Past Whiz Kid of Sales Seems Full of Energy

Cancer survivor says to take small steps, see humor in life



Akron Beacon Journal

Hal Becker has to be a great salesman. He went to work for Xerox straight out of college, and in 1978, he led the company in sales at age 22. He was a kid making $80,000 a year.

That's enough to give someone instant credibility with an audience of business people. Who wouldn't want to know his methods?

Becker, who lives in Lyndhurst, spoke at a conference called ``Exploring Success," held last week at Tangier restaurant. He addressed an audience of about 250 people in the opening session of the day-long event, sponsored by the Akron Regional Development Board and National City Bank, Northeast.

Becker said a lot of things about success that we all know, but that we all need to hear over and over again so we don't forget.

He talked about the everyday challenge of keeping our priorities straight, for example. He has credibility on that subject, too. In 1984, when he was 28, he found out he had abdominal cancer. His doctor put him in an experimental program at a Cleveland hospital and gave him a 30 percent chance of living. Becker became one of the lucky ones, but before he recovered, he learned what it's like to weigh 83 pounds and have no hair.

"It was the best thing that happened to me," Becker said. "Being from a poor family and making a lot of money, your priorities start to get screwed up. I had a lot of time to think, lying in bed for eight months."

Becker still works crazy hours, and he's on the road a lot because he makes his living as a motivational speaker. He wrote a book on salesmanship called ``Can I Have 5 Minutes Of Your Time?," and he sells motivational tapes. Proceeds from the book go to cancer research. Buyers at the conference wrote checks directly to a cancer organization.

Energetic body and mind

When he's talking about sales, Becker reminds you of the fitness guru Richard Simmons. It seems he has nothing but energy packed into his small, athletic body.

"Take small little baby steps," Becker advised. "You give yourself too much to do and you'll overwhelm yourself." But at the same time, he'll tell you to work hard.

When he was at Xerox, the company asked sales representatives to make at least 10 cold calls a day. He made 20.

Becker offered these suggestions:

Know your company and read the literature available on products your company makes or sells.

Don't waste time on long lunches or other digressions.

Keep in touch with clients and prospects.

Remember to ask instead of tell, and listen instead of talk.

"That's the most important thing," he said. "Selling is about asking questions."

He also emphasized the importance of a simple sales and marketing plan for a business of any size.

"You could be Wal-Mart," he said. "The plan is to be simple, and you need to stick to the plan. You have to work it every day."

Becker didn't pretend to offer new approaches to success. He'll tell you that motivational speakers such as he all say the same things, and they borrow from the teachings of Dale Carnegie.

His childhood 

Becker grew up as an only child in a Jewish family in University Heights. His father owned a used car dealership in a poor section of Cleveland. "My father taught me honesty," Becker said. "He taught me the importance of reputation."

Becker worked his way through John Carroll University. He stayed with Xerox for five years, then started a company that did telephone surveys on customer satisfaction.

He managed to get new customers, even when he was on chemotherapy and had one foot in the grave. "I told them if I died, they wouldn't have to pay," he said. "I called that my chemo close."

Becker laughed about that, and reminded everyone to try to see the humor in life, because no one wants to be around people who are down and constantly complaining. He ended his speech by encouraging everyone to have fun that day.

Remember his advice about small steps.

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