How Selling Vacuums, Door-to-Door, Prepared Me For a Life In Sales

Selling door-to-door is ‘no joke’!d2d sales

Do you have any idea what kind of mental focus and determination it takes to knock on the door of 50 small businesses per day, just to be rejected 49 times?  50 on most days .

I had many days like that as a local Territory Sales Representative with a variety of companies. However, by the time I was selling to businesses, I had already learned how to be effective and comfortable in the field. It was different experience that provided the preparation I needed for what I believe is the hardest version of sales.

The psychology that goes into cold prospecting everyday isn’t acknowledged enough. Most of your friends and family would say that there’s no way they could “do that”.  

This entry isn’t about in-person prospecting techniques. It is also not intended to glorify or disparage the vacuum sales profession. It is, however, about the courage it took me to engage prospects in their domain, and how it can make someone a better salesperson.

Before starting my career in business-to-business sales, I was in a place in my life where I had no other option but to sell Kirby vacuums. For those that are not familiar with Kirby, it is a very expensive vacuum that is typically only sold door-to-door.

I wasn’t very proud of what I was doing. But in looking back, I truly believe it prepared me in two significant ways.

First, it gave me strong mental fortitude – It is usually just you out there alone with your thoughts. At your core you hate what you’re doing and you just want to go home as soon as possible. You could just skip every door and say to your team and van leader that you didn’t get any ‘bites’. You would just be lying to yourself, though.

A lot of people were very friendly and some of them even bought from me. There still wasn’t a day where I wasn’t ridiculed. I went home everyday feeling beat-up and ready to quit. My back was ‘up against’ the wall so I started to slowly take control of the situation by looking at it differently. I made a decision that if I was going to do this, I was going to be the best. I knew that I would get past this phase and grow from the experience so I started to embrace the process.

It became clear, that the more people I spoke to, the more demos I would have. Then the more demos I had the more vacuums I would sell.  As a result, my entire energy changed. When I would approach a door, I would approach with much more enthusiasm, I would even tell people “thank you” when they would say “no”. Eventually, I reached a point where I would run to the next door while everyone was dreading each step they took toward their next opportunity.

Second, it honed my salesmanship – We worked six days a week, Monday through Saturday. Each morning before heading out we would have a mini rally. I say “rally” because it was more of an event than a meeting. At the center of the event was some sort of sales training, we would practice everything; elevator pitches, rebuttals, how to set up the demos, probing questions, and so many other techniques. 

Combine the daily sales training with countless real-world scenarios, over the period of a year, and you have no choice but to develop an innate ability to manage sales scenarios effectively.

Real Estate Stress

There is no doubt that I learned many valuable lessons and acquired skills that have been very valuable to me. At the time, however, I was still struggling. Then I found a way to ‘make it work’. My competitive spirit kicked in and I  would do whatever I had to, to beat out the other reps. Which I did. Repeatedly. I also found a way within myself to take pride in what I was doing. Having success and slightly being revered by my peers helped with that.

Still, I was selling vacuums for a living and it remains one of the most humbling experiences of my life. 

Here’s my point:

If you’re in a job that you don’t feel great about, find a way to approach it differently. Think about the future when you’ve moved on from where you are, with the skills you’ve gained. See yourself winning. In the meantime, work your ass off and don’t let them see you sweat.

Also, remember this; overcoming your fears and facing any reluctance issues (as it relates to sales) will prepare you for other difficult situations in business. Life as well for that matter.  

vac mic

Keep calling. Keep knocking. And when you feel like you can’t go anymore, make one more call. Knock on one more door. I promise, if you make this a habit, you will routinely find success. 



In this 1-minute video I speak about my experience in a bit more detail.


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See you soon,

Derrick Williams


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