AMERICA'S BEST SALESMEN They want you to be happy. They know how to make you like them. If you're both lucky, you'll know each other a long time.

(FORTUNE Magazine) – DOUSE THE lights! Grab your flak jacket! You are about to be bombed and strafed again: ''Hi, I'm calling from Interstate Stock Swindles with an investment idea that has proved to be of great interest to people like yourself. Now, do you have $25,000 available to invest? Oh. Well, have you got $10,000?'' ''Good afternoon, Madam. I'm from Ohno Tinmen Inc. How would you like to make your home a maintenance-free home?'' ''What do you mean you don't have life insurance? So what if you're only 23? So what if you're not married? I'm tellin' you, boy, you are still gonna die. And if you go leavin' a pregnant girlfriend, you go leavin' one hell of a mess.'' This is what you dread. The nightmare voice on the telephone that won't release you even after you've explained that you really must go: Your spouse is dividing up the community property with an ax. Maybe you think such boorish bull-doggedness is what salesmanship is all about. If so, I am happy to report that you're profoundly mistaken. I have scoured the land in search of America's very best salesmen. Not necessarily the ones with the biggest incomes -- as Wall Street's thick crowd of boy millionaires demonstrates, megabuck earnings are no sure measure of sales skill. Some of the best salesmen in this country -- like Linda Anderson, the accomplished woman at right -- work for what some might call peanuts. My quest was for the true masters of the selling art, people who go belly-to- belly with their customers day after day and brush off buyer resistance as if it were lint. I have found them, I have looked them in the eye, and I can tell you flat out that the most effective salesmen -- the men and women who consistently outsell their industry rivals -- turn out to be strikingly ethical and considerate people. To this age of one-minute marriages and consumer loyalties measured in milliseconds, the supersalesmen bring good news: Relationships can still endure. And relationships are what it's all about. Trust me. Salesmanship is the cutting edge of commerce. Without it, capitalism would be minimalism; the mighty FORTUNE 500 might never have grown beyond a scrawny FORTUNE Five. An ancient, eternally mysterious skill, it somehow transforms inventories into shipments and costs into profits. Salesmanship is more art than science: the art of turning human relationships to advantage. Reassuringly, its most expert practitioners depend on relationships that last. According to the supersalesmen I've met, good selling is a lot like good sex as defined by Dr. Ruth: Both parties are satisfied and no one gets hurt. Virtuoso vendors deserve to rank among a corporation's most valuable assets. Always in demand, they are easy to spot, hard to hire, and almost impossible to replicate through conventional training. If only he could, some ambitious manager would surely go in through the supersalesman's ear with a small syringe, extracting a sample of bioessence for cloning in a petri dish. Such feats of genetic engineering being still a few years away, anxious companies spend millions of dollars on pricey consultants who try to dismantle the supersalesman's inner workings the way a clockmaker goes into a watch. They try. Comdisco, a leading computer-leasing outfit, subjected its top producers to examination by analysts who measured their ''marketing aptitude,'' without notably useful result. Consultants who have studied salesmen, such as Boston-based McBer & Co. and Charles River Consulting, find they can usually predict who will fail at selling. But clients of these firms say the consultants cannot reliably predict which salesmen will do best. Despite all the high-priced hoodoo, the mystery remains intact. Salesmanship is a people game, and great salesmanship is largely a matter of feel. Some people have it, some people don't. Nicholas Barsan has the touch. Last year's top performer among the 75,000 U.S. real estate brokers affiliated with Century 21, the dashing, dark-browed Barsan, 47, was born in Rumania. He emigrated to the U.S. in 1968 and owned a wholesale food company and then a restaurant before he began selling property four years ago. In 1986 he moved $27 million of homes in Jackson Heights, Queens, netting $1.1 million in commissions. In this solidly middle-class New York City neighborhood the average home sells for $225,000, so a fellow has to work to do that kind of volume. Though a millionaire, Barsan still knocks urgently on strangers' doors, hungry for new business. He still hands out key chains and car-window scrapers imprinted with his name, lest anyone forget it. But Barsan knows he can sell more homes