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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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Learning to Sell at a Young Age

Comments (10)

I got the following email on 1/25/08.  The Subject Line was "Naming Bathrooms."

Mr. Feld:

My name is A, and I am a Cadette Girl Scout who is selling cookies to fund my dream of becoming an astronaut. This upcoming summer, I am returning to Huntsville, AL, for Advanced Space Academy, an opportunity offered through Girl Scouts. I am not sure if my dreams will take me to ATLAS at CU (my dad is a professor there), or Cal Tech (and the Jet Propulsion Lab, where my dad is on sabbatical), or even to MIT, where my dad went to school (Course XVI, 1978-1987).

My mom says that it is too bad that MIT did not accept your naming a bathroom offer — she thinks that you should have offered to build more women’s bathrooms at MIT as they can be somewhat hard to find when you need them. She also says that while the Sloan School and other east campus buildings had adequate facilities, you had to plan carefully if your work took you to the Humanities or Science Libraries.

I am writing to ask if you would like to make a contribution of $2008 to help me attain my goal. This translates to approximately 618 boxes ($3.25/box), of which there are eight available varieties. Of course, that might be a lot of cookies, even if you distributed them amongst all of your companies’ employees as a business expense. Instead, we can donate boxes to your choice — EFAA, the local food bank that was started in 1917 to help the families of World War I soldiers in Boulder, or directly to our soldiers overseas.

The 2008 cookie campaign is now taking orders with the cookies due to arrive in mid-February. I would enjoy discussing this with you further (I have prepared a presentation as to how businesses can use Girl Scout Cookies). You may reach me at myemail.com or my phone numbers, 303.xxx.yyyy (cell) or 303.aaa.bbbb (home).

If you decide that your 2008 charitable support does not include Girl Scouts or that you have a Girl Scout who is already your supplier, thank you. I would appreciate a reply regardless of your decision.

I thought this was absolutely brilliant.  I responded with:

A – thank you for writing me! I’m a big fan of the Girl Scouts and one of the organizations that I’m chairman of (the National Center for Women & Information Technology – www.ncwit.org – which is based at CU in the ATLAS building) has a partnership with them.

While I’m not interested in buying $2008 worth of cookies, I would be willing to buy 24 boxes (three of each type.) Tell me the best way to coordinate this with you.

My cookies showed up today and I got to meet A.  She’s a neat young lady in high school who is learning to sell at a young age.  Awesome.  Her parents (I got to meet her mom also) should definitely be proud of her.

  • John Minnihan

    Rock on Brad.

    On behalf of scouts (boy & girl) everywhere, thanks. And thanks for not being a total pushover, because that's not how life works.

    Just last night it occurred to me (I'm dense you know) that I've taken on four critical roles in my boys' scouting pack, including the Executive Officer, to ensure that they continue down that path & learn everything they can about “the world” as elementary school students.

    We've talked enough that you have a sense of what's important to me. This is at the top of the list.

  • Gio G.

    Brad, you've just published the poor girl's email address ([redacted]@mac.com) in plain view of the spambots! Can you edit the post and contain the damage?

    • http://www.feld.com Brad Feld

      Yikes. The joy of Windows Live Writer – I totally missed the hyperlink. Fixed.

  • Steve Bergstein

    Nice story, Brad. Is her father someone that you or I would have known while we were at MIT?

    Maybe she should look up Bomber while she's in Huntsville.

    • http://www.feld.com Brad Feld

      Nope – he's at least 5 years older than us. FYI – Bomber is now in Colorado Springs – I see him every now and then – and his daughter is a freshman at MIT!

  • Tom

    Startups all over Boulder were hoping you would choose the $2008 package… :)

    • Mary Helen Miller

      This is A's mom; having met Brad (and lived with A's dad for a long time), I realized why I missed the MIT crowd so much. Of course, the best and the brightest of them seem to be married to Wellesley women!!

      While A did not expect Brad to jump at the $2008 proffer, she did try to follow the old saw, “Shoot for the moon; even if you miss, you'll fall among the stars.” If there is anyone in Boulder (or the metro area) who needs their Samoa or Thin Mint fix, A. will be happy to oblige.

  • http://computerconsultingblog.blogspot.com Joshua Feinberg

    Yes this is a fantastic lesson is salespersonship.

    And using a direct response marketing approach is certainly much safer in this day and age than going door to door.

    By selling in bulk, without door-to-door canvassing it's GOT to be more time efficient.

    So should the Girl Scouts (and Boy Scouts) for that matter be training scouts in direct response marketing, rather than door-to-door interruption marketing?

    Finally, the use of minimizers, specifics, and contrast were brilliantly orchestrated.

    Robert Cialdini (Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion) would be proud.

