3 Things I Learned From World's Best Salesman

Before I discuss what I learned from this man, let me introduce him first. His name is Brian Jiang, and he happened to live in my house. He's 13 months old and looks a lot like me. Although he can't fully walk yet, his mesmerizing gaze and smile would trump anything Steve Jobs puts on a picture. And his sales pitch, which is mostly composed of pointing and 'da da' sound, would put anything Alec Baldwin could come up with to shame. I would buy anything Brian tries to sell me. I am sure in 10 years he will drive me crazy. But for now he is absolutely world's best salesman to me.

Here are three things I learned from him on sales:

1. Likability - this man likes me more than anything in the world. Every time he sees me, he would give me a big Duchenne smile (one that involves both the eyes and lips). When he is with me, his body language constantly reminds me how happy he is. As the result, I really like Brian too. In his classic book on the psychology of persuasion - Influence, Robert Cialdini puts 'liking' as a major principle of influence. No one does it better than Brian. In fact, I would do anything for this man.

2.  Trust - it's no secret that we buy from people we trust. For Brian, although I do question his ability from time to time, I've never questioned his intention and sincerity. When he wants another bowl of soup, it means that he really likes it, not that he is trying to make his mother feel better. People say a man is only as good as his word. For Brian, I know I can trust this man's word regardless of its intelligibility.

3. Fearlessness - I have learned not to be afraid of rejection. However, no matter how much I try in this category, Brian has me beat by a mile. Some times he wants his toy, and sometimes he wants me to have his toy. No matter what he wants, he asks me with the fearlessness that commands respect and often cooperation. The unfair thing is, he didn't have to ask Olympic ring donuts to train for this ability. He was born with it.

What is the world like if we have companies whose salespeople are 100% likable, trustworthy and fearless. I would find those companies and buy their stock no matter what industries they are in.

What have you learned from your own best salesman or saleswoman?

Rejection 94 - Grow A Dollar 10 Times

There are two emotions that drive me most - fear and curiosity (Okay, my love for Starbucks is up there too, but that's another story). It was the fear of rejection and my curiosity about how humans behave that led me to do my 100 Days of Rejection Therapy. Meanwhile, a lot of us have heard the story of One Red Paperclip, where a guy used social media to trade a red paper clip a few times up all the way to a house. I want to try the same thing, but with a twist of Rejection Therapy. Instead of using social media, I plan to knock on real doors 10 times in an unknown neighborhood and see what I can get with a dollar bill. I am afraid of knocking on stranger's doors but I am curious to see the results. Fear and curiosity teamed up, yet again.

Would I end up with something worth more than a dollar, less than a dollar, or nothing but a bunch of rejections?

After the helmet, I would be lying to say I wasn't fantasizing a little bit about receiving a house. If I knocked on 100 doors maybe I would get it, but getting a house wasn't the game. In fact, it was never about getting things but seeing the power of trade and asks. Indeed, I felt better about giving away the helmet than getting it.

This brought along another thought - in sales, people focus on making the sale rather than giving the pitch. If someone goes through a perfect sales pitch, but the customer doesn’t buy it is considered a failure, or at least a non-success. However, in my experience it was giving the pitch that was the most fun, not the results. I could control what I said but couldn't control people's reactions. So why should I define success by something I can't control?

Learning: 1. Try this attitude - ask and trade, prepare to be amazed.

2. Don't focus on the results which you can't control, but on the actions which you can control. In one of my favorite leadership books, Wooden on Leadership by UCLA's legendary basketball coach, John Wooden, the old coach explained his philosophy of working on controllable actions rather than uncontrollable results. In fact, it was his relentless focus on actions that produced the results - 10 NCAA championships.

Rejection 91 - Learn a Martial Arts Master's Favorite Move

Legend has it that in ancient China, traveling Kung Fu masters could walk into a Kung Fu academy and challenge the incumbent master to a fight. Upon victory, the traveler would take over the academy and its pupils. I had the ambition and fantasy to try it myself in modern America while turning it into a rejection request. However, if the master said yes; it would result in jail time, hospital visits, and pretty expensive bills for me. Being realistic, I walked into a Taekwondo studio and asked to learn the master’s favorite move instead.

