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What is Og Mandino’s The Greatest Salesman in the World about? What does the greatest salesman in the world have to do with character development?
Part self-help techniques, part sales manual, and part Christian allegory, The Greatest Salesman in the World by Og Mandino addresses ways we can establish daily habits to strengthen our resolve and character, which will help us achieve our goals. The book’s title is slightly misleading—you’ll find no strategies for how to negotiate a cold call or close a deal. Instead, the story “sells” the premise that becoming a great salesperson means developing a better, stronger version of yourself through good habits, discipline, perseverance, and self-control.
Below is a brief overview of Og Mandino’s principles and the story behind them.
The Greatest Salesman In the World
Written in 1968, The Greatest Salesman in the World by Og Mandino emphasizes that to achieve any goal, you need to develop the habits and attitudes of a great salesperson, which means acquiring self-confidence, emotional control, persistence, generosity, humor, and humility. The book’s 10 principles provide a framework centered around positive thinking and self-discipline, the building blocks of any kind of self-improvement.
The Story Behind the Principles
The 10 principles are taught through the parable of a poor camel boy in Biblical times. Hafid wants to learn the art of selling so he can become a wealthy merchant. Hafid’s mentor, a highly successful salesperson, sees that the young boy is both ambitious and generous, so he rewards him with a chest full of 10 scrolls inscribed with the secrets of selling. But the precious scrolls come with caveats: Hafid must always give generously to those less fortunate, and he must keep the scrolls a secret until he meets their next rightful owner.
Hafid uses the scrolls to amass a great fortune and eventually reaches old age. As he nears his death, he gives away almost everything he owns while he waits for the scroll’s successor to appear. When that person arrives, it turns out to be the Apostle Paul, who will use the scroll’s lessons to “sell” Jesus’s teachings to the world.
The Scrolls’ Lessons
Here are the lessons from the 10 scrolls in the story:
Scroll #1: Form Good Habits
Create a better future for yourself by replacing bad habits with good ones. Today is a new day in which you can spend your time and energy engaged in practices and activities you want to cultivate instead of negative behaviors. With practice, any new action becomes easy, so start forming better habits today.
Say you want to eat healthier meals, but you begin each morning by stopping at the fast-food drive-thru on the way to work. Replace this bad habit with a better one—get up 15 minutes earlier and make yourself a delicious, healthy breakfast. If you repeat this practice over many days, it will become a normal part of your routine. You will be a slave to a good habit rather than a bad one.
Scroll #2: Love Others
Approach every person on earth with unconditional love. Recognize people’s innate goodness even if they aren’t showing it. Use love and generosity as tools to attract people to you. The love you send out into the world will come right back to you.
You think your colleague is arrogant and overbearing, and you avoid him as much as possible. Tomorrow, seek him out and ask him a question about his family or work, or pay him a genuine compliment. Even words as simple as “that’s a great tie you’re wearing” can be a loving gesture. Genuinely loving words and actions may turn this difficult person into a valued friend.
Scroll #3: Don’t Quit
Don’t quit. Perseverance and persistence are critical sales skills and also life skills. Failures are merely challenges on the path to success. Success rarely comes right away—it typically arrives at the end of your efforts, not the beginning.
Even after a full day of hearing “no” from potential buyers, a great salesperson doesn’t allow herself to give up. When you’re weary at the end of the day and want to go home, challenge yourself to make one more sales call. Every single call is one step on the journey to making a sale.
Scroll #4: You Are Uniquely Valuable
Feel pride in what differentiates you from others. Your individuality and originality has value, and you can use it to your advantage to be a better salesperson or simply a better person. No one else in the world has exactly what you have to offer, so take an inventory of your gifts and cultivate them.
You’re an introvert, and you’ve always felt a bit out of place among your sales department colleagues who are chatty, fast-talking extroverts. You often worry that your quieter personality makes you less successful at selling. But flip that around—your introversion may be your greatest strength. Many customers will trust your quiet, serious nature and prefer buying from you than the stereotypical glad-handing salesperson. You listen carefully to what your customers want instead of pushing your sales agenda, and your customers value that.
