January 13, 2015

The Five Qualities To Being A Great Salesman Like Walt Disney

In case some of you hadn't noticed, I'm quite a fan of Disney--whether the enterprise (though I may not always like everything they produced), and Mr. Walt Disney himself (or at least what I've heard of him).

So I decided to find out more about the man behind the mouse and started reading How to Be Like Walt: Capturing the Disney Magic Every Day of Your Life. I've so far really enjoyed reading about Mr. Disney in this book and learned about the man and how he made his dreams come true despite failure and opposition.

One of the tips to his success, therefore, was his amazing ability to sell anyone on one of his big ideas, no matter how crazy it may have sounded, and I thought I'd share the five keys to being a great salesman with you which are explained in (much) greater detail in the book:

  1. Honesty - A great salesman lives on repeat business, and that implies trust. If a customer doesn't trust you, s/he will never do business with you again (and probably have others avoid you via word-of-mouth). [Walt] didn't use glib talk or flashy sales methods. He simply sold his ideas with honesty and sincerity.
  2. Enthusiasm - Enthusiasm is contagious. That is how Walt managed to get Atlantic Richfield Company (later to be known as Arco) to sponsor his Autopia attraction in Tomorrowland for $250,000 or $25,000 for ten years, with the first check written to him on that day. The moment Walt left with everything he'd asked for, one of the execs at the company asked the others what they had just bought!
  3. Confidence - Be confident in your idea or project, no matter how bad things may seem. Lillian Disney [his wife] once said, "Walt never thought he was beaten at anything--ever." No matter how bad things seemed, Walt believed in himself, his product, his future. Not only that, but he also gave confidence to those people who partnered with them, making them believe they could achieve the impossible as well, and thereby motivating them to push themselves just as hard and achieve greater heights of accomplishment. Confidence is not a feeling, it's an attitude choice. Even if you don't feel confidence, you can still adopt an attitude of confidence. Even if you're uncomfortable. In fact, you should step outside your comfort zone to make things happen.
  4. Courage - Don't fear rejection. Psychological studies show that high-achieving, successful people are not overly concerned about what others think. This was true of Walt Disney. He never catered to his critics. He never worried about rejection. He kept selling his dreams. He focused on his projects and ideas instead of on himself, he didn't have the luxury to think of himself! 
  5. Persistence - Nothing that is worthwhile is easy. Even Walt had plenty of downs (especially at the begin of his career where he saw one of his companies go bankrupt, his cash run dry, his team leave him and his characters get stolen from him!), yet he never gave up! And that is why the Disney empire is still among us to this day.

I hope you found these points as interesting as I did and, most importantly, inspiring! So go out there, dare to dream big and fight for your dreams to come true!

Walt Disney worked hard and sold his ideas from the earliest
days of his career. He had no MBA, not even a college degree. But 
Walt had the right idea and the right spirit, and he was willing 
to go out and sell his ideas. He was a world-class salesman.
~Peter Clark, retired Disney Executive


  1. It is too late (1:20 a.m.) to write a reasoned response to the five key issues you mention. I more or less agree with the last four. Certainly with enthusiasm, confidence, and persistence. These are givens. Courage - yes, maybe mostly true. Although - maybe only in my view - courage implies the ability to go out of the comfort zone, which not many successful salesmen do. But I may just be nasty here, because i do not like salesmen.

    I have the most problems with honesty. I just do not believe master salesmen (such as Mr. Disney indeed was) are honest. They just think they are honest. And here lies the main difference between the definitions you quote and my take on it. Successful salespeople always do believe they are honest, but they are usually not, if one looks at their motivations and actions from an outside point. Most people (myself included, I am as easy to cheat as any next person) are swayed by the master salesperson self-belief of utter honesty.

    Of course, my argument (which reminds splitting a hair lengthwise into four parts) relies on the definition of honesty. If I honestly believe my method of cleaning coffee stains is the best one, but there objectively exist better methods about which I do not know, then I will not say that I am honest. I think I am - and this is the only thing that usually counts for my customers. The actual truth does not.

    I am sorry for the 1:30 a.m. tripe.

    1. Please don't apologize, I always enjoy reading your comments and arguments!

      I think what you say is true with a lot of sales people, but this might work for one sale only, until you realize that the product or service they sold you wasn't that great. Then you wouldn't want to go back to that sales person again, and s/he will have lost your repeat business. For truly great sales people, repeat business is really important. Hence where the honesty goes.

      Of course, you're bringing up the whole relativity argument as well. So I'll counter you by saying that, yes, perhaps there is something better out there to clean coffee stains, but in your own world, there isn't. And what you know works really well, and that's what people believe. Because you know your product/method works brilliantly (even though it may not be the "perfect" solution), and that's how you depict it to others, and they follow your advice and it works! And that's all those people really care about--not what the absolute truth in the universe is :)

  2. When I read what I wrote and also your response, I actually agree more with you than with some of what I wrote at night. However, it applies only to "plain" salespeople, not to visionary salesmen such as Walt Disney or Bill Gates. (At least Walt Disney was also sort of an artist; Bill Gates is less of a programmer than Disney was an artist, but at least a little bit). When I see a plain salesperson who thinks (s)he is honest, and who is enthusiastic, confident, persistent, and courageous, I know that (s)he is out there to sell me something, and then my defences go up. I am more skeptical than most people. I just *on principle* do not believe what most people believe. In fact, when a bestseller book or movie appears that is praised by millions, I *know* it must be crap. Of course, sometimes I am wrong, but that's my nature. Calling it skepticism is generous; a better term would be 'elitism'. I can't do anything about it, other than be aware of it.

    1. Well, it's your money they want, so it's very normal to be elitist about where you choose to sped it :) Although I don't necessarily agree with you with regards to bestsellers--though they're not all my genre, I do believe they usually provide rather good entertainment and, in some cases, are truly brilliant (I don't think I'm ever going to get tired of the Harry Potter books, for instance, but I know you may disagree on me with that one). However, it's also true that I've heard of certain tactics being used to push a certain book out there so it hits the bestseller lists, though without it deserving the spot other than great (underhanded?) promotions, but that's all hearsay (at least I've never seen it done myself).

      As for Disney, one of the artists in the book I'm reading said he was actually quite a terrible artist, but he was great at giving direction and vision :) Perhaps the greatest artist-salesperson of our time would be Picasso then, for he was amazing at both.

  3. I am currently reading "Being Mortal", a good book by the famous surgeon/writer, Atul Gawande. Totally independent of the main topic of the book, which is dying, he provides a very cool explanation what is the secret of a good salesman (he writes about one of his acquaintances, who could sell anyone any idea). Well, according to Mr. Gawande, the secret is that the best salesman is not afraid of rejection. I like that. This could kind of fit under your item "Courage", but not quite. I would call it "shamelessness".

    1. Yes, that's a very important factor. But I'm not sure whether I'd call it shamelessness. I think shamelessness would be like trying to force people to buy your product no matter what, never taking 'no' as an answer (which could also lead to lots of sales, but possibly a lot of scared people who'd run away at the sight of you). But here, not being afraid of rejection to me means that you know you're going to get rejected, many, many times, but you don't let that be an excuse to get out of selling. You till go out there and do your job, and though you get lots of 'no's, you don't let that affect you and you still go a-knocking on doors until you get other people you finally say yes.

      Well, that's my interpretation anyway :)