There are no shortcuts to success. Almost every one of us has to go through tough times and learn how to move forward. Tom Hopkins’ journey towards becoming the influential person that he is now proves just how important hard work is. Aptly called The Builder of Sales Champions, Tom is also the author of the book How to Master the Art of Selling. From being thrust into the world of real estate at such a young age, he took on the guidance of J. Douglas Edwards and started doing better, growing himself later on to impart what he learned to other people. Tom says mastering the art of selling is about loving what you do and having the passion for it. He shares some tips on how to find that passion and gives some inspirational advice about selling and closing deals that will give you the confidence to take on the tasks coming your way.
How To Master The Art Of Selling with Tom Hopkins
Henry Ford is attributed with the quote, “Nothing happens until someone sells something.” You’re in for a rare treat. A special guest graces our blog. I first heard him speak in Boston in 1989 to a crowded stadium audience and I’ve been listening to him ever since. His book, How to Master The Art Of Selling, was my sales bible all the years I was building my company. It became a required reading for my sales staff too. He still consults and appears on stage, running his two-day Sales Academy all over the country. Welcome, Tom Hopkins.
Thank you, Mitch. It’s nice to be back and joining you.
Tom, one of the things that a lot of people don’t understand is the fact that you started like the rest of us. You basically went through what we all do when we get started in our career. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
I didn’t go to college. I’m not what you call the formal-educated person. I went for 90 days and realized the academic setting wasn’t for me. I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. For a year my uncle helped me go into construction, carrying steel as an ironworker. It’s the hardest physical labor on the planet. Fortunately, my father who was disappointed when I quit college, he suggested that because I was pretty communicative and that I was eighteen, that I get a real estate license. I said, “Dad, I’m not smart. I don’t know if I can pass that darn exam.” Sure enough, I did fail the real estate exam three times. The fourth time I got my license.
I had a challenge. I was young, just about nineteen. I didn’t have a car. I only had a motorcycle. I didn’t have any dress clothes. Back then we had a little dressier culture, to where in real estate you should almost have a suit. The owner of the company finally hired me. He said, “If you show up on Monday with a suit, you can come to work.” I wanted to go into real estate and I wanted the guy to hire me. I went to my closet. When I was sixteen I played in a band. We saw the Beatles come in 1962, they had these silver band uniforms. Our band had those. It was silver, shiny and it had a velvet purple collar. I showed up in the back of the office, drove my motorcycle to the back and walked in the back. The broker was there with twelve salespeople and having a meeting.
I walked in and sheepishly was standing at the back. He stopped the meeting. He said, “All of you listen up. The kid standing back there who drove up on a motorcycle and has that band uniform on, if he can make it, I expect all of you to get rich.” That’s the way he brought me into the company. I didn’t start off super. In six months, I only made one little sale. My savings from construction was running out. I totally believe when your attitude is right, that doors will open for people who have the right thinking and the right attitude. That’s what happened to me. I was about broke. A man came into our office looking for homes to show. He was a young guy, maybe 23 or 24. He was young like me, I was eighteen. He was a nice kid or young man and he had a beautiful car, beautiful clothes.
He suggested that I go see a man who back then was the real father of American selling, J. Douglas Edwards was his name. I spent the last $150 I just about had to my name to go and spend three days with him. It was life-changing. I became his student, as many people have become my students at my training. That’s in a way how all of a sudden, I started learning what to say to people, how to show property better. All of a sudden, I started making sales. The money started coming in. Lo and behold, I was on target out of 300 salespeople in the company that year to be the number one salesperson. That was how it all got started. I did that for eight glorious years, listing and selling properties. I was fortunate to write my book, How to Master The Art Of Selling. I had some doors open to where I was asked to speak. That’s how my seminar career started. That’s what I do today. I get on a plane almost every week, fly somewhere in the world, and teach people this wonderful art form called professional selling.
Tom, there are probably a few people who have maintained a career on stage for as long as you have with the success that you have. More importantly, the information that you are able to share with people is life changing. It was for me and it was for my team. When did you begin to realize that what you had was different and special that you needed to teach others?
