Dodging the Circular File

The laser printer was whirring when the new saleswoman walked into Dave’s office.

Dave was the mentor she’d been assigned when she joined the company, a multinational engineering conglomerate. He was their top sales producer. A real living legend.

“You’re so lucky to have been assigned to Dave,” she’d been told. “He’s brilliant. Although he is a little, er, unconventional.” Dave noticed his new apprentice out of the corner of his eye. He gestured for her to sit down and wait for a moment, saying: “I’ve just got to send off this sales letter.”

Dave pulled the letter off the printer, skimmed an eye over it and nodded to himself. Then he crumpled the paper into a ball. The young woman thought nothing of this. He must have found a typo. She settled in to wait while he tweaked the text and printed another copy.

But then to her surprise he uncrumpled and recrumpled the paper a couple more times. It seemed kind of obsessive. Finally, he smoothed the paper out as best he could, carefully folded it in thirds, and inserted it into a DL envelope.

He was about to seal the envelope, but the young saleswoman couldn’t contain her curiosity. “Wait!” she implored.  “Please let me see it.”

Dave shrugged and handed it over.

She opened it up and read:

“Dear Mr. Smith,

As this is a sales letter you’ll want to put it straight in the circular file (the one on the floor where you put circulars), so for your convenience I have printed it on pre-crumpled paper.

If however you are interested in ways to accelerate your time to market….”

Brilliant! The new saleswoman felt an unmistakable frisson that told her: “Pay attention! You may just have found the guide you are looking for. Life is going to be different from now on.”

This story illustrates a bunch of important points, not just about sales, but about business in general. How did Dave become a legendary top producer? Well, his approach was certainly unconventional, but he wasn’t just outrageous for the sake of it:

  • Dave showed empathy for the situation of the poor executive bombarded by sales messages
  • He used self-deprecating humour as a way to open up communication
  • He was different! In a world where everyone was following the same ‘best practices’, he stood out and therefore elicited better responses.

Andy’s Advice. Next time you’re looking for ways to get your message through, ask: “Where can we use empathy, humour and difference to stand out against a background of sameness?”