I have a simple philosophy: to be great, learn from the greats. They've already done the heavy lifting, so why not use their success as a roadmap for your own journey?

And when it comes to sales, there are remarkable individuals who not only mastered the art but also left pearls of wisdom and inspiration. In this article, I’m going to share six famous salesmen who made it big and how you can learn from them.

1. David Ogilvy: The Father of Advertising

Meet David Ogilvy, often called the "Father of Advertising." He was a sales and marketing expert who changed the way marketers do advertising today.

But here's where it gets interesting – he started his journey by selling cooking stoves door-to-door. Who would've thought that this humble beginning would lead him to become a big shot in the advertising world?

What Can You Learn From Him?

David Ogilvy's story holds some valuable lessons to learn:

  • Write a Guide: When Ogilvy did really well at selling stoves – his boss asked him to write a manual to teach others how to sell. This shows that when you help others learn, you also make your own skills stronger.
  • The Soft Sell Method: Ogilvy was known for his "soft sell" style. He liked ads with lots of useful info, memorable branding and eye-catching designs. Guess what? This approach still works today! It's all about providing value, telling interesting stories and connecting with customers on a personal level.

David Ogilvy's story shows that you can start small and end up making a big impact. His journey from stove sales to advertising tycoon teaches that hard work, creativity and building relationships never go out of style in sales and advertising.

If you want to learn more from David Ogilvy, check out Ogilvy on Advertising and Confessions of an Advertising Man.

2. Dale Carnegie: The Master of Communication and Influence

Dale Carnegie was born in a small farming family in Missouri. Back then, becoming a worldwide influence seemed impossible. But in just a few decades, he had a global company with thousands of employees.

His claim to fame, however, is the book How to Win Friends and Influence People. Even though it's almost 100 years old (from 1936), people still love it and it flies off the shelf.

It's all about talking and getting along with others in a good way. This is a must-read, especially for salespeople, if you want to really close more deals like the pros. So if you haven't picked it up, you need to buy it like yesterday.

What Can You Learn From Him?

Dale Carnegie's life teaches you some cool stuff:

  • Starting Simple, Ending Big: Carnegie’s story began on a farm in Missouri, a far cry from the big cities. But he didn't let that stop him. With hard work and a drive to get better, he became famous worldwide. So remember, no matter where you begin, you can reach big heights if you keep trying.
  • Talking Like a Pro: When he was in college, he was really good at talking to people. His classmates liked it so much that they paid him to teach them. He even started teaching big classes on how to talk better. The Gift of Gab is a skill that literally pays off.
  • Balancing Work and Life: Carnegie was one of the first people to talk about finding the balance between work and the rest of your life. So, even if you’re always on the grind, take time out to take care of yourself.

3. Joe Girard: The Legendary Sales Star

Joe had all the qualities of a great salesperson from a young age – he was super determined, loved a good challenge and was always looking on the bright side. These traits not only shaped his life but also changed the way people think about selling stuff.

Joe's amazing story started when he was a kid. He saw that his family needed money, so at just 9 years old, he started shining shoes at bars. He was pretty smart about it, too – he knew that people in bars were happy and more likely to give him some cash for a shiny shoe.

As Joe grew up, he tried all sorts of jobs, from selling newspapers to building stoves and even serving in the military. But it wasn't until he was really desperate, with a family to take care of and no food on the table, that he found his real talent.

He got a job at a Chevrolet dealership, and on his very first day, he sold a car! This was just the beginning of a super successful career where he outsold entire dealerships year after year.

What Can You Learn From Him?

Joe Girard's life is full of some awesome lessons:

  • Never Give Up: Joe's story shows us that even when life is tough, you should never give up. He turned his challenges into opportunities for success.
  • Think Smart and Understand Your Clients: When Joe started shining shoes at bars, he showed us how thinking smart can make a big difference. Understanding your customers and where they hang out can help you sell more.
  • Make Customers Your Friends: Joe's secret to success was making customers come back. He took really good care of them, even sending them handwritten cards. Building strong customer relationships is the key to long-term success.
  • Keep Learning: Joe was always looking for ways to get better at sales. That's something we can all learn from – never stop learning and growing in your field.

4. Mary Kay Ash: The Empowering Business Queen

Born in 1918, Mary Kay's life was all about determination and doing things differently, even when things were tough.

Mary Kay worked hard in a world where most big bosses were men. But one day, when she didn't get the promotion she deserved, she didn't get mad – she got creative. She dreamed of a place where women could shine and started her own company called Mary Kay Cosmetics in 1963.

Under her leadership, Mary Kay Cosmetics became a special place for women to succeed on their terms. Mary Kay had some cool ideas, like throwing parties to show off her products and rewarding top sellers with a pink Cadillac.

