How Selling Door-to-Door Gave Me the Skills to Make a Million Dollars

October 4, 2020

Imposing view of wooden front doorstep, the door is set back with a verandah and steps leading up to it

Ifyou are learning how to sell yourself or your startup business then you may be able to relate to this story.

Going up to a stranger’s door to try to sell them something, might be a worst-nightmare scenario for many people.

That stranger could turn you around and send you on your way. Rudely.

Even for an outgoing person, selling door-to-door can be daunting. You’re putting yourself in an inferior position.

You might be looked down on.

It takes a tough mentality to do it for a day. It takes attitude and a system to do it day in, day out for a year or more.

Early in my career, I found myself in exactly that situation and I learned some invaluable lessons from it.

Can Knocking On Doors Really Make You a Millionaire?

It certainly could when I did it in the late 1990s. A number of people working in the offices where I started door-to-door sales did make a lot of money from it.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of them. But the skills I learned there helped me later on.

The company was called DS Max and it was a multi-level marketing company.

Better known as a Pyramid Scheme.

Started in Canada, offices had sprung up all around the world by 1997. Including where I lived at the time: Wellington, New Zealand.

Our income was 100% commission-based. We only earned money when we sold a product or signed someone up to a service.

Like all good pyramid schemes, you started at the bottom.

Fortunately we didn’t have to pay any money to get in. If you worked your way up, you could earn commission from the sales of people on your team. But only if you hit tough sales quotas.

In many ways, I was not the “type” to join a pyramid scheme selling door-to-door. I had graduated with an honors degree from university. My friends were becoming lawyers, doctors. One was a diplomat. Another one was a journalist.

I don’t know what it was that made me take a different path. But I do remember the promise of “a million dollars” in income if I followed their system and worked hard.

The scheme had a logic that I couldn’t argue with. It drew me in.

I couldn’t say no.

And so began a period that would change my life and me as a person. Forever.

Just How Hard Is It to Knock on Doors for Money?

Hard. It’s really, really uncomfortable. All the time.

At every street corner, you feel like giving up. Each path and each door is another hurdle to climb over. Seriously.

Most customers were actually pretty nice. At first they were surprised to have someone at the door. Most often they were relieved to hear I was selling a phone service or a pizza card. And not religion.

Some even bought what I was selling because they felt sorry for me.

I still wonder now how I kept going for 18 months. One thing was the hope of getting rich quickly.

At the time, DS Max was the third largest multi-level marketing company in the world. After Avon and Amway. The founders were incredible public speakers. I met several of them in person and they were Tony Robbins-esque in their presence, charisma and ability to inspire.

They were undoubtedly millionaires already. Stories of money and lavish lifestyles were used to motivate the mainly young sales people. And it worked.

But there was more than just inspiration and the smell of money.

There was a system.

Learning How to Turn Around a “Negative”

We were trained to go into neighborhoods to sell to complete strangers.

We started early every morning. We assembled in a warehouse around 8 a.m. Cool music was pumped loudly from big speakers. There was an energy and a vibe, purposefully created.

The walls were untidy and covered in graffiti. Large posters hung promoting the “Eight Steps” and the “Five Steps”.

We would train together in small groups. Those with experience, which in reality might only mean a few weeks, would help new sales people. Staff turnover was high.

A big part of the training was to practice dealing with a negative. A “no” answer.

“No. I’m happy with the phone company I use now”,

one practitioner would say to his opposite, with some feeling. Even if they had only worked there for a few weeks, they had already heard that response hundreds of times.

“A lot of your neighbors said the same thing, and then they saw how much money they could save”,

would come the practiced response from their team member.

Practicing how to respond to negatives works. When you are trying to sell and you get a “no” answer, it’s a big help if you’ve heard it before. And it makes even more difference if you have an answer prepared.

In training, the best sellers would share their favorite answers to the most difficult negatives. The more challenging the better.

“I never buy anything on the door”.

“I don’t watch TV”.

“I don’t eat pizzas”.

We all loved listening to stories about people who “never ate pizzas” buying a pizza card for $29.95. And then buying another one for their relatives.

Or people who “didn’t watch television” signing up to a year’s subscription of cable TV.

Five Impulses Which Make People Buy

We learned “Five Impulses” that make people want to buy something.

One was called the “Jones theory”. People will buy something if they know that others like them have already bought it. And it seemed to work.

For every impulse there were multiple examples of how to use them.

Sense of Urgency.

“We are racing around the neighborhood today”.

Fear of Missing Out.

“I only have 3 pizza cards left”.


“It’s really up to you, I don’t mind”.

That one is difficult to learn because it is so counter-intuitive. But it works.

If a potential customer is wavering, trying to push them to buy, might actually put them off. But making it seem like you don’t care either way, can convince them to do what you want. Try it sometime.

The most fun impulse was Greed.

“We’re doing a free pizza deal today”.


“If you pay “$29.95 today, you will get free pizzas for 6 months”.

You don’t need much training to know how that one works. And it definitely works.

The Eight Steps were all about Attitude.

