Learning secrets of the sales greats

“America’s Twelve Master Salesmen,” written and published by B.C. Forbes & Sons in 1953, was based on the fact that each of these master salesmen had one powerful, overriding principle or philosophy upon which success was based.

For the past two weeks I have presented the first nine masters, and this week the final three (plus me). There are 12.5 in all (me being the .5, of course)

Suppose you could adopt (or adapt) each master’s single best characteristic into your own set of capabilities. That would be power.

And so, to challenge the balance of your 2015, here are three more masters’ philosophies from 1953.

10. William Zeckendorf’s principle: Fact plus imagination plus action.

Will Rogers once said, “Buy land, they’re not making any more of it.” William Zeckendorf took that advice several steps further. He bought it and developed it.

Of course, his innovative ideas often met with opposition from city planners, but over time (and a winning track record) he developed a national reputation for successful projects, and was eventually wooed by cities looking for new ideas. He stated the facts, presented the plan and made it a success with a family tradition: Work hard.

Note: He bought and then sold the Chrysler Building, the ultimate deco structure in New York City, that at one time was the tallest building in the world.

11. Thomas J. Watson’s principle: Pack your todays with effort — extra effort.

He was a salesman and later corporate officer for NCR under the tutelage of John Patterson. “No. I don’t want to buy a cash register.” “I know you don’t. That’s why I came to see you. I knew if you wanted one you would come down to the office and pick one out. What I’ve come for is to find out why you don’t want one.”

Watson realized that to overcome an objection, he had to walk in with answers. This took extra preparation and extra effort. Was the extra effort he put into his sales career worth it? He went door to door selling cash registers, and invented creative new ways to approach the customer.

After leaving NCR as one of their all-time great salespeople, you may also know Watson for his second career — the founder of IBM. A leading self-made industrialist, he was one of the richest men of his time, and was called the world's greatest salesman when he died in 1956.

12. Elmer G. Letterman’s principle: Neglected customers never buy: They just fade away.

This principle merges the significance of three relationship factors of customer loyalty: giving value to the customer, staying in front of the customer and serving the customer. He added to this strategy the personal philosophy of: “I have adhered to a personal rule of trying to do for the other fellow what he can’t do for himself — without any strings attached.”

Letterman was also the first to write on sales creativity in the 1950s: “Personal Power through Creative Selling.” Elmer Letterman was one of the best sales speakers, sales writers and progressive strategists of his time.

He is my personal favorite. The title of his book, "The Sale Begins When the Customer Says 'No,'" should tell you why.

12.5. Jeffrey Gitomer’s principle: People don’t like to be sold, but they love to buy.

Unlike the other masters, my statement is not only the philosophy by which I live my sales life, but it’s also a registered trademark. If salespeople would just stop selling and transfer that energy into creating an atmosphere to buy, they (you) would double your sales. Read "The Little Red Book of Selling: 12.5 Principles of Sales Greatness," to find out more.

Well, there’s the list of people and their prime philosophies and principles.

What principles are you known by? What is your primary success strategy?

What would someone say your philosophy was if it had to be boiled down to one sentence? What have you done to live your philosophy, brand your philosophy and make your philosophy known to others by your writings and actions?

If the answer to these questions is painfully obvious to you, perhaps this should be your year of transition. Perhaps this should be a year where you take a closer look at your bigger picture, rather than a frustrated look at your quota and monthly sales achievements.

Note well: If you look at these masters, and you think any of them never had a problem achieving their goals or life’s dreams, think again. Every one of them had failure and adversity in one form or another. Everyone had challenges.

These are people who, by adopting and living a philosophy or a principle, became successful in spite of adversity. And not successful to you or me, but successful to themselves — in their own minds, the only place that success matters (you may want to adjust your thinking about success as well).

Free GitBit: The author of this book, the late, great B.C. Forbes, had a formula for sales. It’s yours for the taking. Go to and enter FORBES in the GitBit box.

Gitomer is the author of the “21.5 Unbreakable Laws of Selling.” Details are at He can be reached at

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