Would the master teach me, reject me… or worse?

The master didn’t look like Mr. Miyagi or sound like Chuck Norris. But based on the internationalization and cross-pollination of martial arts, I am not surprised. And based on his build and experience, I am glad I chose to go with the humble request instead of the fantasy one.

I found him to be very nice person who genuinely wanted to introduce me to Taekwondo, its philosophy, and his studio. Yet, I really wished he could have demonstrated a few moves for me. I might have even signed up for a trial as the result. Well, you can’t expect a martial arts master to kick butt like Bruce Lee and sell like Steve Jobs.

Learning: One time at Costco, I saw a Little Giant Ladder salesman demonstrating his ladders to customers. He put one up, slid one leg out, unfolded it, refolded it, pulled it around… I was mesmerized and felt as though my life with be incomplete if I didn’t spend $200 then and there to buy that ladder. It taught me a great lesson in sales – “Show, don’t tell”.

Rejection 84 - Draw Portrait of Strangers (with Dom Rabrun)

On streets filled with strangers, I have learned that people don't always accept money or trivial services from others. However, what if the services offered are artistic and personal in nature, such as drawing their portraits. Would people more likely to accept or reject it? To find out, an emerging artist - Dominick Rabrun and I set out to do this rejection request. For background, Dominick is a DC based artist who has reached out to me to interview and draw me at the same time. He has also experienced many rejections in his project to interview people and was looking for some advice. In this video, prepare to be amazed by what Dominick did:

Looking back, I don't know how many of us would say 'no' to his request, since having one's portrait drawn feels like an enormous honor, in both modern and ancient times. There is a reason royalties and politicians from the past all entertained paintings and sculptures of themselves.

In a way, because of his artistic skills, Dominick possesses the persuasive power that 99% of us don't have. However, why did he still receive many rejections with his interview request? What can he do to increase his success rate?

Based on my learning from 100 Days of Rejection Therapy, here are three suggestions for Dominick to try:

1. Focus actions over outcomes, as described at 2'07 of the above video.

2. Start with why, as described at 2'25 of the above video.

3. Find a picture of the potential interviewee using Google Image, draw an unfinished version of the portait, and send it to him/her along with the interview request. Make it clear that the interview would be to complete the unfinished portrait, rather than to start a new one. Studies have shown that people are much more willing to continue and finish an existing effort than to start a new one.

Just like Dominick, we all have something special about us. It might not be artistic skills, but could be cooking, humor, swimming, talking to people, honesty, diligence, creativity... or rejection. We can all draw inspiration from this video:

Rejection 80 - Test Drive an Expensive Car

Of all the commercial places, I don't know where car dealerships would be ranked in term of the least desirable places to visit. My guess is that it is pretty low, comparable to pharmacies and tax offices. One of the reasons is the constant pushing and prodding from car salesmen. Today, I wanted to see if I could go into a BMW dealership requesting a test-drive, while making it very clear I wouldn't buy a car from them that day. Although for his time, I would promise I will visit him again when I do decide to buy a car. Will this promise be enough for the salesman to grant my wish?

Rejection 74 - Hire A Job Seeker On the Spot

I like sign-holders, and even tried to be one myself once. People hold signs for many reasons, but they share one thing in common - they are not afraid of being judged by the opinions of others in public. At SXSW, which is the biggest conference for geeks, I met one sign-holder who got my attention. He was a man in his 20s, holding a sign saying "drop your business card for a chance to employ me".

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more unemployed people in American than the population of Louisiana, Oregon and Oklahoma combined. Getting an interview itself is like rejection therapy, let alone a job-offer.

While job-seeking could be soul-draining, I wonder how many have tried the out-of-box tactics Anup employed. I don't know how many jobs he can land this way, but I do know he turned the table and gathered more than 20 applications/connections in one day. And, he got a temporary job deal from me. I will follow up on this adventure.

I often think about things in term of upside/downside. For what Anup was trying, the downside (I can't think of any) was so low, and upside (finding a job) is so high, I wonder why don't every job-seeker try this? Why didn't I try it?

