The World’s Worst Salesman — Part 1 | #MyFridayStory №280

Frans Nel
4 min readMar 3, 2023

There is an art to selling.

Selling involves a lot more than convincing someone to buy something. To be a salesperson — a real salesperson — takes years of practice and is a scarce skill. Successful salespeople are rare and that’s why they earn the big bucks. There will never be an oversupply of salespeople. The demand for successful salespeople will never wane, even in an artificially intelligent and robotics-dominated future. While there’s a need for ideas to be communicated to illogical humans, you’re going to need a salesperson.

In high school, like me, most of my friends had no idea what they were going to do. Before I graduated from high school in 1980, my Dad took me for a career assessment and evaluation. It was a 3-day intense analysis aimed at determining the best career path based on your strengths. But, based on that assessment, I received a bursary from the South African Railways to study civil engineering. For the best part of 3 years after completing my two-year compulsory national service, I tried to “become” a civil engineer. The Lord knows I tried, but I was not cut out for any part of it. Truth is, I hated it.

Meanwhile, most of my friends had settled into their chosen careers — many of them in sales. Since our days in high school, all my close friends believed I’d make a great salesperson. I never wanted to pursue it — I didn’t like the image of the stereotypical foot-in-the-door caricature. “You have the gift of the gab”, they’d say. I tried not to take any notice, believing I’d never have to “stoop so low”. I needed a more legitimate and formalised title, “salesman” sounded so common.

I quit my studies and joined my best friend who was expanding his bakery supermarket. He was opening a second shop in a prime location on a busy corner in the centre of town, close to the main taxi rank, bus station and train station. The foot traffic was massive and the throngs of people passing the shop made it an instant success. Our freshly baked bread, cakes, pies, and treats caused queues of people out the door during peak hours. I left a few months before he was made an attractive offer and sold the shop.

Some years later, I opened an American-style diner and ice cream parlour with a partner. After buying the failing corner takeaway, we renovated the shop and gave it a new diner and soda shop treatment. The menu was extensive covering everything from burgers and steak rolls to pizzas and tacos. A full ice cream bar with waffles, shakes and sundaes rounded off the experience. Besides providing high-quality food, there was a vibe to the establishment that seemed to resonate with people of all ages. Almost from the outset, our Friday and Saturday night trade would cause traffic jams as cars queued to get into the carpark.

Later, I joined a life insurance company to become well… an insurance salesman. My introducer to the industry was my life broker, a friend of my older brother’s. He said he couldn’t think of anyone better to make it in the life insurance business, than me. He introduced me to my manager, a successful manager responsible for helping many fledgling consultants achieve great success. After the initial induction period of 3-weeks, I managed to follow the minimum requirements and was hired.

After a year of battling to make ends meet, another life insurance company approached me to help start their health insurance division. I no longer needed to sell, instead, I could teach the methods I’d tried to learn. We were sent on various sales and management workshops and courses as part of the management training. Over my 6 years tenure at the company, I built up a team of consultants in my branch. They had better success than I did as a salesperson.

Until now, I had managed to feign being a salesperson, without ever achieving sustained success. Then another company approached me to help boost their sales in car and household insurance. They made me an attractive offer to target a new niche I suggested. Thankfully I didn’t have to sell, that was left to the men and women who earned the big bucks.

Have an awesome weekend and please be generous! 😄

As always, thanks for reading 🙏

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