I had a year where everything came together. I sold 365 homes in a year. My manager called me and said, “Tom, I don’t know if you’re even counting. That’s averaging one home a day.” The National Association of Realtors heard that you were only 23 years of age and that you made this happen. They want you to come and speak in Los Angeles at the national convention. I agreed to do it. I was scared to death. I was only supposed to speak to about 100 people. When you’re a new speaker, you don’t speak to the whole convention. I showed up at 8:00 when the convention kicked off. I was there in my suit and tie. I wasn’t supposed to speak until 1:00. Suddenly the president of the association came over and said, “Tom, our featured speaker who is a man named Thomas Peters, who is a bestselling author got caught in Los Angeles traffic and we’ve got to get started. Can you go on?” He then said, “You’ll only be able to speak until he shows up.If you have the right attitude and the right thinking, doors will open for you. Click To Tweet
I had no idea what to say. I had no idea how long I’ll be out there. I walked out on that stage and looked out at that 5,000 people. I said, “Do most of you realize that the words you and your people are saying can be costing you thousands of dollars a year?” “Quickly, I don’t know how much time I have but I’d love to give you ten words you must eliminate from your company’s vocabulary.” When they heard that I had sold that many homes, they were attentive. They all pulled out business cards because we didn’t have workbooks then. They took my ten words. It’s funny how fate is. I finished the tenth word in twelve minutes. Suddenly the president walked out and said, “Our featured speaker is here, but what do you think of this young guy?” I’ve got a thunderous standing ovation.
I came back to my office and my phone started ringing. Every real estate board who had been to that meeting were calling and asking me to come to speak. I couldn’t, at that point, give my real estate career. I not only owned many properties, but I had a pretty good overhead. It took me about two years of going out and speaking literally for free, to not only learn the art form of speaking, but to start building my reputation when I then said, “It’s time for me to give up selling and listing real estate and go full-time to build my seminar business, my Champions Unlimited career in this business of seminars.”
The part that I’m fascinated with is the fact that you never tried to be a speaker. It was as if the universe conspired around you to lift you up and place you on that stage at exactly the right moment in time with the exact right ten words to say that brought you to the point.
The man who was my original trainer, J. Douglas Edwards, taught me how to close a sale. He was the guru back then of closing sales. I decided to leave California and move to Arizona. I wrote to him because I had his post office box address, letting him know I was coming to Arizona. I knew he lived there somewhere. I bought a home in Paradise Valley, Arizona here in Scottsdale. The day I moved in, I heard a voice I’d listened to for hundreds of hours. It was Mr. Edwards who walked into my garage when I was unpacking our belongings to put in the home. He walked into my garage and I was startled. I said, “Mr. Edwards, what are you doing here?” He said, “I thought I’d welcome my new next-door neighbor to the area.”
There again, I bought a home next door to a man I had no idea of the four million people in Arizona where he lived. That’s another door where he then took me under his wing and taught me the art form of public speaking, handling an audience and so forth. All these doors happened. I truly believe that they were destined to happen. I thank God every day for all the wonderful things that have happened in my life to allow me to influence in a positive way help others have a better life. It’s been a real trip and a fabulous life.
Some people reading this might say, “He’s a lucky guy,” but I have found that luck follows those who are prepared and do the work leading up to that moment. Tom, you didn’t have to move to Scottsdale. You chose to move near someone that you admired. The universe steered you exactly into the right spot. People reading this might also say, “I understand all that. How do I make that happen for me?” What answer would you give those folks?
First, you need to be doing something that you have a passion for. Many years ago, I played golf with Wayne Gretzky who was the famous hockey player who changed hockey in our world. I happen to live near him in California when I lived there. I played golf with him. I was going home with him in the car and I said, “Wayne, you are the man that has changed hockey, number 99, The Great One. What do you think the reason was?” He said, “Tom, I had an overwhelming passion for all aspects of the sport of hockey. I had a passion for practice, a passion for winning, a passion for losing. A passion for the fact that when I skated on the ice, all the other team players on the team who were playing were after me because if they stopped me, they would beat us.” He overwhelmed me with enthusiasm about the importance of passion.
