In one of my sales training workshops, I ask my clients to list the most difficult products and services to sell.  

Often, those who comment refer to their own product as the most difficult product to sell. Admittedly, after hearing of some of their answers, I tend to agree with them.  I silently express thanks that I sell training; after all, I could be selling something really difficult. I then conclude the thought by asking the question, “Is the product impossible to sell or just difficult?”

Several years ago I was introduced to the story of Bill Porter in a segment of the popular news program 20/20.  He was a door-to-door sales person working in Portland, Oregon. After hearing Bill’s story, I made a firm resolve in my life that nothing was impossible and that I would forever be grateful for my life with all it’s unique challenges and obstacles.

When introducing the segment on Bill Porter’s life, ABC’s 20/20 host Hugh Downs said, “This is a simple story about a simply remarkable man.”  Born with cerebral palsy, Bill was told by many that he was unemployable. With the continual support of a dedicated mother and the indomitable spirit that was his trademark, Bill Porter supported himself for decades selling household products door to door for the Watkins Company.  While the people on his route didn’t always need what Bill was selling, they grew to understand that we all need people like Bill Porter in the world.

In her book, Ten Things I Learned From Bill Porter, Shelly Brady, who worked with Bill for more than twenty years, writes about ten specific character traits that guided Bill Porter’s selling career.  These ten characteristics should become a foundation for every salesperson. With all the physical advantages we enjoy in our sales careers, applying these ten characteristics should allow each of us to achieve greater success than we ever imagined possible.  Here they are with my own annotation.

  1. Follow your passion.  When you follow your passion you can’t help but be successful.  Passion is contagious! Develop a passion for selling, for your products, for your company and for your customers.  Passion has the ability to overcome every challenge.

  2. It doesn’t matter how you got here, only where you are going.  We must have direction in our lives to achieve the full expectation of our careers.  We all need to spend more time focused on achieving success and less time talking about and thinking about it.

  3. Mother knows best.  How can you argue with that principle?  When you do the right things (our mothers would never lead us astray), you get the right results.

  4. Persistence pays off.  While recounting some of his more than five hundred regular customers, Bill Porter identified thirty-four of them that told him after his first visit to never come back.  

  5. Don’t take no for an answer.  An astonishing 84% of all people who eventually say “yes” to a sale said “no” before they said yes.

  6. Know your limits and reach beyond them.  The problem with most salespeople is they have no idea what they are capable of achieving.  They have never reached far enough to know the power that lies within.

  7. Be a team player.  There are two meanings to this simple principle.  The first, no salesperson can be successful alone.  It is through the support of every employee of the company that allows you to have the success you enjoy.  Second, be part of the buyer’s team. Become a partner with the buyer to help them achieve their objectives.

  8. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.  When you find those things that are successful in your sales process, apply them consistently.  Write down your success stories so you will remember them and make them a regular pattern in your life.

  9. There are no obstacles.  The human character, and will to achieve, demonstrate a pattern throughout history that nothing is impossible.  When we focus on a thing that seems impossible, we soon discover a way to make it possible. Selling is difficult but it is not impossible.

  10. Live your values.  We all need to sell within ourselves.  We can’t be someone else and expect to be our best.  To truly be your very best at selling, you must have integrity in all you do and say.

Bill Porter graduated from high school at the age of 22, having to first go through a special school for the disabled, even though his disabilities were physical, not mental.  Rather than receive disability assistance from the state, he sought a job and eventually was hired by the Watkins Company as a 100% commissioned salesman. He took on a territory no one wanted in order to close the deal.  Bill went on to become the top producing salesman at the Watkins Company in Portland, then the Northwest and ultimately for the entire United States. If Bill Porter could achieve that level of performance with all of his physical challenges, what might each of us accomplish in our sales careers if we consistently apply the same ten principles he practiced?