Learning: 1. Many people look for jobs. One sure way to differentiate yourself from the herd is creativity. 2. When you bid for a position, you are the weaker party. When people bid for your service, you are the stronger party. Try be the stronger party, even by rewriting the rules of the game. 3. If project gives you limited downside, and upmost upside, you are doing yourself a diservice by not doing it.

Rejection 72 - What The Worst Salesman Looks Like

"Whatever you are, be a good one." - Abraham Lincoln "Whatever your life's work is, do it well." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart." - Colossians 3:23

The "whatever you" quotes have been serving the perfectionists in us very well. However, the curious part of my mind has always been wondering - what if I take this wisdom and do the complete opposite, and try to be as bad as possible in what I do?

Fortunately, rejection therapy gave me the opportunity in doing just that. At SXSW, I tried to be the worst promotion salesman possible. Would people reject my pitch?

I had a plan, and it worked, but only briefly. During my third encounter, the person wanted the product/service no matter how bad I was. Once it happened, my mentality switched. My desire to be successful took over, and there was no turning back. I started trying to promote and sell.

Also, since I was as honest as possible in explaining that I didn't know much about the product, it might have helped my pitch. In the world of everyone trying to assure everyone and sugarcoat everything, a little honesty could be refreshing, if not effective.

Learning: 1. Sometimes no matter how bad the sales person is, the prospect might really need the product/service. This ought to give those in sales some hope.

2. Be honest in our pitches. There is the famous example of Avis' using "We are #2 but we try harder" as a campaign motto. Its honesty help to build the long-term trust between the company and its customers.

Rejection 59 - Set Up a Printer Stand at Starbucks

When I travel I often use a Starbucks as my "office." However, when I need to print something I am often at a loss and forced to go to places I don't want to go (cough "Kinko's" cough). I often wonder why Starbucks doesn't offer printing services to customers. Sure, it would cost extra investment to provide paper and printer, but wouldn't it attract more customers to the stores and therefore sell more coffee? There is clearly a need for this; right? Sometimes the best approach is simply to try it out myself. Today I went into a Starbucks store and offered to set up a printer stand with my own printer for free. This was a classic store-within-a-store setting, except everything was free. I wanted to see two things: 1. Would Starbucks reject my offer? 2. Would customers reject my service?

To my surprise Starbucks took up on my offer and let me set up my services, but the  "free printing" service wasn't that appealing to the customers. Of course this all happened in a short span of time. I acknowledge that a real, valid business experiment would require much longer time and would need to be conducted in many more stores.

Entrepreneurial success is much more than coming up with a clever idea and trying to make it work. In his wonderful book on entrepreneurship The Lean Startup, Eric Ries emphasized the importance of finding customer needs through experimentation and learning.

Learning: For those of you who are entrepreneurs, don't be afraid to test your ideas out in public and be rejected by customers. Success doesn't happen in our minds, on computer screens or even in a garage; it happens in customers' hands. You will learn if your idea is good in no time once it gets in the customers' hands.

Rejection 47 - Pump Gas for Others

In this video, I wanted to see if random people would reject my service of pumping gas for them on a very cold day (using Texan standard). In a way, this session is the opposite of Day 45 - Putting Sunglasses on Random People, when I asked others to do random things for me.

The results were also the polar opposite. I got overwhelming 'no's instead of universal 'yes', like when I asked for strange favors. It's interesting to see that people are more burdened by receiving unwanted favors than giving them. I had to convince a woman to get one yes out of five tries.

Learning: Sometimes it's much easier to give than to take. Our human nature prevents us from owing favors from others. Next time if you want to get a rejection, just offer strangers random favors for no reason.

Day 40 - Partner Up to Buy Lottery

As a graduate school student of Dan Ariely, who is the author of Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality, and a wizard in using experiments to understand human nature, I went to do this rejection session with one goal in mind - to test out the economics of giving money to strangers vs investing money in them. I started out by asking a stranger to give me money - $0.6. After she agreed, I would then propose that the money is part of buying a $2 lottery ticket, and I would be sharing half of the winning ($30M out of $60M) with her if I win. So in a way, instead of giving me the $0.6 for free, she would be investing it in my lottery venture, and be receiving a disproportionally good return (investing 30% of the money and get 50% of return). Would the extra knowledge change her answer? Would it make her more eager? Or would she not care?

