listen to prospective buyers to nd themaximum overlap between their mouse-elimination needs and the mousetraps Ihad to oer. I worked hard to understandmy buyer. I learned to communicate thebenets o my mousetraps, rst estab-lishing my credibility and always keep-ing in mind that it is not mousetraps thatbuyers need, but ewer mice.I learned to ask buyers or their order,to listen or their objections, to handleobjections creatively, and to ask ortheir order again … and again. I deliv-ered my mousetraps when needed andensured that buyers were satised.This was selling as a high calling,and I learned to revel in the subtletieso its practice.
Selling versus Engineering
Let me fash a ew numbers by you aboutthe relative importance o selling and en-gineering. Let’s say a buyer spends $181on a Metcale Mousetrap. Right o thetop, $81 goes to distribution—the out-side people responsible or locally sell-ing and delivering our product. Believeme, they earn it.O the $100 ater distribution, about$50 goes to manuacture the mouse-traps, including $40 to buy the parts, $9or overhead, and $1 or the direct laborto actually assemble the device. Admin-istrative expenses absorb $5, taxes take$7, and shareholders receive $10 or theuse o their capital.That leaves $18 or my company’s owneld sales and actory marketing activi-ties and, nally, a mere $10 or what MITteaches best: engineering. (O course, thislast $10 is also spent on engineering sup-port and management, not strictly on en-gineering, but let’s not split hairs.)Almost all o the $81 spent on distri-bution is selling, and o course the $18or eld sales and actory marketing isselling. That pattern—spending about 10times more on selling than on engineer-ing, $99 versus $10—is true o 3Com,the $400 million company that I ound-ed. 3Com is not atypical o a successulhigh-tech company.Perhaps instead o using the old mathto make my point, I should use the new.The set o all potential buyers or mouse-traps is useully divided into three dis- joint subsets: the set o buyers (includ-ing my mother) who will automaticallybuy mine, the set o all mousetrap buy-ers who will never buy mine (parents o my competitors and the like), and the seto mousetrap buyers who will buy mineonly when competently sold.Clearly the sizes o these sets varyboth absolutely and relatively, but thethird set is much larger than many MITpeople think. Selling matters.
Let’s say I am successul in selling theMIT aculty on the importance o sell-ing. What would be covered in a curricu-lum designed to teach it?Certainly there would be the basics o talking—and, especially, listening—topeople. Students would learn that one o the nicest things they can do or a personis to ask or advice. They would be taughthow to identiy prospects or mouse-traps, and how to “qualiy” them—to de-termine whether they need mousetrapsand have the means to buy them.There would be some instruction onmaking presentations that build credibil-ity and translate the eatures o mouse-traps into benets or buyers. Studentswould learn—this is critical—that it israrely the purpose o a presentation toshow how smart you are.Students would learn about spotting“buying signs,” asking or the order,and handling the inevitable objections.Toward the end they would learn thedierence between sales and market-ing. It would be hard to cram all thisinto the existing our-year programs,but selling, like engineering, requireslielong learning.So now, while I work on getting MITto establish the new InterdisciplinaryProgram in Selling, perecting your salesskills is something that each o you hasto do on your own. Start with the mostintimidating part o selling—asking orthe order. Most o our reluctance to sellcomes rom our ear that i we ask orthe order, we will be told no.I there is one trick to selling, it is get-ting over the ear o rejection, and I cansuggest a strategy or doing it.Decide that you are going to sell some-thing today. Start with something simple,like selling the idea o going to a partic-ular restaurant or lunch. Find a coupleo people with whom you would like tohave lunch and ask them to go with youto this restaurant. Then orce yoursel tostop talking so you can listen to the an-swer. I they say yes, you can move on tomore challenging sales situations.But what i your worst ears are real-ized, and your associates say no? This isit, the moment o truth. Smile and justask why. Listen to the objections and tryto deal with them. The way to overcomethat paralyzing ear o rejection—thewhole trick o selling—is to hear “no” asa learning opportunity. That’s the distil-lation o years o learning about selling.So, I urge you, sell something today.And i you are not convinced aboutwhy you should sell, I want to hearyour objections. Or i your rst ewselling attempts go awry, I want to hearhow. So, sell already.
RObeRT M. MeTcalfe
received bachelor’sdegrees rom MIT in electrical engineering andmanagement, and a PhD in computer sciencerom Harvard. He invented the Ethernet local-areanetworking system and ounded 3Com in SantaClara, CA, to commercialize it. This article wasdeveloped rom a lecture at the MIT Laboratoryor Computer Science.Reprinted with permission o
,published by MIT, Copyright © 1992.
ing is high ing, nd I rnd to rvin th suttiso its prti.”