Scroll #5: Treasure Your Time
Today is a precious commodity, so don’t waste it. Don’t focus on the past; put all your energy into the present. You can’t repeat this day or this moment, so give it your full energy and attention.
Never put off until tomorrow what you could do today. Every morning, ask yourself what matters most to you today, what will feel like a worthy accomplishment when the day is done. Maybe it’s sticking to your new healthy eating regime or making your elderly mother feel great on her birthday. Or maybe it’s finally gathering the courage to make that sales call you’ve been putting off. Time has a way of slipping away from us—today will be relegated to history in a mere 24 hours—so use this day to your best advantage.
Scroll #6: Master Your Emotions
A good day can quickly become a bad day if you allow your moods to control you, instead of vice versa. Reign in your negative moods and emotions with action. Counter emotional volatility with positive actions or rituals—taking a walk, laughing with a friend, or counting your blessings.
When Sharon opens her email inbox and finds it full of customer complaints, she gets upset and loses motivation to work. Then she feels terrible because she’s not productive, and her mood sinks lower. To combat that cycle, she decides to take action—she will not check her inbox until after she’s completed three solid hours of productive work in the morning, which will make her feel good. Then she can tackle the complaints after lunch without letting them derail her.
Scroll #7: Don’t Be Too Serious
Laugh at the world, and laugh at yourself. A sense of humor improves almost any situation. A light-hearted approach to life’s problems makes them seem less daunting.
When Jamie drove away from the gas station pump with the hose still attached to her car, she felt ashamed of her absentmindedness and “dumb mistake.” She decided not to tell anyone about the embarrassing incident. But a week later, a friend happened to mention that he got distracted at the gas station and did the exact same thing, so of course Jamie confessed. The two friends roared with laughter, and Jamie felt the joyful release of making fun of her own foibles. She decided right then to admit that she’s not perfect and learn to laugh at her mistakes.
Scroll #8: Set Goals and Exceed Them
Create a roadmap for how you want your life to go—for the goals you want to achieve or the sales you want to close. Strive for constant improvement by competing with yourself and bettering yourself every day. Set goals, meet them, then set newer and higher goals.
Last week you planned to sell $10,000 worth of merchandise. You met that goal, but instead of resting on your laurels, this week you set a goal of selling $11,000 worth of merchandise. You keep challenging yourself and aiming higher. (Or a non-sales example: Last week you went to the gym three days a week. You met that goal, so this week you’re aiming for three gym workouts plus one yoga class.)
Scroll #9: Do It Now
Always choose action over hesitation. It doesn’t matter how much learning or preparation you do if it doesn’t lead to action. Acting now (even if you aren’t quite ready) is always better than procrastinating. The only way you fail is if you don’t act.
Students often procrastinate on their assignments, but they aren’t necessarily being lazy. They procrastinate because they fear failure—they’re afraid they aren’t smart enough to do the assignment well. But procrastinating makes any job harder because it enlarges and increases fear. During the period when the student is not doing the assignment (they’re procrastinating by doing some other activity), they’re building up negative thoughts about their ability to do it. When they finally sit down to work, they’ve made a mountain out of a molehill, and the assignment seems insurmountable. Students who dive into their work immediately will have an easier time completing it because they don’t allow their fear to expand.
Scroll #10: Pray for Direction
Pray to a higher power for guidance. You’re not all-knowing or all-powerful, so ask for help. In your prayers, don’t request certain outcomes or ask for material goods; pray for wisdom and direction to help you follow the right path.
You’re having a personality conflict with your boss. You believe she micro-manages you and doesn’t appreciate how hard you work and how skilled you are. You have to hold yourself back from losing your temper, and you’re starting to wonder if you should quit and find another job. This is a good time to pray for guidance. You don’t know what’s the best course of action, so ask for help. Pray to someone or something bigger than you for help in finding and walking the right path—either working through your problems with your boss or moving on to a new job.
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Here's what you'll find in our full The Greatest Salesman in the World summary:
- An allegory for how to live your life more successfully
- 10 principles that can make anyone a great salesperson
- How to become a better, stronger version of yourself—salesperson or not