The First Rule I learned in Sales

September 27, 2023

“Salesmen don’t see signs.”


I was a 22 year old outside sales professional trainee and had no idea what I was doing. My job was to sell pneumatic and hydraulic equipment to large manufacturing companies in multiple industries and I didn’t know the first thing about how the industry worked.

In training I was reading textbooks and catalogs and learning mechanical engineering on the fly. I wasn’t “getting it” so frustratedly asked one of our senior guys to take me to a customer so I could see our products in action.

As we were driving to the client, Henry looked at me and asked “what’s the first rule in sales?”

“I have no idea” I answered.

“Salesmen don’t see signs.”

Ugh, ok. I had no idea what that meant but learned several valuable lessons that day.

We pulled around back and entered a door with a sign that read “EMPLOYEES ONLY”.

Observation #1: Henry ignored the sign on the door.  

We walked through a factory that had machines roaring, people scattered at various workstations and forklifts buzzing by. Henry strolled confidently through the maze as I followed.

Observation #2: Walk with purpose and act like you know where you are going.

No one stops you and asks "can I help you," or "hey you're not allowed to be here" if you appear to know where you're headed.

We ended up in the Plant Manager’s office where Henry knew everyone and everyone loved Henry. He commanded the conversation, told stories that had people smiling and laughing and solved problems that had been plaguing a particular process for the client.

Observation #3: Add value in every conversation.

We walked out of that meeting with an order for new parts and I had a much more clear understanding of what my future in sales would be.

As we were leaving, I asked Henry why we didn’t go through the front door.

“They have a no soliciting sign” he laughed.

Observation #4: It was easier for him to get to the right people if he simply went through the back door and avoid the gatekeeper sitting at the front desk.

Let me be clear, I am not an advocate for breaking the law, breaking rules that are meant to keep people safe or being a shady character to try and make a buck.

I am an advocate for doing what it takes to get to the right people and provide solutions that make their job easier and their company better.

Sometimes it’s as simple as not seeing the sign that keeps you from getting to that opportunity that can impact your business.

Think about the signs you have read that kept you out. The signs that prevented you from getting to the person you needed to see. I believe we can even imagine signs (fears, perhaps) that don't exist keeping us from achieving greatness.

Next time you see a sign, remember Rule #1.  It could change everything for you.

Mike Chudy

Owner of Austin Sales Consulting