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Waking Attention and Holding Interest. (Article.)

ATTENTION AND INTEREST are forms of mental activity that cannot be separated. Interest always implies attention. Attention cannot be long maintained without interest, consequently, continuous attention would imply continuous interest. Interest once aroused signifies that attention has be properly secured.

Waking attention, as I shall use the term, is an art that I confess I am not master of although I have devoted forty-five years to the study of this fine art. For thirty-three years I have devoted the larger part of my time to awaken men and women from their Rip Van Winkle sleep. The majority of men and women are not far removed mentally from their remote animal ancestry. They are governed largely by their instincts, impulses, appetites, cravings, desires, innate tendencies, etc.

After once acquiring the habits of maintaining their existence, of 'getting a living,' they rarely do any thinking. Tuesday's work is a repetition of Monday's, Wednesday's a repetition of Tuesday's, and so on throughout the week, and so on throughout the year, throughout the human span of life. The man who thinks, is conscious of an aim, end, or purpose and is conscious of the means he employs to realize the aim, end or purpose. To think, is to work, and most human beings are lazy, consequently they will not think. Laziness is the colossal menace of all ages. Even the best thinkers use only a very small part of their brain power.

Very few brains have 'self starters.' There are degrees of laziness, consequently I overcame this inertia in a variety of ways. The normal man or woman, at the bottom of the ladder, doesn't care whether 'school keeps or not.' He is not conscious of having any mental assets. He can't set himself going. General Grant at thirty-nine may have been the laziest man in the United States. No one will venture to contradict this striking probability. Four years in the Civil War made him one of the greatest military men in the world. He was awakened by the force of responsibility. This responsibility was military in its character. Business responsibilities acted as a soporific on Grant. In the business world he was a fool.

Recognizing something of the U.S. Grant attitude in every man, I attempt to adapt my methods of 'waking attention and holding interest' to the patient in hand. My crudest method, and the one salesman will rarely use, involves coercion, involves surrounding the victim with circumstances, influences, inducements whereby he will 'sit up and notice.' It is taken for granted that you know that he ought to want your wares, that he needs your wares. In this age of soft pedagogy, soft political and religious philosophy, I this age of 'movie' salesmanship, that which savors of coercion; that which savors of drive and push is decidedly objectionable.

When I was a boy, my father used in haying an old-time wooden revolving horse rake. Some of his neighbors used a sulky wire-tooth rake. From time to time I urged my father to discard the wooden rake and purchase a sulky wire-tooth rake. I need not tell you that my interest centered in riding rather than in walking. I could get father's attention, but I couldn't hold his interest. One afternoon the wooden rake broke down utterly and he was obliged to borrow a sulky wire-tooth rake of his neighbor. At the close of the day, without anyone's advice, father went to town and purchased a sulky wire-tooth rake. He, too, enjoyed riding- after he was forced to ride.

Every American has one or more dominating instincts or impulses or springs of action or springs of conduct. There are human instincts that have no legitimate relation to salesmanship. By the way, I use the term salesmanship in a very broad sense. It may relate to the selling of merchandise, machinery, storks and bonds, patent medicines, life insurance, lightning rods, automobiles, fire extinguishers, fountain pens, medical prescriptions, efficiency prescriptions, sermons, lectures, advertising, etc.

A very common American dominating spring of conduct is every day all round vanity, not egotism, but the love of praise, the love of show, the desire to be classed as outshining the common herd, classed as the leading merchant, the leading banker, the leading citizen. You will 'waken' his attention by diplomatically recognizing his greatness. You have called upon him because he is recognized as being the leading merchant in his village or city, in fact you will prove it to his entire satisfaction. Having his attention you show him that leading men in other villages and cities purchase your wares; in fact, the short road that he must travel in order to maintain his leadership is through purchase of your wares.

Any attempt to disparage needlessly the opinions of this type of man will result disastrously. If you are not careful, the vain man will sidetrack you, even if you are a very skillful salesman. His own greatness is ever in the foreground. Having once secured his attention, holding his interest is easy.

The man whose dominating spring of action is money and more money, whose vanity is exhibited by wearing poor clothes and eating at cheap restaurants is awakened by the tactful salesman who is delighted to show him the royal road to the securing of larger sales, larger profits, more money. It isn't so much the quality of your wares as the 'will they sell' at a sure and ever-increasing profit. This type of man isn't always captivated by the beauty or the delicacy of the package. Costly advertising is not always the most profitable advertising. Sometimes there arises a sneaking suspicion that the consumer pays the bill. This type of customer is interested so long as he thinks he sees the possibility of securing large profits.

Another type of customer is the man who is too lazy to be vain, too lazy to dress, too lazy to handle merchandise that requires any strenuous effort on his part to dispose of. You command his attention, so fare as he is capable of attention, by your labor saving wares. Your wares sell themselves. You hold his interest by convincing him that your wares are always in demand, always called for; in fact, that your house has great difficulty in filling its orders.

I have called your attention to a number of types of customers. There are scores of others. Human nature is exceedingly complex. You find a new variation every day. It is your task to know your customer. Your customer like yourself, changes. He has recently met with a serious loss, his liver isn't functioning, or possibly he has had a family jar, or he has met with a political disappointment. Your usual method of awakening attention may prove a failure. I imagine that the successful salesman must be a merchandising physician.

The merchandising physician must know more than the healer of diseases, he must know how to heal himself. He must know both the science and the art of business. Because the salesman is shrewd enough to make one sale does not signify he will ever sell this particular customer another bill of goods. He must know the customer's needs. He must be ever ready to teach the customer the science of business, the fine art of selling in turn to his customers. Salesmanship, I fancy, involves the legitimate gratification of human wants and needs. Yes, it involves anticipating the legitimate wants and needs of the people.

Parenthetically, I wish to say a word about the study of human nature. I admit that up to the present hour there is no definitely formulated science of human nature. Possibly, there is no definitely formulated science of medicine. The science of human nature and the science of medicine are in the making. Every normal man and woman has some practical knowledge of human nature acquired through practical study.

If what I have said is true, the study of human nature is vital, is of supreme importance. Every successful salesman illustrates its importance even if he repudiates temperament, physiognomy, gesture, tone of voice, handshake, laughter and tears. The primary aim of man is for a better understanding of human nature. The careful study of Alexander Shand's 'Foundations of Character,' William MacDougall's 'Social Psychology' and Mantagazza's 'Physiognomy and Expression' would enlighten and inspire you.

One important art should be emphasized by salesmen, first, last and all of the time. I refer to the fine art of telling the truth. Mark Twan says, 'When in doubt, tell the truth.' I say, 'Tell the truth.'

I have in this brief paper revealed the fact that I am not a salesman. I am just a plain old-fashioned schoolteacher whose only apology for existing is that he loves to awaken men and women to an appreciation of their best possibilities.

My suggestions may save thousands of failures in salesmanship after the manner of the small boy's statement that 'pins had saved the lives of thousands of people by their not swallowing of them.'

FOR THE ABOVE MESSAGE TO OUR MEMBERS [National Salesman Training Association, Chicago, Ill.] we feel greatly indebted to the Honorable Woodbridge N. Ferris, a man who has educated over 50,000 men and women; has been twice Governor of Michigan, and who is recognized nationally as a great and practical educator and executive, a finished orator, a man of most sterling and virile qualities. In the Ferris Institute, or which Institution he is the President and Founde, he has been teaching character analysis and salesmanship for many years; therefore he is conversant with the many duties as well as the advanced point of view of the efficient salesman and sales manager.

Source: Woodbridge N. Ferris Bibligraphies File. Bentley Historical Library. Ann Arbor (Mich.)