with less effort by dealing again with customers he has already satisfied. So he also calls on the people who bought their homes from him. ''You ready to sell yet?'' he asks. A third of Barsan's sales are to repeat customers. LIKE MANY supersalesmen, Stan Smith, 56, of Del Amo Dodge in Torrance, California, specializes in superservice. His standard equipment includes a Brooklyn accent, curly brown hair, a king-size pinkie ring with a horseshoe pattern in diamonds, and polyester Sansabelt slacks. But who cares? Smith is the No. 1 Dodge salesman in the country. Car salesmen rarely make more than a few hundred dollars per car. And domestic cars are a lot harder to sell than those fancy foreign jobs. Yet Smith made $175,000 last year -- more than the top producers at the nation's biggest BMW and Porsche dealerships. It may not be easy, but it pays to sell American. Almost all of Stan's customers are repeaters or referrals, and for good reason: He doesn't forget about them after the deal is done. One day Stan gets a call from a customer; the guy is desperate. He runs a car service that shuttles invalids to and from the hospital, he's got a Dodge with a dead carburetor, and the dealer has no replacements in stock. ''Stan,'' he says, ''I got people counting on me.'' Stan pops the carburetor out of a car on the showroom floor, jumps into his car, and runs the carburetor over to the customer himself. From Stan's point of view that's not just service: It's another sale in the making. Since then the customer has bought 63 Sportsman vans from Stan. Superbroker Richard F. Greene of Merrill Lynch also prides himself on customer satisfaction, which he measures by the almost eerie quiet of his Boston office. Ruddy-faced and enthusiastically Irish, Greene, 53, is a vice president of the nation's largest brokerage firm and its top producer year after year. He and three female assistants manage 1,000 accounts, 200 of them active. His customers, mostly local bigwigs, are a demanding group. Yet the phones hardly ring at all chez Greene. ''My clients aren't so worried they're calling me every five minutes,'' he explains. ''The ones who stay with me find they can sleep at night.'' So, evidently, can Greene. Far more relaxed than his New York counterparts, he wears rumpled chino suits with oversize pants cinched like a potato sack below the waist. Greene, who claims to ''substantially outperform the market,'' insists he does well because he makes money for his clients. Greene does so much business that he pays nearly $200,000 annually in bonuses to his assistants -- out of his own pocket. As for Greene's personal net, well, he won't tell you what it is. ''I don't think it does any good for a client who's responsible for 15,000 people to know that I make more than he does with only three,'' says Greene. It's a pretty sure bet, though, that Greene earns several million dollars a year. Greene spends two-thirds of his time scouting investing ideas and the rest of it selling. Selling hard. He will go after any decent prospect -- even a lowly journalist. ''Most people don't care about their money,'' he told me with a note of sadness in his voice. ''They don't have the time to care. I bet you don't care about your money. Well, I do. And if you ever do business with me, which I hope you will one day, you will find out that's true.'' The man is a master of the cold call, conducted over the phone. Here's his ego-stroking approach to a local company's new head of marketing, whose name he noticed in the newspaper: ''Hello, I'm Dick Greene and I'm from Merrill Lynch in Boston. I know that you are the senior vice president of sales at your company, which means to me you're probably the best salesman at the firm. I think I'm the best salesman at Merrill Lynch. If you have an interest in the stock or bond market or are already in it, would you meet with me?'' The audacity! The chutzpah! Next thing you know Greene is meeting the guy for breakfast at the plush Hotel Meridien. And how does he establish this relationship? He listens. ''I don't go to the meeting with something to sell,'' Greene says. ''I want information about his risk profile so I can do the job right for him.'' Greene is an instinctive expert on human psychology. ''If you talk, you'll like me,'' he explains. ''If I talk, I'll like you -- but if I do the talking, my business will not be served. Now, this fellow is the same as everyone else. His kids don't listen to him. His wife doesn't listen to him -- and he doesn't listen to her. When he goes to parties the person he's talking to is looking over his shoulder to see what else is going on in the room. Then, all of a sudden he goes to breakfast with me. He starts to answer a question. And he doesn't get interrupted.'' Before the eggs have