I came across an interesting passage in the “Reminiscences of the Stock Operator“, where it described Livingston’s (Jesse Livermore) encounter with a salesman. It’s a wonderful book, you should really read it.
“”One day just after the market closed I heard somebody say, “Good afternoon, Mr. Livingston.”
I turned and saw an utter stranger – a chap of about thirty or thirty-five. I could not understand how he’d got in, but there he was. I concluded that his business with me had passed him. But I didn’t say anything. I just looked at him and pretty soon he said, “I came to see you about that Walter Scott,” and he was off.
He was a book agent. Now, he was not particularly pleasing of manner or skillful of speech. Neither was he especially attractive to look at. But he certainly had personality. He talked and I thought I listened. But I do not know what he said. I don’t think I ever knew, not even at the time. When he finished his monologue he handed me first his fountain pen and then a blank form, which I signed. It was a contract to take a set of Scott’s works for five hundred dollars.
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The moment I signed I came to. But he had the contract safe in his pocket. I did not want the books. I had no place for them. They weren’t of any use whatever to me. I had nobody to give them to. Yet I had agreed to buy them for five hundred dollars.
I am so accustomed to losing money that I never think first of that phase of my mistakes. It is always the play itself, the reason why. In the first place I wish to know my own limitations and habits of thought. Another reason is that I do not wish to make the same mistake a second time. A man can excuse his mistakes only by capitalising them to his subsequent profit.
Well, having made a five-hundred dollar mistake but not yet having localised the trouble, I just looked at the fellow to size him up as a first step. I’ll be hanged if he didn’t actually smile at me – an understanding little smile! He seemed to read my thoughts. I somehow knew that I did not have to explain anything to him; he knew it without my telling him. So I skipped the explanations and the preliminaries and asked him, “How much commission will you get on that five hundred dollar order?”
He promptly shook his head and said, “I can’t do it! Sorry!”
“How much do you get?” I persisted.
“A third. But I can’t do it!” he said.
“A third of five hundred dollars is one hundred and sixty-six dollars and sixty-six cents. I’ll give you two hundred dollars cash if you give me back that signed contract.” And to prove it I took the money out of my pocket.
“I told you I couldn’t do it,” he said.
“Do all your customers make the same offer to you?” I asked.
“No,” he answered.
“Then why were you so sure that I was going to make it?”
“It is what your type of sport would do. You are a first-class loser and that makes you a first-class business man. I am much obliged to you, but I can’t do it.”
“Now tell me why you do not wish to make more than your commission?”
“What are you working for then?”
“For the commission and the record,” he answered.
“What are you driving at?”
“Do you work for money alone?” he asked me.
“Yes,” I said.
“No.” And he shook his head. “No, you don’t. You wouldn’t get enough fun out of it. You certainly do not work merely to add a few more dollars to your bank account and you are not in Wall Street because you like easy money. You get your fun some other way. Well, same here.”
I did not argue but asked him, “And how do you get your fun?”
“Well,” he confessed, “we’ve all got a weak spot.”
“Vanity,” he said.
“Well,” I told him, “you succeeded in getting me to sign on. Now I want to sign off, and I am paying you two hundred dollars for ten minutes’ work. Isn’t that enough for your pride?”
“No,” he answered. “You see, all the rest of the bunch have been working Wall Street for months and failed to make expenses. They said it was the fault of the goods and the territory. So the office sent me to prove that the fault was with their salesmanship and not with the books or the place. They were working on a 25 per cent commission. I was in Cleveland, where I sold eighty-two sets in two weeks. I am here to sell a certain number of sets not only to people who did not buy from the other agents but to people they couldn’t even get to see. That’s why they give me 33 1/3 per cent.”
“I can’t quite figure out how you sold me the set.”
“Why,” he said consolingly, “I sold J.P. Morgan a set.”
“No, you didn’t,” I said.
He wasn’t angry. He simply said, “Honest, I did!”
“A set of Walter Scott to J.P. Morgan, who not only has some fine editions but probably the original manuscripts of some of the novels as well?”
“Well, here’s John Hancock.” And he promptly flashed on me a contract signed by J.P. Morgan himself. It might not have been Mr. Morgan’s signature, but it did not occur to me to doubt it at the time. So I asked him, “How did you get past the librarian?”
