How to be a traveling salesman: Six closing lessons from Stu Larkin

Few people have what it takes to succeed as a traveling salesman. Stu Larkin is one of them.

As a traveling bronzed baby shoe salesman, Stu has been criss-crossing the country for over 30 years, and claims to close nine out of 10 sales when meeting with prospects.

With so many salespeople hiding behind their desks these days, what can we learn from a guy who’s still out there carrying a bag? I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Stu, and I asked him to share his secrets to closing so many sales.


(‘The Bronzer’ — a 2012 documentary short about Stu Larkin, courtesy of The Documentary Network)

1. Be confident

“First and foremost, be confident in yourself,” Stu says. “Even if you didn’t close that sale, or you didn’t write that order, you must immediately analyze what you did wrong and what you could have done differently. Then you must institute the change.”

2. Learn the craft

As Stu puts it, “Selling is a profession. You don’t just declare that you’re going to now be a salesman. The way to become a professional is to constantly read books about prospecting, about your client, about closing the sale, about personality, about how you treat people. That’s what you need to do if you want to become a true professional salesman.”

Related: 14 Things Successful Sales Reps Do Every Week

3. Pre-qualify before scheduling

You can’t close a prospect who isn’t pre-qualified,” Stu says. He’s seen many salespeople who just want to get the appointment. Since he doesn’t want to waste his time or theirs, he makes sure to qualify potential customers before he’ll meet with them.

  • Stu starts by asking, “Is this something that you really want?” If they say anything besides a resounding “Yes,” he disqualifies them. He doesn’t want to meet with someone who isn’t sure they want what he has to offer.
  • Next, he confirms that they want to proceed now. He doesn’t meet with anyone who is simply collecting information for the future. As Stu puts it, “I’m not gonna allow you to be a tire-kicker on my watch.”
  • After that, Stu will say, “Let me ask you this, and please don’t misunderstand me: Are you the person that could make the decision on this day?” If it turns out more than one person is involved, he won’t meet with one without the other, so he can be able to close the deal in one appointment.
  • To confirm that his prospect will be able to pay, he asks what method they plan to use by saying, “And, by the way, how would you take care of that? Do you use Visa? Do you use MasterCard? Would you use a check?” If they say “Oh, no, I pay cash.” Stu responds, “Oh, really? You know you’re gonna need about $100 tomorrow. Is that okay?” If they respond positively, great.

“Why would I go to this person who says, ‘I don’t have any checkbook. I don’t have a credit card. And I don’t have any cash.’ What am I doing there? I didn’t qualify them.” They must be able to pay him, to qualify for an appointment.

When they qualify in all four ways, he schedules an appointment.

4. Listen to your prospect

Whenever you ask your prospect a question, it’s important to be quiet and wait for the answer. Don’t answer your own questions. You have to wait for the answer. According to Stu, “You have to learn how to shut your mouth, and listen to your customer. Listen to the needs that they have and then fulfill those needs.”

There is no sale when you’re not asking the right questions,” Stu says. He advises that you should ask, “What can I do with my product, my features, my benefits, and how they relate to you. If you fill those needs, the order becomes your order when you listen and solve the problem.”

Related: 18 Ways to Nail Your Next Sales Presentation

5. Ask for the order…and ask again

According to Stu, “anyone can make a presentation and talk about a product.” All too often he said he’s “seen people who had tremendous product knowledge, but kept talking themselves out of the sale.” It’s important to talk about the features and benefits of the product, but you must remember to ask for the order.

As Stu says, “You have to ask a question, and once you ask that question, your key is to shut your mouth and wait for the answer. This is paramount, especially when it comes to closing. The first person that talks, loses.”

That answer is going to tell you how to proceed from there. If you get the answer you want, proceed with the order. If not, you’ll have to deal with the objection head-on. “As a good salesman, you must take that objection and fly with it and turn it into the order,” Stu says. “Take that objection, handle the objection, and then it’s back to closing the sale again.”

6. Get to a win-win

Once you get to the final objection, most prospects are willing to tell you what needs to happen for them to buy. In Stu’s experience, the final objection, “always comes down to price.” He finds out what would need to change to make the sale, then offers them other options to get to a win-win and close the sale.

The goal is to get the sale that day by negotiating, not by dropping the price. Stu says, “a lot of salesmen think that the only way to get the order is by always lowering the price. But what they really need to do is explain the value. That’s why I [close] nine out of 10. I show value.”

If you’re interested in contacting Stu to get bronzed baby shoes, you can reach him at BronzeBabyShoeCompany@gmail.com.

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