I was told that if I wanted to go to Boy Scout summer camp in Northern Michigan, I would have to raise the $400 needed to pay for the camp and the transportation. My parents did not have enough money to pay for summer camp, neither did the other parents in our Detroit neighborhood. Times were tough in 1969. Money was tight. You wanted something extra, you found a way to pay for it yourself; one of my very first lessons as a junior entrepreneur.
Solution! The Boy Scout leadership in Michigan found a way to help the lower middle class kids earn their way to camp. They were approached by Tom Wat enterprises. Tom Wat provided a large suitcase-like cardboard box filled with things like screw drivers, mini flashlights, and other handy dandy household items that everyone in the neighborhood would need.
I was so impressed! There were at least 25 useful items in the box, and everything sold for $10 each. I don’t remember exactly how much Tom Wat kept, 50 to 75% I think, but each $10 sale put a couple dollars towards my Summer Camp expenses. I hit the streets immediately after I got my own parents to cough up $40 for several different “useful” tools. (They did not mind throwing in $40, since it saved them from finding $400 to make me happy.)
I was exhilarated! I was going to Summer Camp!
By the second weekend I was racking up the commissions and I was feeling confident of reaching my goal. I knew I was definitely going to make enough sales to got to Summer Camp.
Should be the end of the story right there. No big deal. Right?
The Boy Scout Oath of Honor: “On my honor, I will do my best, to do my duty, to God and my country, and to obey the Scout Law, to help other people at all times, to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” (I added the emphasis to the last two words.)
In my mind, at 8 years of age, I took that Oath very seriously. I swore to uphold that Oath. I understood that Morally Straight meant being honest and doing the right thing for people. I really tried to be Morally Straight! Every day. I wasn’t perfect. I have 2 sisters and 2 brothers and that alone is enough justification to knock you off the “morally straight” path occasionally.
Imagine how I felt when I found that the $10 “household items” were really 10 penny trinkets and only lasted a day or two before they broke and didn’t work at all.
I knew one thing. I was not being morally straight. I violated my Oath. Yes… I was justified… I was doing the program that the Boy Scouts told us to do and the money was going to pay for summer camp.
My parents tried to console me. I tried to give them their money back. After all, my dad worked 70 hours a week to keep us fed and clothed and protected. I didn’t want him to waste his money on objects that were worthless!
I collected thousands of dollars, $10 at a time, for worthless objects so I could go to Camp. Tom Wat made millions off the Boy Scouts. They took most of the money. Yes, they provided a game for young boys to create a business to make money for summer camp. Yes, I did go to summer camp because of Tom Wat. Yes, I mostly “forgot” about HOW I raised the money for summer camp.
Deep in my soul. I knew I broke that Oath of Honor. I knew that Salesmen were terrible liars! Of course, because I was a “Salesman” for Tom Wat and I was a terrible liar! I told my family and neighbors to buy these cool items for $10, and in exchange for a great household gadget, I was also going to raise enough money to go to summer camp.
I should have just asked each neighbor and family member to donate $10 to send me to camp. Their exchange would have been the satisfaction of helping a local boy spend the summer learning more about the Oath of Honor and Leadership and other valuable characteristics for a future citizen.
When I went to the US Naval Academy at Annapolis 10 years later (1979) I was a cocky Varsity Athlete, Honor Roll Academic and Student Council President. At the Naval Academy we took the Oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Below is a comment on the Product and Code of Honor from a blog written by Jacqui Murray | March 26, 2010.
I graduated from the Naval Academy in 1983. I knew one thing for sure. A small percentage of people did not follow the Code of Honor. But most of us did. I also knew another thing for sure. I was going to be a great engineer and help people after I got out of the US Navy in 1988. I had to serve my 5 years of active duty as a Submarine Officer first, but what was 5 years compared to the rest of my life? Being under water for 90 days at a time gave me lots of time to read and think about life.
