Ben Feldman is the quintessential American Success Story...and one of the best salesmen ever. He went from a $10-a-week butter-and-egg salesman to the world's greatest insurance salesman. For 52 years he sold insurance for New York Life...from 1941 to 1993. His lifetime sales volume exceeded $1.5 billion...with 1/3 of his sales coming after he reached the 'retirement' age of 65.
He was based in East Liverpool, Ohio, a sleepy river town of 13,000 on the banks of the Ohio River...that has been steadily losing population over the years. East Liverpool's other claim to fame is that it is also the birthplace of football coach, Lou Holtz. If you passed Ben Feldman on the street, you wouldn't have any inkling about his sales prowess. He was short, heavyset and balding. When he spoke, his speech was slow and deliberate...with a distinct lisp.
How did Ben Feldman do it? How did he sell more life insurance by himself, than 1000 life insurance COMPANIES in America?
- Hard Work. Ben worked 7-day weeks, and 12-hour days. At the end of the day, he would come home and read-and-study for another 2 hours. "It's his chief form of relaxation," his very understanding wife, Fritzie Feldman said.
- Preparation. In Ben's words, "Read. Study never stops because publications never stop coming in. It's read and study. And think about what you're studying. Take it apart and put it together. Ask 'why?' And know the answers."
- Chutzpah. Each and every week, Ben made 30-40, face-to-face, in-person cold calls. No warm-up telephone calls beforehand. No pre-approach letters. No warm, referred calls. These were walk-right-in, ask-to-see-the-owner, no-apologies cold calls.
The Feldman Method. Ben's approach is best described in his own words in "The Feldman Method," an out-of-print book that details his straightforward style.
- "I rarely use the telephone because he may not want to see me. I have a better chance of seeing the man I want to see if I do go. Besides, switchboard girls and secretaries have become very good. They've learned to take you apart. 'Who? Why? What for? What company?' You don't always get by. I seldom call on the phone. I'd rather go.
- "On calls, I just walk right in...and my first barrier is usually the switchboard operator or the receptionist. On the phone, a switchboard operator can stop me dead. But face to face, the odds are I'll get by. And when I go, I may leave something with her. You know what it is? It's a pair of little golden slippers. She doesn't know what they are until I've left and she's opened the box. They I usually get a thank you note. From that time on, I get in."
- "I'm very frank, very open. I just say I want to meet her boss, whatever his name might be. (And you'd better know his name.) The receptionist ordinarily announces me, but it's a cold call, and the odds are he doesn't want to see me. I get thrown out of more places!"
- "There are many ways of saying, 'No.' He probably won't see me the first time. That isn't so bad. Why? Because I'm coming back, and when I come back I'm no longer a stranger! I've been here before!"
A few side comments. Ben's target audience were the many small business owners who worked in the East Liverpool-Youngstown, eastern Ohio region. As also can be determined by Ben's words, he betrays an American business climate of the '40s and '50s, that was overwhelmingly male.
Also, Ben's sales calls were not 'cold,' in this sense. Before each call, he would study and prepare beforehand. He would use Dun & Bradstreet to determine who the owner and the key personnel were, and the approximate sales volume of the company the age of the owner, the corporate structure, etc.
He was relentless. If the 'boss' didn't see him, he would come back, again and again. Over time, he would make the receptionist his ally.
- "...If I call once of twice more, and if the answer is still 'No,' she'll probably begin to feel sorry for me. Now she's on my team. She'll do her best to open the door for me. Particularly if she feels I'd be helping her boss. You've got to have disturbing things to say to the receptionist that will make her boss want to see you, just as you have disturbing things to say to the boss himself."
Ben Feldman...Salesman Extraordinaire. A relic from a different time. His quaint straight-ahead approach certainly wouldn't work today...in a day where we are all much more sophisticated and savvy with regard to sales techniques. Or would it?
That's all for now...Ciao!