First and foremost I would like to say that I am unlike 99% of the students that get recruited to sell books during the summer. I will also say that my experiences are like 99% of the people who sell books for Southwestern.
While applying for summer internships a family friend mentioned to my father about his experience with the Southwestern Company. I Googled the company and was met with a barrage of positive and negative information. I visited their website and gave them a call. A representative interviewed me and put me through an extensive webinar information session. I found out that the company recruited college students to ‘run their own company’ for 12 weeks during the summer by selling educational books and software door to door in some random location in the United States.
Being someone who was transformed through the power of personal development and books I was eager to seek out the most challenging experience I could find. I was already selected to work as an intern in Washington DC working in the department of defense, and as the administrative department for a highly successful contracting company in Georgia. Being a risk taker and spontaneous, I decided to try my luck at this Southwestern gig. After all, their alumni consist of some of the most successful people in our country.
While most students are trained and prepared for the summer by their student managers in the months leading up to their summer, I had none of that. I only spoke a handful of times with a district sales manager that I was assigned with.
Sales school. I was highly encouraged to be at sales school as soon as possible. So immediately following a semester of school and a hell week of finals that finished on Thursday, I boarded a plane for home on Friday, bought a Honda civic on Saturday, drove 13 hours to Nashville TN on Saturday night, arrived Sunday morning, slept 2 hours, and began a week of 17 hour days in sales school. What was sales school like? The most insane thing I’ve ever been exposed to. People running around practicing their sales talk (8 pages that needed to be memorized within a week) huge seminars with flashing lights and an emotionally charged crowd. We woke at 6:30am… and went to bed at 11:30pm.
Because I was signed up online I was assigned to a District Sales manager (DSM) whose organization attended the following week’s sales school. So I was placed with another organization and their leader (org leader). I was placed with a random person whom I was to place my whole trust into and commit to stick it out for the whole summer and do my best by being coachable and working hard, and in return he would always be there for me and always believe in me and never give up on me.
So anyway… by the end of sales school everyone was pretty much in these zones of positive mental attitudes and self talk. To say I thought it was a cult was an understatement. I called my father and explained that I was sorta scared. That these people are like robots… like the Scientologists you see on TV. Preprogrammed to be on a wavelength that you must meet them on. My father, a highly successful military man, salesman, businessman, and entrepreneur encouraged me to stick it out. He understood where they were and explained they were indeed trying to program me because sales is the hardest thing you’ll ever do if you aren’t mentally prepared. I knew and expected this and continued on.
After sales school we drove 15 hours to a remote location. I started off by knocking on doors to find a home for my fellow book man. (By the way, I really didn’t know anyone. I was swept up immediately and expected to somehow be on everyone’s level, be friends and connect with them and feel good about it).
I was sooooo nervous knocking on that first door. Sick to my stomach. What do I say? “*big smile* hi! My name is so and so and I’m with a summer internship from the southwestern company! *smile* I was wondering if you had an extra room you’d be willing to rent out while I work here for the summer?” Their responses were often so confused… and usually slammed the door before I knew what was coming. REJECTION. Continue on. I remember thinking… this is all part of the job… what the hell am I doing? Never mind that… go to the next door!
So anyway… eventually we found families for these students to live with and soon enough I began selling in my territory. My territory was at least an hour from my HQ (headquarters… or host family). This was when gas was $4.50 a gallon. I expressed this concern regularly to my fellow book man (who was acting as my student manager) and my org leader… but they played it down and told me to work harder and make the money to offset it. In one summer… i put 26,000 miles on my new car. I spent anywhere from $2500-3000 in gas. My fellow book men had territories that were 5-30 min away.
It was also located in one of the hottest and humid parts of the country by far… with daily heat indexes exceeding 100 deg. My territory had been worked really hard in previous years because every 10th prospect already owned the books. 90% of the Families worked at chemical refineries or they fished. It was good because in these small towns… everyone knew everyone. This meant… When one person bought… I could use their name and get referrals. The downside was that if something went wrong, or someone misread me or was plain paranoid… everyone knew. This was sometimes tough.
Anyway… Every morning I woke up at 6:29 (eventually, because I was loosing so much weight from running around and not eating I began waking up at 5:30am to work out at a local gym). We met up every morning at our breakfast spot… chipper and happy… ate breakfast… read a chapter from “The Greatest Salesman” by Og Mandino. Before we all left to go to our territories we would do executive exercises… screaming, yelling, jumping, chanting… to pump us up for a day of rejection… to instill positive energy into us that would jumpstart our day.
