Around the time I started writing fourth grade book reports and shoveling driveways on snowy days in my northern New Jersey neighborhood was when I started dreaming big, of becoming a great writer and a great salesman. Those aspirations still linger, and occasionally I grip them firmly while other times they seem more of a fleeting fancy. But always they’re worthy of earnest pursuit; and more curiously, along the way I’ve discovered a strong link between the two.
One of my favorite authors whose literary aspirations vaulted him to Pulitzer and Nobel prize-winning nobility is Ernest Hemingway, arguably the most influential novelist of the 2oth century. He was many things—novelist, war correspondent, essayist, story-teller, humorist, big game hunter, fisherman, binge drinker and deep within a dark, tainted soul that ultimately stole his life.
I’ve read most everything Hemingway wrote, or at least his published works to date. His writings have taught me many things, most notably that to be a great writer you must study your characters, your stories, plot lines and take-aways. Not just the ones you might describe as fiction, but the people, places and things that surround you every day.
This discipline of focused curiosity was one of his most important primers for aspiring young authors. When asked one time by a newbie writer, “How can a writer train himself?” Hemingway responded
“Watch what happens today. If we get into a fish see exactly what it is that everyone does. If you get a kick out of it while he is jumping remember back until you see exactly what the action was that gave you the emotion. Whether it was the rising of the line from the water and the way it tightened like a fiddle string until drops started from it, or the way he smashed and threw water when he jumped. Remember what the noises were and what was said. Find what gave you the emotion; what the action was that gave you the excitement. Then write it down making it clear so the reader will see it too and have the same feeling that you had. That’s a five finger exercise.”
What Hemmingway describes here is intense observation. Being completely lost in the event, the person, place or thing. It’s almost becoming the object of your observation, even more so. It’s learning and knowing what the character or person is thinking, and anticipating their next move, their future, even their destiny.
The same is true in the art of selling. It requires keen listening. Listening to what’s spoken by the prospect, what’s hoped for, what’s feared. It’s only after completing that mystical process that you earn the right to ask the probing questions that unlocks the door to the agreement of need.
(Check back shortly for Part 2–about qualifying prospects)