They were designed to generate a focus and mentality needed to go to 100 houses over eight hours and try to sell a product or a service. The most simple of the Eight Steps were things like “Be On Time” and “Know Your Territory”. “Never Give Up”.

Another step taught you that 10% of people will buy whatever you’re selling. So if you want to sell 10 of something, you need to talk to 100 people.

I doubt there ever was any science behind that, but it baked rejection into your expectations. And I think that’s key to selling. Too many people take early rejections as a sign that what they are doing won’t work.

In my life since the door-to-door sales, I’ve seen this so many times. I actually think it’s the number one skill to learn in sales.

A “No” is another step closer to a sale. Welcome it.

The Five Steps: for Face-to-Face Selling.

Step 1 was to introduce yourself. Something that was surprisingly easy to forget to do in the heat of the moment.

Step 2 was to offer a brochure about the product you were selling and put it in the customer’s hands.

Step 3 called “Painting a Picture”, was about getting the customer to imagine themselves using it.

Step 4 “The Close” is self-explanatory, but it is the thing most people struggle to do. Fear of rejection makes us delay asking the all-important question:

Would you like to buy it?

Step 5 was checking whether the customer might want to actually buy another one while you’re here. This took a lot of training and quite a few sales to become bold enough to try.

We learned these techniques and practiced them every morning. And we used them over 100 times a day. And I did that for 400 days, give or take.

Did the System Actually Work?

In the year and a half that I knocked on doors I spoke to at least 50,000 complete strangers.

There was a sales chart at the end of the day which the manager of the office made a big deal about. Even though I hardly ever topped the order, I was consistent. I usually signed 7 or 8 people a day to a free phone service which gave them cheaper international phone calls.

There were salespeople who did top the charts every day. They were natural born salespeople. I have read that only 1 in 15 people fit into this category.

Even though a lot of my career has been in sales, I don’t think I am one of them. But I think I am a good example of how anyone can learn to sell, even if it doesn’t come naturally.

My consistency was rewarded with the chance to add people to my team. I then trained them. Once the total sales of my team hit a quota, I was promoted to Assistant Manager. I got an extra couple of dollars every time they sold something, on top of my own sales.

At one point I had more than 30 people on my team. If I had kept going, I could have had my own company and made more money from each sale in that office.

But by the time I was promoted, I had completely burned out. And in reality, my costs had constantly exceeded my earnings. Not only did I pay for my own gas and lunches, I often bought food to help motivate my team when they were struggling. And beers to celebrate. Or commiserate.

The Trouble With Door-to-Door

We were taught to show confidence and positivity, however bad things might get. And some days were worse than others.

Wellington is the windiest city in the world. Google it.

The weather changes on a dime. We were strongly encouraged to dress professionally, and for guys that meant a shirt and tie. My Mum was awesome and would buy me neckties, even though she didn’t love what I was doing very much. Pretty much every one of them was destroyed by rain.

Dogs were a constant danger. Once I managed to stare down a huge Rottweiler after I had entered the yard and closed the gate behind me.

The dog that did bite me was a small terrier. Humiliatingly, he bit me on the backside. It hurt like hell and it was really painful and embarrassing getting all of the tetanus and rabies shots afterwards.

But looking back on it, many, many years later, I realized I had been through a great learning experience. For business and life.

Applying the Lessons Learned to Startup Business

After DS Max, I moved to selling advertising at a radio station. As well as being very windy, Wellington had one of the highest proportion of radio stations to people of any city in the world.

It was a very competitive industry. But it was a lot easier than selling door-to-door. And the system I had learned carried over to advertising sales.

A few years later, in another country and another city, I joined an internet startup. I started selling advertising on MSN Hotmail, which was actually a thing in the early 2000s.

We built an online advertising network covering 6 countries. We had a playbook which involved having a person in each market selling the network to websites. And we had a large sales office selling advertising to brands and ad agencies.

I brought in one of those very top sales people from the door-to-door in Wellington to head up the sales office. Using the same principles we had both learned on the door, we grew that network business until it was worth more than $20 million. At that time, that was a pretty big deal.

Eventually, I did make a million dollars. And I have gone on to build more businesses; some successful, some not.

Can Anyone Learn to Sell? Will it Work for You?

I believe the lessons I learned from door-to-door have helped me enormously.

I learned a system for selling.

And I practiced it every day. 100 times a day, for a year and a half.

I learned to turn a negative around.

I learned that you only need 1 in 10 people to buy from you to be successful.

I learned to handle rejection.

And I learned to keep a great attitude and never give up.

I’ve been able to apply those lessons to every new business I’ve joined. I have generated millions of dollars in sales, both by myself and in coaching teams of people.

Even though I am not a natural born salesperson.

You can learn to sell too. And to market yourself. Skills that helps in every facet of life. Especially in a startup business.

In the 20 years since I sold door-to-door, I have added to my experience and knowledge. I have developed my own system for selling, marketing and negotiating. But my experience selling door-to-door gave me some of the most fundamental lessons I have learned.

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About the author 

Joe France

Founder at The Independent You. Author, entrepreneur, 20-year online tech veteran, Joe helps coaches and consultants to get more clients and market their services with a book. Check out my new book “Independent Wealth”.

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