    While I'm sure the scout never intended to sell very many $2,008.00 orders, who would just buy one box after that pitch?

    And using non-round numbers helps make the pitch more real and memorable, even if the number is the year.

    I remember selling pens and chocolate bars in Cub Scouts. And selling newspaper subscriptions as part of my paper route.

    However it would've been very helpful to learn some of these finer points at a younger age, rather than waiting until some 15-20 years later.

  • http://www.naffziger.net/blog Dave Naffziger

    Learning to sell at a young age can be really powerful. In fact, just getting over the fear of asking for an order is hugely helpful.

    I will *always* order cookies, buy lemondade, get my car washed, etc. My only requirement is that the kids (not the parents) make the request.. I think this works out great for everyone involved.

  • http://voicesage.blogspot.com PaulSweeney

    Ahhh mmmm, just read “Influence” the book that silicon valley seems to be reading these days, and one of the very early examples in the book is of a boyscout who stops the prof in the street, and asks him to buy a $50 ticket to their concert on the Sat. He says, thanks, but no thanks. The boy scout says “well at least you can buy a few packets of these biscuits, they are only a dollar each”, so the Prof buys five packs. He goes home and says, but I don't like biscuits, and that causes him to pull in his research team and ask them “why was I compelled to make that purchase”. mmmm…..

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

    Yikes. The joy of Windows Live Writer – I totally missed the hyperlink. Fixed.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/john_minnih5395 john_minnih5395

    Rock on Brad.

    On behalf of scouts (boy & girl) everywhere, thanks. And thanks for not being a total pushover, because that's not how life works.

    Just last night it occurred to me (I'm dense you know) that I've taken on four critical roles in my boys' scouting pack, including the Executive Officer, to ensure that they continue down that path & learn everything they can about "the world" as elementary school students.

    We've talked enough that you have a sense of what's important to me. This is at the top of the list.

  • Gio G.

    Brad, you've just published the poor girl's email address ([redacted]@mac.com) in plain view of the spambots! Can you edit the post and contain the damage?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/steve_bergs2127 steve_bergs2127

    Nice story, Brad. Is her father someone that you or I would have known while we were at MIT?

    Maybe she should look up Bomber while she's in Huntsville.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/bfeld bfeld

    Nope – he's at least 5 years older than us. FYI – Bomber is now in Colorado Springs – I see him every now and then – and his daughter is a freshman at MIT!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/tom tom

    Startups all over Boulder were hoping you would choose the $2008 package… :)

  • Joshua Feinberg

    Yes this is a fantastic lesson is salespersonship.

    And using a direct response marketing approach is certainly much safer in this day and age than going door to door.

    By selling in bulk, without door-to-door canvassing it's GOT to be more time efficient.

    So should the Girl Scouts (and Boy Scouts) for that matter be training scouts in direct response marketing, rather than door-to-door interruption marketing?

    Finally, the use of minimizers, specifics, and contrast were brilliantly orchestrated.

    Robert Cialdini (Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion) would be proud.

    While I'm sure the scout never intended to sell very many $2,008.00 orders, who would just buy one box after that pitch?

    And using non-round numbers helps make the pitch more real and memorable, even if the number is the year.

    I remember selling pens and chocolate bars in Cub Scouts. And selling newspaper subscriptions as part of my paper route.

    However it would've been very helpful to learn some of these finer points at a younger age, rather than waiting until some 15-20 years later.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/dave_naffzi2081 dave_naffzi2081

    Learning to sell at a young age can be really powerful. In fact, just getting over the fear of asking for an order is hugely helpful.

    I will *always* order cookies, buy lemondade, get my car washed, etc. My only requirement is that the kids (not the parents) make the request.. I think this works out great for everyone involved.

  • PaulSweeney

    Ahhh mmmm, just read "Influence" the book that silicon valley seems to be reading these days, and one of the very early examples in the book is of a boyscout who stops the prof in the street, and asks him to buy a $50 ticket to their concert on the Sat. He says, thanks, but no thanks. The boy scout says "well at least you can buy a few packets of these biscuits, they are only a dollar each", so the Prof buys five packs. He goes home and says, but I don't like biscuits, and that causes him to pull in his research team and ask them "why was I compelled to make that purchase". mmmm…..

  • Mary Helen Miller

    This is A's mom; having met Brad (and lived with A's dad for a long time), I realized why I missed the MIT crowd so much. Of course, the best and the brightest of them seem to be married to Wellesley women!!

    While A did not expect Brad to jump at the $2008 proffer, she did try to follow the old saw, "Shoot for the moon; even if you miss, you'll fall among the stars." If there is anyone in Boulder (or the metro area) who needs their Samoa or Thin Mint fix, A. will be happy to oblige.

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