“I didn’t see the librarian. I saw the Old Man himself. In his office.”
“That’s too much!” I said. Everybody knew that it was much harder to get into Mr. Morgan’s private office empty handed than into the White House with a parcel that ticked like an alarm clock.
But he declared,”I did.”
“But how did you get into his office?”
“How did I get into yours?” he retorted.
“I don’t know. You tell me,” I said.
“Well, the way I got into Morgan’s office and the way I got into yours are the same. I just talked to the fellow at the door whose business it was not to let me in. And the way I got Morgan to sign was the same way I got you to sign. You weren’t signing a contract for a set of books. You just took the fountain pen I gave you and did what I asked you to do with it. No difference. Same as you.”
“And is that really Morgan’s signature?” I asked him, about three minutes late with my skepticism.
“Sure! He learned how to write his name when he was a boy.”
“And that’s all there’s to it?”
“That’s all,” he answered. “I know exactly what I am doing. That’s all the secret there is. I am much obliged to you. Good day, Mr. Livingston.” And he started to go out.
“Hold on,” I said. “I’m bound to have you make an even two hundred dollars out of me.” And I handed him thirty-five dollars.
He shook his head. Then: “No,” he said. “I can’t do that. But I can do this!” And he took the contract from his pocket, tore it in two and gave me the pieces.
I counted two hundred dollars and held the money before him, but he shook his head.
“Isn’t that what you meant?” I said.
“Then, why did you tear up the contract?”
“Because you did not whine, but took it as I would have taken it myself had I been in your place.”
“But I offered you the two hundred dollars of my own accord,” I said.
“I know; but money isn’t everything.”
Something in his voice made me say,”You’re right; it isn’t. And now what do you really want me to do for you?”
“You’re quick, aren’t you?” he said. “Do you really want to do something for me?”
“Yes,” I told him, “I do. But whether I will or not depends what it is you have in mind.”
“Take me with you into Mr Ed Harding’s office and tell him to let me talk to him three minutes by the clock. Then leave me alone with him.”
I shook my head and said, “He is a good friend of mine.”
“He’s fifty years old and a stock broker,” said the book agent.
That was perfectly true, so I took him into Ed’s office. I did not hear anything more from or about that book agent. But one evening some weeks later when I was going uptown I ran across him in a Sixth Avenue L train. He raised his hat very politely and I nodded back. He came over and asked me, “How do you do, Mr. Livingston? And how is Mr. Harding?”
“He’s well. Why do you ask?” I felt he was holding back a story.
“I sold him two thousand dollars’ worth of books that day you took me in to see him.”
“He never said a word to me about it,” I said,
“No; that kind doesn’t talk about it.”
“What kind doesn’t talk?”
“The kind that never makes mistakes on account of its being bad business to make them. That kind always knows what he wants and nobody can tell him different. That is the kind that’s educating my children and keeps my wife in good humor. You did me a good turn, Mr. Livingston. I expected it when I gave up the two hundred dollars you were so anxious to present to me.”
“And if Mr. Harding hadn’t given you an order?”
“Oh, but I knew he would. I had found out what kind of man he was. He was a cinch.”
“Yes. But if he hadn’t bought any books?” I persisted.
“I’d have come back to you and sold you something. Good day, Mr. Livingston. I am going to see the mayor.” And he got up as we pulled up at Park Place.
“I hope you sell him ten sets,” I said. His Honor was a Tammany man.
“I’m a Republican, too,” he said, and went out, not hastily, but leisurely, confident that the train would wait. And it did.”
There are two things that I learned from the story. One, the salesman mentioned that it was the challenge in his job to sell in Wall Street that propelled him to do well in his job. He enjoys working and he was doing it more than money. The second, he is a sly person. He actually made used of Livingston to get into Harding’s office. That was probably how he actually got in J.P. Morgan’s office. He went up the hierarchy to inch closer to the big boss, and he would have sold the most books to him. The point is, where most would say it was a difficult place to sell such products, he could think of out of the world strategies to sell because he was passionate about his job. He was also willing to give up small gains along the way and get the big fish, because he loved the challenge. Burning passions toward a job would help you overcome all obstacles on your way to success.