The first thing I would say to our audience is you have to be in a business or a career that you just don’t like, you have to have the overwhelming passion to love what you do, which is true in my case. It’s a highlight in my life to hear the comments that you’ve been gracious to make, to receive the letters, have people come up and have the 50, 60, 70-year-olds come in with their children who were in their 20s and 30s and bring them on the stage and say, “35 years ago, I was brand new in sales. I went to your seminar. This is my son or daughter. They’re going into the field. I dragged them here to have you do for them what you did for me.” These are the kinds of things that are the wind beneath my wings as far as wanting me to continue, as long as I am physical and emotionally able to be a teacher, motivator, trainer and so forth.
Readers, we are talking to Mr. Tom Hopkins, sales trainer extraordinaire, who has educated me and tens of thousands of others in the art of selling. Tom, overwhelming passion for practice, winning and losing is what makes a successful life. If I heard you correctly, what you said is that if you don’t have that passion, then you potentially may not make it. How about if you want to have the passion but don’t have it now? What would you do to get it?
First, you have to have the financial capacity to take a risk, which what that means to me is you might have to give up what you’ve got to get what you want. Many times, I’ll have people who have nine to five jobs. They’ll be referred to me to get advice, and I will always say to them, “You can’t go through a change until you have the capital, the financial resources to take a risk.” I have a little rule of thumb that I did when I was young and started wanting to go into sales. I started saving X amount of money so that I could live almost for six months without having to make a dime. Meaning all my bills would be paid. When you have some capital in the bank and you can relax a little bit, that’s when you can start the second part. Research for something you love and are passionate about. Some people find insurance and financial services and they fall in love with helping people in that way in their life.There’s no shortage of the knowledge and the expertise to develop yourself into the person you dream of. Click To Tweet
Others like me, they love helping people get into homes and go into real estate. Every city has a newspaper that is advertising, or they have the internet where companies drastically want people to look at their company and interview. There’s no challenge in finding good companies that want salespeople. You have to have the capital to exist until the money comes in. You have to have a product you have a passion for. You have to find someone who’s a mentor that can help you train you, which of course is done today through CDs, through books and through videos. There’s no shortage of the knowledge and the expertise to develop yourself into the person you dream of and to reach the goals that you are burning on fire to achieve.
Here’s the part that I run into as a coach and mentor to others. A lot of people don’t believe that they can do it. Have you found that to be true?
Yes. I had that challenge because when I was young, uneducated, scared to death, I had a low self-esteem in my own person. You have to work harder on yourself than you do on your job to increase your self-esteem and to become the person that you believe and want to dream about becoming. Take the time to find mentors. I had basically two. I had Mr. Edwards, who taught me the art of selling. I had Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, who his book, Think and Grow Rich, had such a powerful effect on me emotionally. You have to go through the pain of change if you want to become a different person. That begins by doing research. I have an extensive library that you’ve got to study.
Many people don’t read books on self-improvement, which is a mistake. What’s wonderful about the world today, and we didn’t have this back when I started is you can turn your car into an actual classroom. Every driving mile can be education and learning because you can listen to some of the great works. If you go to Amazon, they have got all the DVDs, CDs. They have all the great ones. There are many people out there who can change your life if you take their instruction and apply it.
Like you, I had my rolling university all throughout my sales careers. My whole trunk was filled with cassette programs. When I was in sales, I was selling semiconductors. I left a job being an engineer to sell semiconductors and I was bamboozled into the position. I was told I had a $2 million territory, but that territory was the scraps that all the other salesmen didn’t want. $2 million, but that’s before all those clients went out of business. I had basically to start from scratch and it took me fourteen months before I got my first real commission check. I wanted to reflect on something you said. I’m paraphrasing, but it’s the pain of change. It’s being uncomfortable.
