When it comes to a tough sell, patience really is a virtue. Shortly after I returned from Vietnam, I joined an Army Reserve unit to help pay for my doctoral studies. I was then given command of the unit, which meant that I was responsible for everything regarding that unit, including recruiting.
The unit I took over was supposed to have 104 people in it. After I performed a personnel audit, I found that it only had 54 people on its rolls. In addition, 26 of these remaining 54 were getting out of the Army Reserve within six months. And the draft had just ended, which was the biggest reason people joined reserve units during the Vietnam era. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, the next day a general from Indianapolis came up and informed me that if I didn’t bring my unit up to full strength within six months, I would be relieved of my command.
At this point, I really wanted to tell this insensitive general what he could do with his reserve unit, but my reputation was important to me. So I decided I would give it a go and try to recruit the necessary 76 people. Talk about a tough sell!
Given the circumstances, I knew a hard sales approach wouldn’t work. So instead of trying to sign potential recruits up immediately, I got to know them first. I also made it a point to go to their homes and get to know members of their families. In a number of cases, these potential recruits would have a friend or two at their homes when I made these visits. We would talk about the future, about the army or anything these people were interested in, but I never tried to sell people on signing up for the Army Reserve while I was on one of these visits. I wasn’t sure if there was going to be a payoff because during the first four-and-a-half months, I recruited only 11 people. But during the next six weeks, 71 people signed up! It was truly amazing. One person walked into my office with 13 of his friends, all of whom wanted to enlist in my unit. A dozen others brought at least one friend with them when they signed up.
If you only observed what went on during those last six weeks, it looked like I had a natural gift for attracting and selling people. They came in from all directions almost begging for a chance to become part of my unit. What wouldn’t have been apparent, however, was the amount of patience I exercised during the preceding four-and-a-half months. Yes, it was a lot of work and took a lot of time, but the payoff was phenomenal.