cooled, Greene has won another client. What works for individuals like Greene can propel entire companies to success. If ever there was a corporation that relationships built, it is Comdisco, the $1-billion-a-year Chicago computer-leasing outfit that had its sales stars analyzed. Chief Executive Kenneth N. Pontikes, 47, a former IBM salesman who founded the company in 1969, had a theory about selling: The way to win is to build long-term relationships instead of chasing transactions. So he recruited the best salesmen he could find -- and instructed them not to hustle for sales. ''Just let people get to know us,'' he said. Pontikes did not want to hear any of his salesmen boasting when he closed a deal. Pontikes wanted to know how he did it: Did the customer want a long-term relationship or did the salesman get lucky? Pontikes's disciplined approach has paid off. Comdisco's return on equity for the past five years has averaged over 28%. WITHIN the framework of patient salesmanship, radically different personal styles have proved equally successful at Comdisco. Consider the company's top two salesmen, each of whom started out with a salary near $20,000 and now earns over $500,000 a year, four times more than IBM's best salesmen can make. Bearded James D. Duncan, 39, is the straight shooter of the pair. Loaded with detailed information about the market for the machines he leases, he's always checking out new data on pricing trends and keeping up on the latest financing wrinkles. Duncan says the best selling happens ''when you reveal yourself.'' He took acting lessons -- not to create a more alluring facade but to dig deeper into his own psyche. When I sat in on a meeting with the heads of North American Philips's New York data-processing center, Duncan prefaced the technical talk with a moving mention of his recent pilgrimage to Medjugorje, a shrine in Yugoslavia where he prayed for his sister, who was gravely injured in an auto accident By contrast, Roy Wagner, 47, Comdisco's other top producer, is an unrepentant schmoozer. His repertoire of patter would impress a vaudevillian. If Wagner sees pictures of fancy cars on your office wall, he'll discourse on classic Corvettes. If he is lunching with folks from Archer Daniels Midland, % he will talk knowledgeably about the corn market. ''When you've been a salesman as long as I have,'' he says, ''there's almost no subject you don't know a little something about.'' A former steel salesman, Wagner compares his often vulgar chitchat to the process of annealing, in which a metal is heated and cooled to make it less brittle. ''You try to soften things,'' he says. Whereas Jim Duncan tries to limit his meetings with customers strictly to business, the Wagner sell depends on entertainment. His clients sometimes fly in to Chicago on their corporate jets, and they are in the suburbs and ready to party by 9 A.M. They hop onto Roy's 25-foot power cruiser and head up the Fox River to Roy's country club. A few holes of golf. Lunch and drinks at the club. Drinks on the boat. Back to the club again for drinks and dinner, then more drinks on the boat, and at last a few inadequate hours of shut-eye at a local hotel. Exhausting. An unwritten rule of these outings is that no one may discuss business. Yet, as even IRS auditors will concede, such shenanigans can produce tangible business benefits. Wagner is building the foundations for future sales. ''Out on the boat you're getting to know each other, building trust. Most of the time, I get the sale because of the ongoing relationship. Sure I sell the company and the product, but I also sell myself.'' Consultants at McBer and Charles River call what Wagner does ''instrumental affiliation'': cultivating relationships for business purposes rather than for the pleasure of the relationship itself. Instrumental affiliation -- which some might call exploitation and manipulation -- comes naturally to supersalesmen. But these people are engaging in business relationships, not love affairs, and both Wagner and his customers know it. They just don't believe that doing business necessarily has to be dull. We take you now to Tyler, Texas, home of the Apache Belles, the team of dancing coeds from Tyler Junior College who have enlivened half times at both the Rose Bowl and the Cotton Bowl -- and home of Cecile Satterwhite, who must be the best little shoe salesman in or out of Texas. Cecile, 66, is certainly the top salesman at Leon's Fashions, a privately owned Texas chain of women's clothing stores. She turns over about $600,000 of inventory each year. That's a lot of ladies' footwear. Cecile, who doubles as Leon's shoe buyer, earns about $100,000 annually. She looks like one of those hip grandmothers who dance with all the kids at weddings. Among