Selling the Aga Cooker

Here’s Swedish inventor Gustaf Dalen:

Gustaf Dalen lost his sight in an explosion while developing his earlier invention, a porous substrate for storing gases, Agamassan. Forced to stay at home, Dalen discovered that his wife was exhausted by cooking. Although blind, he set out to develop a new stove that was capable of a range of culinary techniques and easy to use.

His invention was the AGA cooker:

In the 1920s these were sold, door to door, in the UK.  And the greatest AGA cooker salesman of all was David Ogilvy:

His success at this marked him out to his employer, who asked him to write an instruction manual, The Theory and Practice of Selling the AGA cooker, for the other salesmen. Thirty years later, Fortune magazine editors called it the finest sales instruction manual ever written.

I went looking for this manual, and found it at Patrick Lannigan’s blog.  I make sure to link because Patrick Lannigan reports that “I’d have to say my number one obsession is playing with Google rankings.”  I wish him well.

Anyway, Ogilvy has some good writing and interesting advice:

Salesmen are only too often unpopular people in Aga-worthy houses.. Show straight away that you are not of the so-called canvasser variety. Never bully, get into an argument, show resentment, or lose your temper. Do not talk about “your husband” – “Mr. Smith” is less impertinent.

Never talk down or show superior knowledge. Never appeal to a prospect’s pity because the more prosperous you appear the more she is likely to be impressed with you and to believe in you and your Aga.

The worst fault a salesman can commit is to be a bore. Foster any attempt to talk about other things; the longer you stay the better you get to know the prospect, and the more you will be trusted. Pretend to be vastly interested in any subject the prospect shows an interest in. The more she talks the better, and if you can make her laugh you are several points up. If she argues a lot, do not give the impression of knowing all the answers by heart and always being one up on her. She will think you are too smart by half, and mistrust your integrity. Find out as soon as possible in the conversation how much she already knows about Aga; it will give you the correct angle of approach. Perhaps the most important thing of all is to avoid standardisation in your sales talk. If you find yourself on fine day saying the same things to a bishop and a trapezist, you are done for.

When the prospect tries to bring the interview to a close, go gracefully. It can only hurt to be kicked out. Learn to recognise a really valid reason for the prospect being unable to order (there are mighty few such reasons). With these reservations you cannot be too tenacious or too persevering. The good salesman combines the tenacity of a bull dog with the manners of a spaniel. If you have any charm, ooze it.

The more prospects you talk to, the more sales you expose yourself to, the more orders you will get. But never mistake the quantity of calls for quality of salesmanship.

Later, in the “Attack” section:

Learn to recognise vegetarians on sight. It is painful indeed to gush over roasting and grilling to a drooping face which has not enjoyed the pleasures of a beefsteak for years.

From the section “Wise-cracking”:

The longer you talk to a prospect, the better, and you will not do this if you’re a bore. Pepper your talk with anecdote and jokes. Accumulate a repertoire of illustration. Above all, laugh till you cry every time the prospect makes the joke about the Aga Khan. A deadly serious demonstration is bound to fail. If you can’t make a lady laugh, you certainly cannot maker buy.

David Ogilvy might be better than Mystery.

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