My Blunt Conversation with a Young Black Salesman

by S.A. Prince

Last weekend my best friend got married in Chicago. It was an amazing ceremony, the food was great, his lovely bride was beautiful, and of course, we all cried. It was one of the best experiences I have ever had. Shout out to him for “jumping the broom.”

The day before the wedding, my friend bought us all tickets to the Cubs game. Yes! Love the Cubs. I have been a fan since the Sammy Sosa, Mark Grace, Kerry Wood days. That may mean something to some of you, but for most, probably not. Anyways, the game was great…even though the Cubs lost, but something interesting happened as we walked out of Wrigley Field.

There were three kids walking around trying to solicit people’s patronage. There’s nothing weird about that, right? People are always trying to sell you something at sports events. These three kids however were not successful at all. Everybody kept turning them away.

One of them came up to me and asked me to buy a candy bar. He said I could have three bars for $10, even though on each individual candy bar it read $1 per bar.

I paid the $10, not because I felt bad for them, but because I remember being them. And, well, it has been about a decade since I’ve been home to Chicago, and I hadn’t tasted a Fannie Mae candy bar for equally as long.

After I bought the candy bar, the kid came back over to me on three different occasions asking me if I wanted more. Here were his exact words, “You know…these racist White people aren’t going to buy anything from me. They just ignore me.”

That statement piqued my interest, and I decided to take a few minutes to talk to my young brother about what he said. What I told him is something that I didn’t learn until my early 20’s, and it’s important that every young Black man (and pretty much all children, boys and girls) needs to learn, because it is what keeps them out of corporate America.

Understand, there is a gap between Black America and corporate America. It is a HUGE gap. And this young Black man, like many other young Black men, are at a disadvantage because of what they do not know. This lack of knowledge is why there are very few Black people in a position of influence.

So, here’s some of the things I shared with the young man, but first I have to describe him…

He was black. He had on a t-shirt and jeans. Neither were clean, and his pants were sagging. He had braids. His other friends had dreadlocks. He was aggressive in his approach. He broke the proximity bubble by walking right up to people. He spoke in slang. The candy bars were in a brown box, and they were partially melted.

“People are not racist.”

Of course people are racist, but as a salesman, especially as a Black one, you’ve already lost the sale if you go in with the mindset that people are racist. Here’s what I’ve learned over the years. Racism and prejudice are base choices. There are things that trump racism and prejudice.

Dale Carnegie once said in his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, that you need to “Arouse in a person an eager want.” So, even if a person is prejudice, you can talk to them in a way that will get them to want what you have. Desire rules the day. You need to look no further than the history of basketball to prove this point. All-white teams started to pick up Black players when they realized that Black players could help them win games.

“Cut your hair, and wear a shirt, slacks, dress shoes and a tie.”

Appearance is everything. Models are models for a reason. Even the plus size models are absolutely gorgeous. Their appearance sends a message to us, the consumer. You aren’t going to be seeing any culturally unattractive (I say culturally because different cultures are attracted to different things) models unless they also have a compelling story. That’s the brass tax.

Therefore, as a Black man who’s trying to sell something, you have to look respectable and approachable. When you talk to people, you don’t want them to feel threatened. People don’t buy from people they are put-off by. You have to dress for the moment.

“You don’t ever walk up on people.”

You make a sign. You have a table. You attract people to you. The minute you walk up on somebody, you are operating from a position of weakness. You want to use bait and attract them to you. If you do approach somebody, you only approach them halfway. Make them walk the rest of the way to you. If they walk toward you, then you know that they are partially invested in what you’re selling.

Why is this important?

You never want to break a person’s comfort bubble. That’s how you lose a sale. There are four different comfort zones: Intimate, Personal, Social, and Public. You want to have your stand in the public zone (about 12 feet away). You want to begin talking to them in the social zone (4 feet), let them walk into your personal zone (2 to 4 feet), and close the deal in the intimate zone (touching to 2 feet).

“Why is your candy melted?”

You don’t walk around with a box full of melted candy bars. You buy a cooler, a zip-lock bag, a pack of napkins, and some ice. Put the candy bars in a zip-lock back. Put the zip-lock in the cooler with the ice. This way when you make a sale, you can give a person a candy bar and a napkin.

It “is” okay to carry only one candy bar. This is when you are approaching people to sale them. Smile and wave the one candy bar. Let the candy bar sell itself. You can also take a couple candy bars and hand out samples. Samples are a way of approaching a person that doesn’t raise concern, and it also keeps you in a position of power.

The quality of your product is an extension of your service. Your product, service, and appearance will be how people judge you. Make sure that your product and your business are well represented.

“Speak English, not slang.”

Do not ever speak broken English. There is no excuse for it. Everything is for naught if you can’t speak properly. You are Black. You are American. There is no reason for you to be speaking broken English. If you want to sell English-speaking people, then you need to be able to speak the language.

You also need to speak with confidence. If you aren’t confident, then why would a potential buyer be confident in what you have to sell? Also, you don’t want to talk too much. Let the candy sell itself. You don’t sell it. You just plant the idea in your potential buyer’s head. Never forget this statement. “If you’re talking, then you’re not selling.”

So, you need to come up with about five ice-breaking statements that will help you out.

  1. “Milk chocolate candy. One dollar.” (Wave candy bar)
  2. (Wave candy bar and smile) “Have something sweet before the game.”
  3. (Say this to man) “Get your lady something sweet for the drive home.” (Hold out candy bar to woman so she can look at it. It’s even better if she grabs it)
  4. “Cheer up man. The Cubs will get them next time.” (Hand the candy bar over, and then say…) “Only a dollar.”

A lot of these statements take time to develop, but with the right attitude and behavior, you’ll figure out the right things to say.

I said a few other things to him. But, these are the important ones. Feel free to share the concepts with your children. They are our future, and if we want them to be successful, then we have to begin to teach them how to navigate the world.



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