That’s the clue that you’re on the right path in most cases. If you’re doing something and you’re in your comfort zone and you’re not growing. You’re happy with where you are, that’s the key. You need to move forward. You need to find that challenge that’s going to make you uncomfortable. When I work with clients, one of the first things I ask them is, “What would make you uncomfortable to take the next step?” I had somebody say to me, “The most uncomfortable thing I could possibly do is get onstage.” I said, “Let’s start with that.”
In 90 days, we had that individual on stage. They were exhilarated by the experience. Like you, they found it to be something that they wanted to do more and more of. At this point in the show, what I’d like to do is ask you if you could help us readers with the basics and understanding of what it would take to be a great salesperson. If we have a passion for our clients, passion for our field, passion about what we do changes an individual or a company but can’t quite fill the pipeline, how would we do it? Can you give us some tips?
The first thing I come back to is you need to do research in your area to find companies that are looking for people. You need to do your best to find a company that has a manager, a supervisor that you relate to. I was fortunate. I don’t know if I’d have been successful eventually in real estate had I not had a great leading manager who helped me overcome my fears and helped me to learn the art of selling homes. That’s one of the real keys, is if you’re going to go through the pain of the change if you’re going to take a risk and you have some capital, then you need to do research to find not only the product or service you totally have a passion for but you have to find the people who will become mentors.You have to work harder on yourself to become the person that you believe and want to dream of becoming. Click To Tweet
I believe if you go to Amazon, there are many books, CDs, DVDs. Even if you started with one and you wore out the darn thing as I did years ago with my cassettes before we had CDs, these are the steps you take. It doesn’t happen overnight. A person who is going to have a long-term success has to realize that the first year can be almost like education, to where you’re learning the field. You’re learning all the antidotes of how to prospect, how to use a telephone. They make the appointments and how to meet people properly, how to qualify them. If I were to give any advice, I would say work on two things. Work on becoming a better questioner and a better listener. The real art of selling is the opposite of what most people think.
Many people think that it’s talking and telling instead of realizing it’s asking and listening. These are the type of little nuances that I have always taught and believed can be the foundation of success. In a communication situation, any conversation, whoever’s talking is only learning what they already know. When you’re in that situation and you become what I call a master asker, you master asking the right questions and you’re listening, you’ll learn what you need to know to help people and lead them to say yes to whatever you’re offering them.
It’s not about talking and telling, it’s about asking and listening. That is such great advice. That incidentally can be applied even to the digital world, even to the world that we live in where most of that relationship is started online and then moved one-on-one only later after people know who you are. It’s only after people respond to something on the Internet, click or fill in an email address that the beginning of the relationship starts. In these days, that does start with talking and telling. It usually moves to ask and listening quickly if people want to be successful. It’s a great tip.
Where would you go next? You talked a little bit about finding a mentor, finding that passion, finding that field that you love. If you already have the field that you love, if you already have the passion, if you already have a mentor who you’re working with. Not working with because many of them are not affordable to many of us starting out, more along the lines of learning from. What would you say we should do if we’re having trouble closing sales?
The closing of a sale is an art form that can be learned. That is an art form that makes us as a training company a little different. I’ve had people in interviews like this. I’ve had people that have hired us as a company say, “What makes your company different than many of the other motivational or sales companies?” I say, “We primarily teach one subject and there are basically seven fundamentals of selling anything. We isolate number six, which is the art of closing a sale. We spend most of our time in that area because it’s the most misunderstood and most improperly done part of selling for most people in the field of sales.” It is an art form to close the sale properly without having to apply pressure, being overbearing or aggressive.
The reason I closed many sales is I did it in a way that had a lot of empathy for the buyer and a lot of sensitivity to their concerns. As a questioner and listener, I usually found out what they would say yes to by never having to make a lot of statements, but by being an avid listener to their input. This allowed me to qualify as to what properties back in real estate that I would put them in the car and show to them and then close the sale. I would say that subject number six of the seven is probably the one most important. It’s the one that I have had most fun teaching, how to close a sale. That’s the main art form that you get paid for when you are in the field of sales.
