Lessons from a Paperboy

Sometimes when I call my wife on the phone, I’ll say, “Hi, it’s just some salesperson on the phone.” She stopped (courtesy) laughing at that about 15 years ago, but I still say it anyway. Pretty sure if I say it often enough, she’ll start thinking it’s funny again.

But I still find it ironic. I write ads and I try to persuade people to buy my clients’ products, but I never really thought of myself as a salesperson. 

When I got into this business, I thought writing would be fun, and I knew this particular writing job required me to convince people to try the lingonberry pancakes or use this cell phone carrier or have your baby at our hospital. Even so, I thought a salesperson was someone who wore a suit or a nice dress and tried to get you to drive away in a new car or walk out of the store with a new crockpot or something. You know, a real live person who you could hand money to.

But I finally realized I’m simply a different type of salesperson, and over the years, I’ve seen some really good ones. Good ones can sell the work that they or someone else created. They can sell media plans. They can sell themselves and convince clients why the clients should hire their agency. 

But I have to say, to this day, I’ve still never seen anyone sell like Jeff S. 

Hot on the heels of my last post which took place in high school, here’s another one from the Wayback Machine. When I was a wee lad of 11 or 12 years old, I had a paper route. It was an awesome job and an awesome experience for a kid. I got to ride my bike all over the place and got paid for it. Now, of course, what few newspapers are delivered are all done by adults in cars.

When you had a paper route, part of the job was going out with your area manager and a group of other paperboys twice a month and soliciting. Yup, that meant going out and knocking on doors in the afternoon or evening, asking people if they wanted to subscribe to your paper. 

My pitch went something like this. “Hello, would you like to subscribe to the Times-Advocate? Oh. Okay, thank you anyway.” 

Sometimes they didn’t even say anything, and I would just give that whole pitch, and I’d turn around and leave, and they’d close the door behind me, never having said a word.

I’m kidding about that last paragraph. I was bad, but not that bad.

Once in awhile, someone would say, “Yeah, okay, I’ve been meaning to switch from the Blade-Tribune. Go ahead and sign me up.” Cool. 

That was called a “start.” They would have contests for who got the most starts, and you could win valuable prizes. I never won a thing. I think the most starts I ever got in a month was four. I was proud of myself. Most months, though, I got zero.

The managers would always try to give us pep talks and yeah, I was willing, but in retrospect, I don’t think anyone ever taught us how to sell. Just gave us pep talks. 

Jeff S., though, was amazing. He was the rock star. He didn’t need no stinkin’ pep talks and he didn’t need anyone teaching him how to sell. He would routinely come back from a neighborhood with 11 or 12 starts. I remember one night, he got 26 starts. 26 starts in one night! What the HELL! I was thinking, dang, how lucky could this guy get, knocking on the doors of every person who’d been meaning to switch from the Blade-Tribune.

I was talking about it with someone once, and they said, “No, he’s not lucky, he’s good. He’s a good salesperson.”

I said, “What do you mean? Doesn’t someone either want the paper or they don’t?”

They said, “No, I saw him once. He sells it to them.”

I said, “Oh. Huh.” But I didn’t get it. 

So one night, I decided to tag along with Jeff. I knew I was wasting the evening, since I wasn’t going to knock on the same doors as him and encroach on his evening’s designated territory, but I wanted to see how he did it. Jeff was a nice guy, so he said sure, come along.

So we go to the first house, and holy cow, I was stunned by what I witnessed. I had never seen anything like it. Jeff knocked on the door, and when the guy answered, this nice quiet kid TRANSFORMED. Jeff introduced himself and the guy said no thank you, and Jeff IGNORED HIM! He just kept talking as if the guy hadn’t said anything! Jeff kept talking about the paper and why it was better than the Blade-Tribune, and the guy kept trying to explain why he liked the Blade-Tribune better. Jeff kept arguing with the guy, and I could tell the guy was getting pissed. But Jeff kept talking. I thought Jeff was being really rude, but he didn’t seem to care. And then after awhile, the guy tried to say, “thank you, have a good night” even as Jeff kept talking over him, and then he shut the door. Except Jeff actually stuck his foot in the door and wouldn’t let him close it! Remember, this is a little 12-year-old kid in a Hang Ten t-shirt doing all this. My eyes were bugging out of my head. 

I thought the guy was going to start yelling at Jeff, because I could tell he was really pissed, but after another few minutes of him not being able to get a word in edgewise, the guy blew me away when he said resignedly, “Okay, fine. I’ll try it for a month.”

Whaaaaaaaat? You sell by being rude? I never could have imagined that. Jeff wrote him up, and as he walked past me on his way to the next house, he winked at me and said, “That’s one.”

I realized then that I was never going to be a good salesman. Well, not THAT kind of salesman, anyway. That’s just not me. 

I suppose I’m fortunate I ended up doing what I do. I’d rather persuade with facts and humor and warmth and other emotions. I’m not the brow-beating type of salesperson. To me, the Jeffs of the world are real salespeople. Not me.

I suppose everyone is a salesperson to some extent, though. You represent your company, so you’re selling them. You want a raise, so you’re selling your skills and abilities and effectiveness. You go on a date, and you explain why half-Chinese guys make the best boyfriends, husbands and fathers.

And in my biz, we’re always trying to sell ourselves to pitch more business. 

Here’s something to keep in mind: The average sale isn’t made until after the fifth request. And the average salesperson gives up after the third “no.” 

I’m no math major, but that explains why some succeed and others fail. It’s persistence. And that is really the lesson I should have learned from Jeff. I could have tried what he did in my own style. I didn’t have to be rude. I only had to be persistent. 

Hey, by the way, have you subscribed to or shared my blog yet?

Hey, by the way, have you subscribed to or shared my blog yet?

Hey, by the way, have you subscribed to or shared my blog yet?

Hey, by the way, have you subscribed to or shared my blog yet?

Hey, by the way, have you subscribed to or shared my blog yet?

Oh cool, thank you!

Betcha Jeff S. doesn’t have one of these beauties.


Or one of these. Hey, it still fits!


4 Thoughts to “Lessons from a Paperboy

  1. Great post. I remember delivering papers with our dad (in the car). Those were some EARLY mornings (late nights?)! I enjoyed the photos too. Nice vest!

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