How to Hustle

Selling lessons from the guy who hustles CDs in Collegetown (Ithaca, NY)

Beside Cornell’s Ithaca campus lies Collegetown — a wonderland where students can skip class, grab a bite to eat and quickly resume panicked preparation for their prelims. It’s also the stomping grounds of one prolific CD salesmen. He’s a man whose sales career has lasted longer than most restaurants and bars in the area (RIP Rulloffs). And he’s known as Kwizzy We Get Bizzy.

Kwizzy staying committed on the commons

If you study at Cornell, but haven’t walked through C-Town to find a Cum Get Sum album thrust into your hands, you probably aren’t getting out enough. And if you walk past this guy without talking to him, you’re missing out on five minutes of precious conversation and unparalleled philosophy.

I first met Kwizzy about 18 months ago. He’s a Brooklyn native who’s lived in Ithaca for the past few years. I’ve been graced by his pitch near 50 times and I told myself – and him – that one of these days I’d buy a CD from him.

Today I finally bought one and to be completely honest – I thought it sucked. But in all transparency, it’s pretty typical for me to dry heave 30 seconds into a rap song, so I’d encourage you all to pick up a copy to decide for yourself.

9am on a Tuesday and Kwizzy’s closing deals

I’ve had a number of conversations with Kwizzy – and while we may differ in music taste – I commend the dedication. I also think that some of the hyper-academic, afraid-to-fail Cornell students can learn a lot about persuasion from him.

Kwizzy’s main strategy for success is his undying persistence.

“If you ain’t willing to hear ‘no’, you sacrifice all the chances you have to get to a ‘yes.’ It’s a numbers game my man” he said when I asked what his secret was.

That mentality is why Kwizzy really does get bizzy. He makes thousands of dollars a year selling his CDs. He’s persistent, passionate and respectful – not to mention a total lady’s man. He also consistently uses three out of the six principles outlined in Dr. Cialdini’s bestseller, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.

1. Likability

Kwizzy is a actually a funny, likable guy that I recommend you chat with. I was once walking out of the Ithaca Mall about 20 feet behind him. He didn’t recognize me, but he made sure to wait and hold the door. As Dr. Cialdini notes, the “liking” technique can be the difference between whether or not a customer is turned off by a salesperson’s eventual ask.

2. Commitment

One of Kwizzy’s main strategies for closing the deal is to place a CD in your hands before you can even register what’s happened. This instantly puts a prospective customer on the reactive, having already taken a CD. If you’re the type of person who likes to stay true to your actions – and having already accepted the gift – you may be compelled to pull out your wallet.

3. Scarcity

Once in a while you’ll hear Kwizzy say something like “this is the last one I’ve got left” or “these things are going fast”. Turning up the heat on a customer without being excessively pushy. That’s not to say the boundary between the two is anything less than blurry. But this is one of the most common tactics used by major companies. Hell, I saw “Limited Edition Cotton Candy Grapes” in Wegmans yesterday. You know what I did? I bought them immediately.

So, how could Kwizzy hustle harder?

Social Proof

This pretty much boils down to: “All the cool kids doing it, so should you”. In Kwizzy’s case, he could say something like, “You can’t leave Cornell without taking home one of these CDs”. Or how about, “This is the 162nd thing every Cornellian needs to do before they graduate.” No? Okay. You get the point though.

Authority

Authority is the reason every tooth-paste commercial is accompanied by a dentist’s recommendation. It’s the reason pharmaceutical companies have doctors front their campaigns. It’s also the reason Audiarchy is endorsed by audiologists and industry professionals. What if Kwizzy said, “This CD features contributions from a Ph.D. in Cornell’s music department”. Would you take him more seriously? I would. Either way, connecting to an authority figure would give him some ammunition for every pitch.

Reciprocity

This tactic is simple – do things for people and they’ll like you more! It builds loyalty. It sends good vibes. It also makes customers feel obligated to come back to return the favor. What if when you rejected Kwizzy, he said “S’all good — enjoy this gift and maybe next time you can grab one,” as he tossed you a candy bar. Better yet, a sticker with a picture of him and a big, cheesy smile that says “GORGES!”.

Being afraid to sell is one of the most common struggles I see in working with early stage startups at Cornell. I’ve gone through it myself, but remembering these points helped me push onward. When it’s all said and done – I think Kwizzy sums it up best though.

“If you ain’t willing to hear ‘no’, you sacrifice all the chances you have to get to ‘yes.’ It’s a numbers game…”

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