John Henry Patterson, the founder of National Cash Register, has been called the greatest salesman of all time. Patterson didn't simply build an empire. Over 100 years ago, he created the sales system that major corporations still use today. His contributions are so numerous that he can justifiably be called the Father of Professional Selling.

As a networking professional, it's critical that you build and maintain at least a small retail business that turns a profit and can be easily duplicated. You don't have to be John Henry Patterson to do this, but all of us can certainly benefit from his wisdom.

Patterson was a firm believer in rehearsing a sales presentation repeatedly until it could be repeated word for word under pressure. He compiled a document called The NCR Primer, a 400-word collection of scripts packed with every successful selling point of his top performers. All his salespeople had to memorize it; in fact, if they failed to repeat it back to him on request, they were fired on the spot. NCR sales soared almost immediately after Patterson implemented this strategy.

How about you? Have you committed your sales presentation to memory--or are you leaving your future to chance? If you're still winging it, be glad John Henry isn't your sponsor!

Patterson's next sales creation was The Book of Arguments, which went on to become the NCR Manual. This book contained answers to every possible objection a prospect might come up with. Compiled from interviews with NCR's top sales professionals, it was the first training manual of its kind.

Do you have a book like this to create consistency in your organization? If not, how difficult would it be to create a book full of answers to your own top ten objections? NCR's sales skyrocketed using this system; what do you think will happen with a product or service like yours?

Once you have the book, why not hold each of your leaders accountable for memorizing and rehearsing the answers? Of course, you're not going to fire them if they don't; but you could let them know that if they want your help on a regular basis, this is one of your requirements for every serious distributor. If your leaders balk at memorizing and rehearsing these answers, don't feel bad. Patterson had the same problem with many of his people--until the results were so overwhelmingly positive that they could no longer deny its value. You'll most likely experience the same resistance, and the same eventual success.

Another of Patterson's revolutionary ideas was the regular sales training meeting. Legend has it that the big man was at the 1893 Worlds Fair in Chicago and stopped off at the NCR display booth to quiz the young salesmen. When they couldn't repeat the words he had worked so hard to create, Patterson was so irate he hauled them off to a nearby hotel room for a training session. The results were so good, he decided to create a training school to conduct regular training meetings with all his salesmen.

When was the last time you got your group together and conducted a real sales training session? How much do your leaders really know about your product or service? And are they competent at delivering this information to a prospect in a succinct, effective manner? Why not hold a weekly or monthly training session where you role-play with your leaders in front of the group? As the leader, be prepared to be able to answer any objection at a moment's notice. If you don't do your homework, don't expect your people to do theirs next time. These sessions will build camaraderie among the team, and it will turn your leaders into professionals.

Another idea attributed to Patterson was focusing the presentation on the needs of the prospect rather than on the features of the product. Although it would seem like basic logic to do so, think about the last five encounters you had with salespeople. Did they gather enough information from you about what you wanted and needed? Amazingly, many salespeople fail this simple test, because they're thinking in terms of their own benefit, instead of their customers'. People can sense this a mile away.

Patterson believed so strongly in this idea that he started a training course for his salespeople in listening skills. He was often quoted as saying that fifty percent of all lost sales could be attributed to the salesperson's failure to communicate.

How about you? Have you ever lost a potential customer or a sponsoring prospect because of your inability to connect to his or her needs? All of us have. The question is, what is it costing you every month within your organization? Hundreds, thousands, or millions? Regular training sessions that teach the distributor how to ask questions and determine their prospects' needs could yield earth-shattering results.

If John Henry Patterson were writing this article, he wouldn't ask you to give these ideas a try--he'd insist on it!

DAWN SIEBOLD is co-founder of the Gove-Siebold Group, a training organization that helps networkers develop world-class communication skills.