I wanted to connect with someone. Anyone. Every day I would work from 8:30am to 9:30pm. All alone… 13 hours a day… every day… 80 hours a week. All alone… hot… humid…. rejection…rejection…rejection… then a customer…followed by rejection…rejection…rejection. No matter what I did or didn’t do. There was no method to the madness. My room mates would get 10 customers a day… I would get anywhere from 0-6. In hindsight I should have kept the ‘schedule’ and worked through it. Instead I let myself think too much about how I can improve. That was a mistake… to do well you can’t think. You need to be a machine… churns through houses… get pre-approach… nevermind if people didn’t like you… see more people… more more more. I just felt lost.
No one likes rejection but I’ll say by the end of the summer… it didn’t even matter anymore. I was immune to rejection. The only thing that I struggled with towards the end of the summer is my physical, mental and emotional state of being alone, overworked, and having a poor attitude about it.
Initially I felt bad for trying to sell to people. People in trailers… do they need $500 worth of books? Are they going to use them? Half the time I thought hell yea they need these books, they live in a trailer and barely read! The other time I thought… they will never read them… this is a waste their money. I will say the product is great. The books are fantastic… well written, easy to use, and comprehensive. They cover everything grades K- 12. I realized that its not my decision to decide if they will use them or not. My job is to simply show them the real value in these books, and if they would like to buy them, great… if not… next house. Most people don’t know how to make decisions… my job as a salesman is to show them the value of the books, and help them make that decision.
At the end up the summer I ended up losing about… $500 from my own money. I made about $6000. $2500 less than average.
About two months into it… I felt so guilty for not doing better and producing the results I longed for that I began visiting the university and local libraries to read. That made me feel better. I actually felt like I was investing in myself and making gains. I read about 15 books the final month…everything from Goethe to Hume to Orwell to James etc. When I felt like crap I’d go to the library and read for a few hours… one day after two zero days, even though I stayed on schedule and worked 13 hours each day…I read for 12 hours straight…open till close. That made me feel better about myself.
Let me just say. I believe in this company. I believe in everything they do. I’ve read all the personal development books… and they changed my life prior to even joining with Southwestern. I believe that I was underprepared and that’s it.
Why was my summer so rough? A few things… I thought too much. My attitude was skeptical…I didn’t believe in myself…I was fearful…. and I didn’t stay on schedule (or develop the habit of going to the next door no matter what and getting 30 contacts and 10 demos) I will return this summer and sell again… this time with a team. I will prepare them and prepare myself.
This year I will again I will pass up an internship opportunity. I was nominated from a competitive applicant pool to work on Wall Street with one of the largest financial service companies in the world. I believe that The Southwestern Company practices what it preaches.
I believe we are our thoughts. Our reality is our perception’s being realized. Change your perceptions, change your reality. I will enter this year with experience, knowledge, and the pain of remembering where I never want to be again. I am going to succeed because I will work and stay committed. The only people who succeed in life are those who set goals and never give up until they are accomplished. Persistence and determination are alone omnipotent.
I will say that while sales is not for everyone…. everyone can do sales. Some may pick it up faster than others, but everyone has the potential. It may be worth more pain and sacrifice than many are willing to give… up the rewards are endless. You cannot cut corners to be successful. You must stick to the principles of success and learn how to become more efficient and effective at employing them.
I want to mention that the people who work with Southwestern are selfless.
My DSM got paid for my meager returns this summer. The organization I was with, the people who helped and coached me, who spent hours on the phone and conferencing with me to help figure out how to help me improve….. They saw no profits for helping me. I love these people. They are special and I will never forget them… even though I’ve resented and hated and questioned their intentions. I know they are successful, and will be successful.
Everyone in the Southwestern Company means best. It is a wonderful company committed to teaching how to help people help themselves. They are a business like any other… but they realize that the more you help others… the more you help yourself. Their motto is “We build great people, and these people build a great company”. And they mean it.
The people who are successful with southwestern go on to be great in life. I have met highly successful Doctors, lawyers, politicians, entrepreneurs, salesmen, school teachers, businessmen, investors, professors, athletes, dentists, authors, CEO’s, etc etc etc that learned how to be successful from the tools they learned at the Southwestern Company.
Never Give Up!