What selling Girl Scout cookies teaches you about business

photo courtesy flickr user Marit & Toomas Hinnosaar

The Girl Scouts are celebrating their 100th anniversary this year. Though the cookies didn't come until later, this annual fundraiser is what the Girl Scouts are probably best known for, and at this point, millions of girls have gotten an early lesson in business by hawking them. Among my take-aways from a scouting stint years ago:

1. The most likely sale is to an existing customer. I had one lady who bought about 20 boxes from me one year. I made sure to call her up the next year to get that order logged fast. These days, likewise, I know that people I've worked with before are better bets than hunting for new prospects. If I want more work, I call them first.

2. There's no accounting for taste. I don't particularly like Think Mints, but they were always my biggest seller, so I made sure to mention them when people asked what kinds of cookies we were selling. Likewise, I'm not particularly fond of lists like "22 Things To Do During That Boring Conference Call," but those are always my most read posts. So I write them.

3. Cold calling isn't as awful as it sounds. My best friend and I went door to door through our neighborhood, alternating who would get each sale. There were, indeed, some questionable people who answered the doors (one reason I suspect many parents don't encourage door-to-door selling now) but in a team, and always smiling, we racked up some serious sales that way. Whenever I'm nervous about picking up the phone, I remember that it usually turns out fine.

4. Internal motivation is great, but sales targets are motivational too. One year, as I neared sales of 200 boxes (then costing $2/each), I became incredibly fixated on crossing that mark. Seeing that neat number on my total, and counting up $400 in cash and checks, was so much nicer than counting up $396. These days, I know that setting a specific, numerical goal (a certain number of blog readers, book sales, newsletter subscribers, etc.) tends to have a focusing effect. Even if I like the work for its own sake, too.

5. Connections matter, but they're not everything. Some girls sold cookies largely by having their parents take the sign-up form to their offices. That can work, but those girls weren't necessarily our troop's top sellers. Smart scouts learn that customers prefer to buy directly from the girl the sale is benefiting. If you want to be well-connected, you can make your own connections.

What did you learn by selling Girl Scout cookies?