If you were to look back and you were to summarize all the years that you’ve been visiting corporations in sales training, what would you say are the most common mistakes people make when they try to close a sale but don’t?
I believe that the biggest mistake is too many salespeople come across too much like a stereotypical salesperson. They literally come across the way a salesperson does instead of a good, empathetic, and caring listener. I feel that the big mistake many salespeople make is they haven’t got a smooth transition from the presentation step of showing the product, showing the service, and then gently moving into getting minor agreements. From minor agreements, which we would call test closing questions, where you’re in essence like a thermometer. You find out how sick a person is or how hot they are by putting a thermometer in their mouth. You read it and know where they’re at. In a way, by asking questions and listening, those are almost like thermometers that let you know where they are coming from.
In test closing, by asking these little questions, you’re building what I call the yes momentum. The yes momentum bleeds into where you have the opportunity to move into the final closing of the sale, which is a beautiful experience. The people that do it all develop their own closing instinct. Meaning if I sat down at a table with a husband and wife as an example, you’d see me do certain things in the art of closing. If you saw a woman named Virginia Carter, she’s passed on, but when she was 93, she was the highest income earning, great, great grandmother.
She made over a million dollars a year in financial services. If you watched her at the desk, she had her own instinct and her own style. This is something you have to develop and work on because it’s imperative that you are you as a person. You aren’t trying to become someone else, but you emulate another person. You say and do what they say. You ask the right questions. All this is the art form that leads up to closing the sale, getting the check today, having them happy, and sending you qualified introductions and referrals in the years ahead.If you’re doing something within your comfort zone, then you’re not growing Click To Tweet
I want to make sure that I don’t have a misunderstanding here. You said to be you, and then I thought I heard you say emulate another person. I wasn’t sure what you meant.
What I meant by that is you need to find people that you can emulate, and you feel good about how they come across. There are people in sales I could not be like because they don’t have the warmth. Maybe they’re over aggressive at times. In finding people to not only listen to, take advice from, but let them mentor you, you have to find someone that you relate to as to their temperament, their personality, and the way they come across. One of the reasons we’ve had such a wonderful seminar business is what we teach relates to almost everyone. It doesn’t just relate to the talkative, outgoing salesperson. It also relates to what we call the inverted type of person who’s a little timid, a little shy. They’re more of an introvert and an interesting extrovert. We try to match our stuff to all types of people. All of us are in the people business, regardless of what we do. Understanding yourself, others, people, how to come across properly, being a master asker of questions, an empathetic listener, add all this up and you are going to do well in this wonderful profession called selling.
I’ve heard Tony Robbins talk about this in the years that he and I worked together. He uses a word that’s similar to what you do. He uses the word modeling. What he likes to do is find somebody that he believes he has what he needs and then models that skill or model that element of that person’s personality to best duplicate the success that they’ve created. Is that what you mean in the same way when you say emulate?
It’s very similar, it can also be called mirroring, which is what some trainers call it. I remember vividly I walked out on stage in Florida. I looked around the room. I maybe had 400, 500 folks in the room. I noticed a guy in the back who I thought, “Why isn’t he sitting down?” I saw him, kept watching him, and finally realized he wasn’t standing. Sure enough, he came up at the first break and he was Tony Robbins. This would be back when he was 21 years of age. I’ve had such respect. We call Tony the Batman of infomercials because he is and has been the king of that communications skill. He, of course, has wonderful ideas and none of the things that Tony or I teach oppose each other. It’s a different way, a different approach. I’ve had a little saying, “Listen to a person and take the best and leave the rest. If there’s something you don’t relate to, don’t take it. Make it yours.”