her customers -- the most qualified judges of her salesmanship -- Cecile is a legend. Walk into Leon's Tyler store on a busy Friday afternoon and you will see half a dozen women waiting for her. They wait. And wait. And wait. One loyal client, a government worker who lives in Washington, D.C., always tries to schedule a vacation day to spend with Cecile whenever she visits Dallas on business. She rents a car and drives the 101 miles from Dallas to Tyler just to buy shoes. Patricia Major, who runs a Texas oil- drilling company, has been buying her shoes from Cecile for two decades. ''I haven't bought more than four pairs of shoes anywhere else during that time,'' says Major. ''I've never seen any reason to go anywhere else.'' WHAT IS IT about Cecile Satterwhite that keeps Major and many other ladies so completely entranced? Part of her attraction is the product she sells, shoes retailing for $115 to $175 a pair that Cecile describes in her distinctive Texas twang as ''flamboyant and hah-style.'' What sends these women into a buying frenzy, however, is not high fashion or even service but the special, lingering attention Cecile lavishes on her clients. Cecile's customers buy shoes the way Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz used to buy hats on I Love Lucy. Some of these women have careers, but most are wives of lawyers, doctors, oil-men. Busy men. ''I can tell, sometimes my customers are just bored,'' Cecile says. ''They want something happy to happen in their lives. Don't you think that most women, especially if they're married to successful men, don't get much attention? So they come to us. And we give it to 'em.'' If you are sitting in Leon's while Cecile is waiting on another customer and you try to speak to Cecile, she will not even look your way. But once you get her to yourself, she treats you like there's no one else in her life but you. She will give you the same undivided attention whether you bought just one pair of black leather pumps the last time you stopped in or so many pairs in teal, purple, and red that they had to be carried out to your car. (They provide that service at Leon's.) Cecile will look out for your best interest no matter what you think you want. If the shoe doesn't fit, she won't let you buy it. She'll also stop you from buying a shoe that, as she often says, ''doesn't look pretty on your foot.'' If you insist, Cecile will get huffy: ''If you buy that shoe,'' she'll say, ''don't tell a soul I waited on you.'' She will go back and forth to the stockroom, bringing out as many as 300 pairs of shoes for a single customer. She will walk to the mirror with you every time you stand up in another pair. And she will kneel down before you and slip that shoe on and off, just like Prince Charming. What drives people like Cecile to strive so to please us? She says she started working at Leon's at 20, ''when all the men went off to World War II.'' She has never wanted to do anything else. ''I do love to sell,'' Cecile says. ''It's excitin'. It gets into your blood.'' She won't even leave the store for lunch -- ''Oh, just bring me something back,'' she'll call out -- and she gets antsy on Sundays because Leon's is closed. OTHER supersalesmen find the key to success is not excitement but fear: fear of failure, of missing a quota, of not being liked. Duane E. Mason, 47, sells pleasure boats made by several manufacturers to retailers throughout the Midwest. A hard man to miss, he's 6-foot-1, weighs 325 pounds, and has fingers as blunt and wide as Snickers bars. One day in 1967, Mason -- who then owned a boat store in Taylorville, Illinois -- declared bankruptcy. Two weeks after he filed the legal papers in the local courthouse, says Mason, his first wife departed, calling him a loser and leaving him with ''$42 and no clean shorts.'' Mason is no longer a loser. He has a new wife. He also has a new house, with a swimming pool and a baseball batter's cage in the backyard. Last year he grossed $400,000 on $8 million in sales; after paying overhead that included $100,000 for entertaining customers, Mason cleared about $200,000, more than many Miami yacht salesmen make. In May, Boat and Motor Dealer Magazine, the industry bible, named Mason Manufacturer's Representative of the Year. Mason says the award ''told everyone who knew me before that I did something right, that I'm a success in something where I once dropped the ball.'' Like most supersalesmen, Mason is imaginative at removing the buyer's objections. ''I walked into one dealer and tried to sell pontoon boats,'' he remembers. The dealer wasn't buying. ''He said that in two years no one had ever come in and asked for a pontoon boat. I said, 'Well, I bet no one has come in for a haircut, either. But I've got a barber pole in my