G20 Ventures
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G20 Ventures

Photo by Dovile Ramoskaite on Unsplash

You need to love what you’re selling.

Struggling to sell something? Learn to love it, or move on.

“You’re not selling the bread knife.”

I was sitting with my manager on metal folding chairs, in a basement room with a dirty linoleum floor and narrow head-height windows. My fellow sellers were milling around me, sharing war stories from the week and hiding anxiety about their monthly goals. I looked into my manager’s eyes, trying to focus on what he was saying, and ignore the thoughts of how it made me look.

“Walk me through your pitch, top to bottom. You sit at the kitchen table… then what?”

I was selling Cutco, in Cumberland, RI. It was my first job out of college, after leveraging my Ivy League credentials to secure 28 ad agency rejection letters. My father convinced me learning to sell was a fine way to start a career in marketing anyway, and my options were limited. He was right, as that 6 months carrying a bag would have a profound impact on me as a marketer, entrepreneur, executive, and investor. But at the time it was just humiliating, not least because — despite my early triumphs convincing my aunt’s to buy trimmers and Spatula Spreaders — I hadn’t sold a single bread knife, or a single Homemaker Set.

I pitched to my manager, as instructed, making the script my own, pausing as I often did to highlight the trimmer as my own “go-to workhorse,” and the “bachelor spatula” as a great tool for slicing bagels cleanly and spreading cream cheese without getting another knife dirty.

“These are your favorites,” he said, holding up the trimmer and the spatula.

“Yes,” I said. “Everyone loves them, and I’m selling a lot of them. But it’s way harder to sell the others, because people don’t use them as much.”

He held up the bread knife, horizontally between his fingers, patented Double-D Edge facing me.

“What’s the best thing about this?” he asked, staring at me with unsettling friendliness.

“It’s great for bread?” I said.

“Hence the name,” he said, with practiced, non-judgmental inflection. “But what’s great about it to you?”

“To be honest, I don’t know,” I said.

“And that’s why you can’t sell it…”

Years later I found myself in suit and tie on the shiny, wood-paneled creative floor at McCann in New York. A Copywriter friend and her Art Director were sitting with their Associate Creative Director, stuck on an assignment for some cream that did something good for some orifice.

“I’m sorry, but we’re really struggling with this one,” she was saying. “Everything there is to say in this category has been said. I mean, how excited can you get about butt butter?”

“Let me explain something,” said the seasoned and stylish ACD, calmly. “So many people are buying this stuff, they have $10 Million to give us to go sell more of it. Just figure out why, and then tell that story in a way that will get people’s attention.”

Their problem was they didn’t love it. It brought me right back to 1988, to the first time I sold that bread knife.

Walking up to Mrs. Caiola’s front door that crisp Wednesday afternoon, I was determined, if not to sell the whole set, to explain why I loved every single knife in the bag.

“You guys like Italian bread, right?”

“Yes!” said Mrs. Caiola. “We actually drive to Johnston to get it fresh at DiPalmeiri’s on Sundays, just like we used to!”

“Good for you! We love it too. The meat calzone’s great there too.”

“YES!,” she said, breathless.

“We always get the whole loaf of bread, because the pre-sliced one goes stale faster, right? And you know what I find? It’s really hard to cut the slices small enough to make a good sandwich, without mangling the bread and getting crumbs all over the counter.”

“Yes! I hate that. It seems like such a waste, and we’re also trying to eat a little less bread.”

“Perfect! Do you have any left? Let me show you what this bread knife can do, even when the bread’s a little stale…”



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