She was the pioneer of the multi-level marketing scheme (now known for its shady reputation) and Mary Kay's company sold over a million dollars' worth of products in just one year.

What Can You Learn From Her?

Mary Kay Ash's life story has some valuable gems:

  • Be Friendly: Mary Kay believed that people like to buy from friends or people they trust. She encouraged her team to sell products like they were recommending them to a friend. This idea changed how people sold things and made customers really loyal.
  • Rewards for Hard Work: Mary Kay's company gave out pink Cadillacs to the best sellers. This got everyone excited to work hard and be the best.
  • Dream Big: In just one year, Mary Kay's company sold over a million dollars' worth of products. She knew that having a big dream and believing in it could make amazing things happen.

Be sure to check out her book Mary Kay on People Management to learn some of the skills she used to make her company the global behemoth it is today.

5. Ron Popeil: The Sales Wizard

I know you’ve heard the quote –"Wait, there's more!"

Ron Popeil was the brains behind those ads and the founder of Ronco, a company that sold a bunch of different little trinkets and gadgets, many of them his own inventions. Ronco made a ton of money, over $2 billion. Ron himself became a teleshopping superstar.

However, Ron learned how to be a great salesman working with his dad, developing and selling household appliances. His job was to sell these new inventions to stores and that's where he picked up his sales skills.

He came up with the "couch store" idea, which changed how products were sold. And he also started making videos to sell his gadgets and tools. These videos weren't just about what the product was; they showed what amazing things you could do with it.

This was a new way to sell things and it worked like magic. And it’s a method that’s still very popular today, especially in the internet age. Who hasn’t sent a personalized prospecting video at least once?

What Can You Learn From Him?

Here are some things to pick up from Popeil’s life:

  • Be Creative: Ron showed us that being innovative and coming up with new ideas can make you stand out.
  • Show, Don't Tell: His videos taught us that showing people how a product works is better than just talking about it.
  • Believe in Yourself: Ron's confidence and passion for what he sold were a big part of his success. When you believe in what you're selling, others will, too.
  • Tell a Good Story: His "couch store" idea was all about telling a great story about the products. Engaging storytelling can grab people's attention.

But the best way to truly learn is to see the man in action.

6. Napoleon Barragan: The Tech-Savvy Sales Pioneer

Napoleon was born in Ecuador and moved to Colombia when he was 17, where he started his career selling drinks riding a donkey. Then, at 28, he made the biggest move of his life – all the way to the United States, without a dime and not a lick of English.

He took any job he could get, like selling encyclopedias door-to-door. It was tough; he got evicted and even had the cops called on him. But Napoleon didn't give up; he had a fire in his belly.

In 1974, he started a small furniture store, selling chairs, tables, cupboards and mattresses. While furniture sales were slow, mattresses were a hit. So, Napoleon decided to focus only on mattresses.

Then, one day, he saw a sign at a restaurant that let customers buy steaks over the phone. Barragan immediately thought he could do the same with mattresses, and like that – Dial-A-Mattress was born.

But success didn't happen overnight; it took over a decade. But when Napoleon got a toll-free 800 number, Dial-A-Mattress became 1-800-Mattress.  And if you live in the US, you’ve no doubt seen the billboards along the highway.

Napoleon Barragan's story is all about bouncing back from tough times. He knew that patience and hard work pay off.

What Can You Learn from Him?

Here’s what to pick up from this story:

  • Embrace New Tech: Napoleon's success came from using new technologies like the toll-free 800 number. Being open to change and new ideas can help you get ahead.
  • Stay Persistent: Despite facing a barrage of challenges and rejections, Napoleon never threw in the towel. He showed us that persistence and a never-give-up attitude are keys to achieving success.
  • Listen to Your Customers: Napoleon saw what customers wanted – mattresses – and shifted his focus accordingly.
  • Be a Trailblazer: Napoleon's early adoption of the "Order by Phone" idea made him a pioneer in his industry. Being a trailblazer and staying ahead of your competitors can open up new opportunities.

Learning from Sales Legends

Let's wrap up our journey with these sales legends and sum up the lessons they've shared. Whether it's David Ogilvy's friendly approach, Joe Girard's focus on customers or Ron Popeil's clever ideas, they've given out some valuable tips.

One big idea they all talked about is understanding people. David Ogilvy mentioned how it’s important to create messages that really connect with others. Joe Girard showed why building strong relationships with customers matters. Mary Kay Ash believed in building personal connections through her marketing system.

Another crucial takeaway is being open to new things. Things change a lot in sales and these legends were quick to adapt. Napoleon Barragan switched from selling furniture to mattresses because he saw what people wanted. Ron Popeil used TV to sell products in a new way.

And I think the most important lesson to learn is to never give up. Even when things got tough, they didn't quit.

As you start your own sales journey, keep these lessons in mind. These legends have paved the way, and now it's your turn.

What will your story be?