Tony would agree with that as well. He’s had the gift of being able to inspire and change the state of many people who attend his events. I highly recommend working with Tony at any level you can. I have to ask you a couple of questions here because I’m fascinated by all of what you’ve shared. Some of the tips alone could potentially change the trajectory of any of our readers. Let me ask you this question about you. Who, in all of space and time, would you have one hour to enjoy a walk in a park, a quick lunch or an intense conversation with?
If I could go back even though he’s gone to see the Lord, I would consider Ronald Reagan a person who I did meet, but I never had that chance to spend an hour in the park. Another person would be Margaret Thatcher from Great Britain. She would be a fabulous one-hour luncheon. There are an awful lot of people who if you had that to say make a list, I bet I could come up with a lot more then I’d say what an hour that would be. I would love to have had those experiences. People I hope will realize that’s something you want to research. Who in this world are people that you would love to take their intelligence, their skill, and make it a part of you? It’s an excellent example of what people should do to continue to personally grow as a human being in all areas of their life.
That’s why I asked the question. I like to see who has shaped an individual. In many cases, this is a great way of getting to it. You named some amazing people, and because you’re you I’m going to let you have two people. Usually, I only let people have one. Some people, particularly young people, would not understand who Margaret Thatcher was. People know Ronald Reagan was a former president of the US. The sweeping changes both of those people had in our era, on the time that we lived in while those people were in office, that’s what makes them great choices. I love the folks that you change. Here’s the grand finale question, the change the world question. What is it that you were doing or would like to do that truly has the potential to literally change the world?
I have been blessed to have five million people who have attended my seminars in the last 40 years. If I were to take the increased income that the folks I feel have gotten from our training and we put that onto the gross national product as to what the country makes, I would be thrilled to say that we’re doing something good for the overall country as to the revenue it created. As you said, nothing happens until someone sells something. That’s why for the average company in this country, that person called salesperson is critically important to the company to generate revenue. My whole goal would be to teach people in sale throughout the world to do a better job in servicing and serving others. In serving thus selling, the whole world gets better not only economically, but in all areas of our beautiful countries.
That’s a great way to change the world, a way I could sign up for every day of the week. Five million people, that’s such an incredible career. I’m blessed to have been one of those people. Thank you for that, for all of the increased income that you gave me as your student many years ago, and for continuing to do it. I would assume that you could have chosen to retire anytime these last ten years or more but instead have chosen to continue the calling, to continue to be out there sharing, teaching and benefiting others.
I had been asked by family and personal friends, “Why do you still get on a plane every week and why don’t you retire? You don’t need to work.” I have always had a little saying, “Retirement can be a fancy name for an early death.” I believe that when a person retires that doesn’t have a passion for what they’re doing, I believe that they don’t live as long. I feel that loving what you do, helping others and becoming a servant to your fellow man, that’s what keeps you young, vibrant and physically able to do a lot of things with your life.
There are many people who will read this interview and will want to get in touch with you and would want to learn more about seminars. Are you coming to Boston again?
I’ll be to Boston sometime. I’ll continue to do that 30 or 40 seminars in a year. I’ve always loved your state. They’ve been great people. Hopefully, when I do come, you’ll know, you’ll come by, and we’ll have lunch.
How could people find you on the internet or find the programs that you offer?
I’m here in Scottsdale, Arizona. If they go to my website, TomHopkins.com, they can go on and they can find all of our products, services, seminar schedule and what cities we’re going to be in. They can also see me on the internet. They can also take advantage of what we do there. My main office is in Chandler, Arizona, Tom Hopkins International. They’re free to visit us there. Sometimes people call and our customer service people will send them out information on all the stuff we do. That’s nice if you’d let them know about that. Thanks so much for that.
Readers, this is your opportunity to change your sales trajectory. This interview could potentially be the pivot point of your entire life. Don’t waste the time you spent. Take action, get in touch and go to TomHopkins.com. Find a way to at a minimum buy his book, which changed my world many years ago. Buy the book, How to Master The Art Of Selling, and find a way to see Tom and let him inspire you. Tom Hopkins, thank you so much for your time. It was such a pleasure.
Thank you, Mitch. All the best.
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