First of all, I want to thank Shawna for giving me the $0.6. She is one kind and cool lady. Secondly, knowing the principle of A/B testing and statistical sample size, and I know this experiment is far from being scientific. However, it's a rejection therapy with a test in mind, and the results made me think:

On the surface, Shawna's rejection of my offer made no economic sense. Why would she give up the possibility of winning $30M? Had I won, wouldn't she be having the biggest regret of her life?

However, upon further examination, I concluded that Shawna made the correct decision after all, even using economics principles. Let's say the odds of me winning that power ball is 1 in 175 million. Since the prize is $60 million that day, the expected return for the $2 of 'investment' would be $0.34 (60/175), or $0.17 per dollar. Now with that type of return, Bernie Madoff's scheme looks like deal, but that's another story.

By giving up the chance for half of the $60M, Shawna basically threw away $0.17. However, to get this $0.17, she would have to pay these prices:

1. Shawna would have to write down her information and give it to a stranger - me. I am a guy who asked for $0.6 to buy lottery ticket, so I don't blame her if she doesn't trust me with her personal information.

2. The act of writing down her information will take about 1 minute. If Shanwn makes anything above $10.2 ($0.17x60) per hour, she would be underpaid for that act.

3. Shawna would also need to follow the drawing of power ball. If that effort takes at least 1 minute, the above math still works.

4. By changing from giving me money to investing money, Shawna would need to switch her mental state from being altruistic to being pragmatic. In many cases, mind-switch is a painful exercise.

5. Shawna might be against the idea of buying lottery in the first place. If that's case, she would be going against her own value.

6. It's $0.17, who gives a rat's rear?

Learning: there are many hidden costs with accepting requests from others. So when making such request, make sure you consider these costs, whether they are conscious or unconscious. Otherwise, you might get a rejection, even it doesn't make sense to you.

Rejection 34 – Get a Job in One Day

This is another one of my 10 audacious rejections. Looking for a job is tough. When I graduated from business school in 2009, I was right in the middle of the financial crisis that costed millions of jobs. Many people were struggling in the job market, and I was one of them. I wrote over 600 emails to network with people before I landed my job offers. Looking back, this was one of the toughest periods of my life.

I know many people can relate with my experience. Job search is difficult and feared because 1. we much rather be working, being productive and generating an income than writing resumes; 2. the uncertainty about today and tomorrow is suffocating; 3. it is a constant state of rejection. After you put your heart into a resume, a cover letter, and if you are lucky, an interview, the odds are you will still hear the dreaded 'no' and have to start over.

The reason I started my rejection therapy is to conquer fear. Since job search is one of the most feared phases in life, I decided to take it head on. This time, I brushed up my resume, listed five companies in Austin I wouldn't mind working for, and dropped in their offices cold looking for a job for one day only.

Why one day only, you asked? This is what I discovered from personal experience - working for free for a short period of time is a great door-opener for job searchers. Without the long-term risks, companies are more willing to try you out. Once you exceed their expectations, they will want to, and in some cases, beg you to stay. By then, you will have earned valuable experiences and turned the table in the job-searching negotiation.

"I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith" - Paul in 2 Timothy 4:7. I feel I can relate to Paul for writing this verse of the Bible.

Much credit goes to Jennifer, whose curiosity, professionalism and kindness kept the conversation alive and gave me hope to come back. You can tell BigCommerce is a good company with quality employees by a simple glimpse into its workforce.

I hope my experience has demonstrated that if you are persistent, honest and willing to lower the risks for the other party, you can increase your odds of finding a job, making a sale, or negotiating a purchase.

Also, it's an interesting fact that all three ladies offered to either take my resume or give me a phone number for followup discussion. This is already much further along the process than simply applying for jobs online. For the people who are currently looking for a job, don't lose hope.