trunk, and I bet if you put it out, within two weeks someone will come in here and ask for a trim.' '' Mason sold him a trailerload of four pontoon boats on the spot and has sold him plenty more since. WIN OR LOSE, Mason doesn't dare stop. On the road about two-thirds of the time, he covers around 75,000 miles annually. He is constantly cooking up pitches and promotional schemes to help his dealers -- and thus himself -- sell more. Like the time he brought a man in a gorilla suit along to a trade show. Mason's theme: ''People go ape about Charger boats.'' The monkey's finest moment came when he sat down at the bar and ordered a banana daiquiri. Linda Anderson is a petite blonde who does just fine without an ape costume. She operates in Waldorf, Maryland, a semirural suburb with an overturned boat and a big barking dog in almost every backyard. Until February, Linda, 40, had never worked as anything but a housewife and a secretary, but now she is a Rexair Colonel Ace. Rexair Corp. is a private company headquartered in Michigan; in its lexicon a Colonel Ace is a person who sells 30 Rainbows in one month. A Rainbow is a vacuum cleaner, made of plastic, that sells for $800. Linda prefers to describe it as a hydro-cleaning system made of Cycolac, but it still sells for $800. No matter what you want to call it, this is an expensive machine. Since February, Linda has sold 82 Rainbows and recruited ten new Rainbow salesmen. Her commissions so far: $30,000. You're not impressed? Wait until you see Linda and her Rainbow in action. Linda says that the Rainbow does everything but turn itself on and off, and before she's done with you, you are likely to believe her. The Rainbow uses a basin of water to catch dust, and it runs on a 1.3 horsepower motor that makes the machine sound like a supersonic jet taking off. The Rainbow, Linda says, will shampoo your carpet, suck up the water in your leaky basement, defrost your freezer, spray paint your shed. It's an air purifier, a vaporizer, a carpet shampooer. You can scrub your floor with it. Why, the Rainbow even aromatizes! Just pour a little perfume in the water, turn on the Rainbow, and suddenly your living room smells like apple blossoms. I smelled it. I heard it. I saw it all in the living room of Nancy and Dennis Babcock; Nancy is an unemployed bookkeeper, Dennis a police detective. Linda has a big high-wattage lamp she brings with her on sales calls, and she smacks the rug, smacks the cushions on the living room couch, all the while shining her bright light as the air clouds up with dust. And the supersonic motor is whining and she's shouting, ''Now see? See how much dust your vacuum cleaner left behind?'' Then she takes the cushion and sticks it into a big plastic bag along with the Rainbow's hose. She turns on the machine and -- whoosh! -- the darn thing sucks so much air it flattens the cushion into a pancake. Then Linda shifts her Rainbow into reverse and the cushion reinflates -- and when she smacks the cushion under the lamp this time, why, all the dust is gone! This goes on for 2 1/4 hours. Halfway through, Nancy and Dennis want to buy the Rainbow, but Linda makes them wait. Only after the full 2 1/4 hours of standing up, bending down, getting on her hands and knees, aromatizing, deodorizing, and vacuumizing -- only then does Linda stop. Dennis is already paying off a $42,000-plus mortgage, two car loans, and musical instruments for his two daughters. But he has been anxious to buy that Rainbow ever since Linda got to the part about using it to clean leaves out of the storm gutter and winterize your boat. There's not much left to say. LINDA: ''Now, would you like to know how you can get your Rainbow?'' DENNIS: ''Where do I sign?'' Even after Dennis has signed up, Linda warns him and Nancy not to put the Rainbow into reverse when they scrub the floors, lest they end up with a fountain of dirty water spraying all over the kitchen. ''I'm not just going to sell them an $800 machine and walk away without making sure they know how it works,'' she says. THAT, BROADLY speaking, is what all supersalesmen do. For reasons that may spring from responsibility, professionalism, personal insecurity, or a simple wish to profit, they worry and worry about making you happy. Think of that the next time the phone rings or the door opens and you are confronted with -- egad! -- another salesman. Show some respect. This might be someone with whom you could have a mutually satisfying relationship, and from whom you could learn something. If you are lucky enough to hear Dick Greene's broad New England vowels or Roy Wagner's deft patter on the other end of the line, or see Linda Anderson and her Rainbow waiting to cross your threshhold, take a deep breath: You are in the presence of greatness.