now, it's Are You Lonesome Tonight? for that sales rep.

Don't Be Cruel. I don't mean to knock promotional giveaways and sales gimmes. There are some great specialty items out there, ones that can really make your outfit stand out in the crowd. A creative, experienced salesperson in this area is worth seeking out. Just remember, before you look at any catalogs, have your goal firmly in mind. Be clear on what are you trying to achieve with what kind of customer. Then ask the rep for some fresh suggestions that will get prospects buzzing about you and what you have to offer.

You Ain't Nothing but a Hound Dog. A friend recently remarked on a particular salesperson who had been riding her to buy, wondering if such tactics are what good salesmanship is all about. Whoa! In sales, hounding a customer doesn't qualify. Following up is always good, but it needs to be done with an appropriate level of energy -- and at the correct moment.

When I was a young salesperson, I sold a very specialized product that connected two different types of computer networks -- something that was very rarely needed (or wanted, as I learned, but that's another story for another column). Anyway, in the last week of a lousy quarter, my boss told me to call my one warm prospect twice a day, every day, until he agreed to buy. I'm glad I didn't. That would have made me both a real Hound Dog and a lousy salesperson, one with an alienated client. It could have led to Heartbreak Hotel.

Money Honey. So many salespeople are afraid to talk about money. So, when it's time to talk dollars and cents, speak with confidence. Customers often will try to rush you into naming a price. That's fine, in fact it's encouraging because it demonstrates that they are interested. But never forget that it is the smart salesperson who should be controlling when the subject of price is raised. In every sales cycle, there is an appropriate time to talk money -- the moment when it's Now or Never. Too early, and you won't have developed the customer's hunger and laid the groundwork to justify the sum you are asking. Too late, and the prospect is frustrated, wanting only to know if he or she can afford it.

I recommend practicing this part of your presentation obsessively -- in front of a mirror, with peers, alone in the car, even in the bathroom before you go in to deliver your presentation. If you're nervous about naming the price, your customers are going to smell that anxiety and use it to their advantage.

Blue Suede Shoes. Being a salesperson means that the people with whom you deal have certain expectations. It's the same for those in other occupations, too, be they doctors, lawyers, librarians, or the guys riding the garbage truck. The good news is you can use these assumptions to your advantage. As I pointed out in my previous column, "Image: The Winning Suit", it pays to look the part.

Also, your customers have probably encountered at least a few -- and quite possibly a good many more -- terrible salespeople, which explains those Suspicious Minds we so often encounter. If you take the time to hear and comprehend your customer's needs, you can really stand out from the competition. Don't fall for the easier selling path of A Little Less Conversation.

A major benefit of really knowing your customer is you can follow up in ways that are more meaningful. For instance, if your customer is interested in swing dancing and you happen to spot an article about the pastime's resurgence, cut it out and clip it to some information about your company or products. That will tell your customers you get their drift when they sing Love Me Tender.

A Fool Such As I. One of the surprises about visiting Memphis was the dearth of Elvis imitators. I expected to find them on every corner, but didn't see a single one. Worldwide, there are estimated to be a whopping 35,000 Elvis clones. The selling lesson? Be original. It's dandy to imitate the very best salespeople, but that won't help to develop your own personal style. If you're terrific and original, others will want to copy you -- maybe even 25 years after you've passed over.

Elvis' motto was "Taking Care of Business," TCB for short. I saw those letters plastered on just about everything Elvis -- and it makes a good motto for selling, too: We take care of business by taking care of customers and our own businesses. Graceland is an excellent example of TCB, and Jack Soden, CEO of Elvis Presley Enterprises, deserves a lot of credit. I'd recommend a visit to Graceland by anyone who wants their customers singing Stuck on You. Happy Selling!

Michelle Nichols is a sales consultant, trainer, and speaker based in Houston. She welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at