So. What does the Naval Academy’s Code of Honor and the Boy Scout Oath have to do with Sales? What the heck does this story have to do with anything pertinent to life on this planet???
Deep down, I knew I had to be a good engineer to make a decent living in society, because… I sure was NOT going to be a salesman! I knew salesmen were liars and sold people things that broke and were useless. My experience as an 8 year old salesman set the tone for my life.
One big problem I ran into in 1988 when I got out of the Navy: engineers were not being paid very much. Booz Allen and Hamilton hired me for $35,000 a year. My rent was $18,000 a year. This was terrible. I was learning a financial lesson the hard way. After 20 years the better engineers were making $70,000 a year. That was not good. How can you buy a decent house and drive a decent car and raise a few kids on $35-70,000 a year?
I knew a few salesmen who were making more money, but I also “knew” that I hated salesmen. Therefore I could never be a salesmen. Therefore I was stuck making a limited income.
How do you re-define a concept that you have proved to be true beyond a shadow of a doubt when you were an 8 year old?
I wanted to make a lot more money than an engineer makes.
Luckily, I ran into a friend who was making $2000 a week in door to door sales. He told me that I could double or triple my income if I learned how to sell. He also said that his product really helped people save money and it really worked. He explained the value and benefit of the product and it made sense to me, but I had this lingering feeling that he wasn’t being honest with me.
Finally, he convinced me to go out and try to sell. I had nothing to lose except one Saturday of my life. I already gave the Navy 5 years of Saturdays, what was one more?
It was a simple discount card program for a local retailer. The company had been selling the same product in the same neighborhoods for 15 years. People loved this product and were happy to see the salesmen come back every year to renew the product.
I followed the expert around the block for an hour and watched him make sale after sale. No gimmicks. No lies. No double-talk. No flim-flam. Just simple explanations, and he answered peoples’ questions honestly.
I decided at that moment that not ALL salesmen are liars. Only the ones who knowingly sell a bad product or don’t deliver the service they promised. I decided that I could sell and make a lot of money, but I would only sell products that I would willingly give to my own family and my 85 year old Grandmother. If the product or service was good enough for my family, then it would be good enough for the rest of the world.
That defining moment of my life was in the summer of 1989 in Washington DC. I have made millions of dollars in direct sales since that day. Not once have I sold a product or service that I was not proud to be associated with. I kept my word to myself. I kept my own Salesmen’s Code of Honor the past 26 years.
Code of Honor for Millionaire Sales Professionals
- Don’t lie to the customer, ever.
- Keep your promises to the customer, always.
- If it is impossible to keep your promise, be forthright with the customer and tell them why you can’t keep your promise and work out a solution that benefits the customer. Don’t make the customer call you to complain. Call the customer first and present a solution.
- Don’t sell anything to the customer you would not want to buy yourself.
- Don’t do anything to the customer you would not want someone to do to you.
- Treat the customer the way you want to be treated.
- Don’t lie to yourself, ever.
- If you find out the product that you are selling is a rip off, and you would not give it to your own family for free, then have the guts to get out of that company and go find a product or service you can be proud to represent.
- Learn everything you can about your product or service, so you can honestly answer the customer’s questions.
- Give the customer the right to walk away.
- Be willing to walk away from the customer.
- Don’t get angry at the customer, it’s inefficient and a waste of your time.
- Don’t degrade yourself, your product or your price. If you are selling a product or service that you are proud of, do not discount it.
- It’s okay to be a millionaire salesman. (salesman = woman or man who is a professional in the honorable career of sales.)
- If you want to be a millionaire salesman, follow this code of honor.
Obviously, I no longer hate salesmen.
I respect sales professionals who follow the Code of Honor.
I train salesmen to be professionals.
I wake up happy every day of the year because I’m surrounded by professionals who believe in the Code of Honor.
Take a look at your current product or service and be honest with yourself.
Good Luck and have your best week ever!