John Patterson's Lesson on Concentration

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This is a phenomenal example of not getting distracted from John Patterson. Focus on a niche, the narrower the better. As @iancassel says, “Crush it in a small place and your success will pull you into a larger place.”


The attendees of an NCR convention were startled one morning by the sudden entry of a shoeshine boy on roller skates who shot down the aisle of the auditorium with his shining implements in his hands.

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Coming to a stop in front of the podium, the boy removed his skates, walked up to the chair in which John Henry Patterson, the founder and president of NCR, was sitting, and proceeded to give the distinguished gentleman’s shoes a thorough polishing. The salesmen – at first amazed and then amused – settled back to wait for Patterson to appease their growing curiosity.

As soon as the shoeshine boy had finished the job and been paid with a silver dollar, Patterson took him by the hand and led him to the front of the platform.

“Sam,” he asked, “how many office buildings on this block did you used to tour looking for business?”

“All of them, Sir,” replied the boy.

“And how many do you serve now?” continued his interrogator.

“Why, I just stick to this one.”

“How come, Sam? How come?”

"You ought to know, Mr. Patterson, because it was you who advised me that if I’d spend all my time on a smaller group instead of scattering my efforts, I’d make more money."

“That’s right, Sam. And how did that advice work out?”

"Well, I’ve been averaging 40 shines a day since I became the National Cash Register shoeshine boy three months ago. Before that, when I used to work the entire block, I was doing well to get 20 to 25 customers a day. When they see me regularly, my customers get into the habit of being shined up every day at a certain hour. Before, they sometimes would take a quick look at their shoes and say, “No, some other time, Sam.”

After dismissing Sam, who put his skates back on and rolled swiftly up the aisle to the exit, Mr. Patterson proceeded to make an object lesson of Sam for the benefit of the salespeople who had been complaining about the forced contraction of their territories by the home office.

“When you have too much ground to cover,” he said, “you fail to concentrate. A prospect who seems a little difficult at first, you leave to call on someone else. First thing you know, you have spread your butter so thin that you aren’t selling anybody and have nothing but a long list of half-convinced prospects. With smaller territories, you have time and opportunity to cultivate your prospects intensively. You can get to know them like brothers, meet their wives, understand their problems, and show them how to conduct their business at a greater profit. Thus you are greeted as a friend and respected advisor when you enter a store, not as just another salesman. And soon you should be able to load up that merchant with a good representation of all the products we have to sell.”

Later, Mr. Patterson referred to this dramatized testimonial as an example of an excellent method of presenting the features of a cash register to a prospect.

“Tell a story,” he advised the gathering of salesmen, "when you present a point. Look at the sales of books. People buy many times the number of novels than they do serious dissertations. Look at the magazines – ten stories to one serious article.

“Let that be your guide when talking to a prospect. You got the idea about restricted territories a lot quicker through hearing that shoeshine boy tell about his personal experience than you would have if I had simply outlined the principle to you and asked you to follow it.”


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