1. No matter what you do, persistence is the key to your success.

2. Be cognizant to other people's risks and obstacles. Offer actions to lower and remove them. When looking for a job, offer to work without compensation for a week. When making a sale, offer customers to try it for free for 10-days. This is the "Generating Options" principle discussed in Roger Fisher and William L. Ury's excellent book on negotiation Getting to Yes.

3. When others can't say 'yes' to the entire request, ask them to say 'yes' to the things they have control over, and go from there. When you get one 'yes', you are much further along than getting no 'yes'.

4. Just when all seem lost, don't lose hope and fight the battle one more time. You never know if you don't go back in there.

Rejection 28 - Make a Sale For Best Buy

There are many things to be said about the demise of Best Buy, especially how online sites like Amazon are kicking its butt. However, I still go there once in a while, mainly if I need in-person help to choose a product. I have always felt advices from peers rather than from sales person are a lot more powerful. So I ventured into Best Buy on my 28th day of Rejection Therapy to offer their sales rep to help them making a sale.

Sean (#1) couldn't stop trying to sell me products even I made my intention ample clear. I feel a good sales person would not force feed a message to a non-receptive audience.

Shawn (#2) however, either by design or chance, made a very smart move by changing the topic of the conversation from my request to my company. It in turn helped me to make a sale for my own product to him.

Learning: 1. One of most effective ways to reject someone, especially someone who is persistent like myself, is to defect the request by changing the topic. People are mostly interested in talking about themselves and their interests. So if you can get them talking, you have probably made a successful non-contentious rejection. 2. Sales is about knowing the customers and their needs. If the customers made it very clear what their needs are, don't try to change their needs and force your message on them.

Rejection 27 - Getting Donation For Charity on The Street

I drive by at least a few panhandlers per day. I have never imagined to be one myself. However, Karen from North Carolina wrote me an email describing how tough it is for her to ask for money, even for someone else or for charity. To experience this myself, for hopefully the only time in my life, I took a sign to the street and asked for money for Austin Food Bank. The entrepreneur in me prompted me to test out different signs to gauge their effects.

When you don't normally ask for money, doing so in a public setting can be excruciatingly difficult, as I found out. Among all the panhandlers, those who are honest and are in real need of money for their families, my heart goes out to them. It hurts pride to do this.

Learning: 1. Messaging matters a ton in any requests, whether it's asking customers to buy your product, or asking strangers to give you money for charity. Make sure your message is specific enough that people know where their money is going. 2. Be very careful in using humor. If the humor is not well-designed (like in my case) or in the wrong environment (charity), it could backfire big time.

Rejection 24: Exchange Training With a Personal Trainer

A personal trainer's job is give me physical training for my money. However, I believe an hour of my time could also be valuable, if used correctly. Especially in the area of technology, entrepreneurship and blogging, I feel I have a lot expertise to offer. On day 24 of my rejection therapy, I ventured into 24 Hour Fitness to exchange 1 hour training session with a fitness trainer.

Instead of getting physical training, I receive a rejection training. Jordan is the type of person who really knows how to say 'no' to people. These are the types of things you don't realize when it happens, but only catch them during post analysis.

Learning: A good 'no' should include 1: a reason/consequence 2. a path/alternative to a 'yes' 3. patience and respect. In the case of rejection, it's really not what you say, but how you say it.

Day 11 Rejection Therapy: Learn Sales From the #2 Car Salesman in the Country

It's hard to meet #2 in the country in anything, whether it's Joe Biden or The Patriots. However, I met the self-claimed #2 ranked salesman in the country on my 11th day of Rejection Therapy. An entrepreneur needs to know how to sell. If I can't learn sales from the best, I certainly want to learn from the second best.

This is one is a little tricky because I don't know how his words will be perceived. If it's negative, I don't want to affect him personally, so I blocked out his face.

Learning: I feel the reason for his rejection is completely valid, although it was told a little bit harshly. If I face the same situation, when I'm too busy for someone's request, I might try to offer an alternative like Jeremy did at Fedex. I might try to say "sorry I can't do that because of _____. However, I know a couple of sales books that are really good..."