Most of us think of Christopher Columbus as a great discoverer, but he was also a master salesperson. Before he could sail, he had to sell. Before he could begin his voyage of discovery that changed the world, he had to sell to his contemporaries what they thought was an utterly ridiculous idea! And that was no “one-call sale!”
Let’s look at the history. Consider the circumstances and conditions that were stacked against Columbus. First, there was absolutely no market for a trans-Atlantic voyage. And hundreds of years of tradition and superstition practically guaranteed that there never would be.
Second. Although Columbus had made sea voyages as a passenger, he had never been the captain of a ship.
Third. Columbus was a foreigner (an Italian) living first in Portugal and then in Spain.
Fourth. Columbus did not have sufficient money to fund such an adventure. In fact, the only one who could legally fund a voyage of discovery was a head of state – a king or queen. So his prospect list was rather short!
Fifth, his price was not cheap. In addition to needing ships and support, Columbus had a long list of personal demands including: a) a 10 percent commission on all commerce between his discoveries and the mother country; b) the title – Admiral of the Ocean Sea; c) the permanent position of “viceroy” or governor of all new territories; and d) all of the honors and rights were to be passed on to his heirs in “perpetuity.”
Remarkably, Columbus made the sale (on his own terms)! Modern salespeople could learn a lot from Columbus’ sales techniques. Columbus was propelled by a single-minded passion. He wholeheartedly believed he could reach Asia by crossing the Atlantic. Even though his belief was wrong, it gave him the inner stamina, conviction and confidence to make the sale!
Columbus never stopped closing! He didn’t mind asking for the order over and over and over! He spent seven years asking King John of Portugal to fund the voyage. Then he went to Spain and worked on Ferdinand and Isabella for seven more years before he finally got his yes.
Columbus helped others get what they wanted. He presented Ferdinand and Isabella a dream of glory. He appealed to their desires for wealth and for personal glory. He even appealed to their desire to spread their religious faith. He demonstrated to them that funding his voyage was the way to get what they most wanted in life.
Columbus continued to study, plan and chart his course. He researched in libraries. He talked to sailors. For 14 years, he continued to build his strategy and his case. He was on constant lookout for evidence to support his position! He concentrated on his dream and vision for the future and not on his problems.
Columbus kept his goal ever before him. He never let the passing of time – the long delay of his dream – discourage him. He never wavered in his “I won’t be denied” attitude.
Columbus kept his sales ability all of his life. On his last voyage to the New World, he explored the Nicaraguan coast. Unfortunately, in the shallow waters, ship worms attacked his ships and caused them to take on water. In desperation, Columbus headed for the main Spanish settlement in what is today the Dominican Republic.
However, he only made it as far as Jamaica. There, Columbus and his men were stranded, 500 miles away from the main settlement. To make matters worse, his men kept molesting the Indians.
After several months, the Indians planned to massacre the sailors. It was the night of February 29, 1504. As the Indians approached, Columbus remembered reading that there was going to be a lunar eclipse that night. The master salesman went to work. He told the Indians that his God was very powerful and would make them pay if they carried out the massacre. He told them that his God would cause a sign in the sky that very night.
Then the lunar eclipse happened. Amazed by this sign, the Indians left Columbus and his men alone. Eventually Columbus was rescued. This story illustrates two of the most important characteristics of a successful salesperson: 1) the ability to remain calm under pressure and 2) the ability to think on his feet!