The Cutco Knife Story, or how to cut people who won’t sell

When my son Garrison was in college he had a hard time finding summer work, so he got a job selling Cutco knives.  If you aren’t familiar with the Cutco brand, go look them up.  They make the best knife you ever used.  They’re made in America (factory in Olean, NY), they cut beautifully, they come with a lifetime guarantee and free sharpening service.  Cutco knives are always sold directly to the customer by salespeople who go door to door, like Avon.

When Garrison signed on, he was given sales training by Vector Marketing, who has the exclusive marketing rights.  He learned how to be a professional salesman.  He put together a list of names, he asked those names for other names.  He made phone calls and booked appointments in the home to show the knives. He learned how to do a product demonstration and what questions to ask the prospect about how they use knives.  He learned how to close the sale.  The Vector people told him he didn’t have to do anything fancy or wow the customer with a brilliant presentation.  “Just follow the process,” they told him “and you will sell knives.”

So that’s what he did.  He scrupulously followed the process and he made a lot of money. As someone who trains people to sell, I have a lot of respect for Cutco. Today Garrison owns a mortgage brokerage and is one of the best salespeople I know. I am very proud of him.

Fast forward to this past summer. I ran a two-mile foot race against Billy Rodgers, four time winner of both the Boston and New York City Marathons.  While I was warming up for the race, I ran with a man about my age who is CEO of a big company here in Dallas.  He asked me what I do for a living and I told him.

He said, “I’ve hired a lot of salespeople over my career, and the one thing I look for is someone who has a process, a plan.  I don’t get fooled by a smooth-talking person. I want to hear how he goes about his business.  I guess I learned to think that way because when I got out of college, I couldn’t find a salaried job, so I sold Cutco knives.  You ever hear of them?”  I told him that I had indeed heard of them and related the story of my son.

(By the way, Billy Rodgers later beat me in the race by 30 seconds but that’s neither here nor there.)

Later I got thinking about that CEO’s comments and how he focused on process over communication skill.  Time after time I see that the best salespeople are the ones who have a process. They know how many leads they have to get and how many phone calls they have to make.  They know how many appointments they must get from those phone calls in order to meet their sales goals.  They are the winners.

I often do workshops in prospecting and we have the learners make live calls to prospects right from the workshop. I can tell in ten minutes which of the participants aren’t meeting their goals and why they’re in my workshop.  They really don’t want to pick up the phone.  They have no plan or process and they don’t like to sell.

Maybe you have people working for you who are like that.  My advice is that if you can’t coach them to succeed,  take a tip from Cutco and cut them.

Think Like Your Customer!