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Anatomy of a sale                                     The inside story of how Guitar Phonics was sold to Liberty Records

                            ANATOMY OF A SALE: Selling Guitar Phonics

                                                  By: Wilbur M. Savidge

Selling is the art of persuading someone to buy one's product or service.  Sales are made, they don't happen
. There is a fundamental difference between a person that has made a decision to make a purchase, and someone who has not expressed  the desire to own what is being presented.  When selling an object, say shoes or an automobile, we are offering a tangible, something the customer may touch and feel, and visualize actual ownership.  When selling an intangible, an idea, or unproven theoretical concept, the potential buyer must be convinced of the potential value through the use of  logic and persuasion.  This type of sale is about selling one's self, and is accomplished through the logical presentation of knowledge; facts and benefits, and how ownership will enrich the buyer's well-being or financial gain.

Guitar Phonics was an idea, an intangible.  Nothing like Guitar Phonics had existed before. There was not an established market for an educational record that taught would-be guitarist how to play.  When I approached Liberty Records, I did not have established contacts or credentials within the music industry, I was not even sure to whom I should make my sales presentation.  Once I made the decision to approach Liberty Records, I understood that everything that I said in my sales presentation, every word, would impact my success or contribute to my failure.  The selling process began with my first encounter with a Liberty employee, the receptionist.

Why did I succeed at Liberty.....................................

Success at Liberty did not simply happen, and it was not luck.  Providence and the grace of God yes, but it happened because I had acquired a set of skills, not unique to me, but after many years in sales, were ingrained into my character; self confidence and persistence at the top of the list.  I stayed with the job that I had assigned myself and would not let events of the day side track me, nor would I be overwhelmed by the complexities of the moment:  I knew what I wanted to accomplish and simply stayed the course.
The following fifteen personal attributes all salespeople must possess served me well:

  • Self-motivation
  • Self-confidence
  • Be prepare
  • Be the expert
  • Never hesitate
  • Make decisions
  • Admit mistakes
  • Learn from failure
  • Accept rejection
  • Never complain
  • Never show fear
  • Never display anger
  • Seek friendships
  • Don't hold grudges
  • Respect professional opinions 


Self-motivation is the foremost personal attribute one must possess in order to succeed when making an unannounced 'cold' sales call.  In my quest to find a way to market Guitar Phonics, I did not have an individual or organization to offer prospective, guidance, or to fall back upon.  I was totally on my own.  Strong self-motivation gave me the personal inertia to seek out Liberty, and upon arrival, walk in to the receptionist office and start the process of gaining an appointment.

Self-confidence was my strongest asset.  The recipient of a sales pitch can most often, like an animal on the hunt, sense weakness.  When confronting the potential buyer, you must have complete confidence in your abilities and  not allow the other person to dominate the conversation, or the tenor of the meeting.  You must be the leader, never the follower.

You must be prepared for the meeting and know exactly what you want to achieve.  You must fully understand the sales environment you will face.  You must calculate expected objections and have a well thought out response.  You can never predict the nature of objections, however if you thoroughly understand your position, have a well developed presentation, objections become stepping stones, providing you with the ability to maintain control of the conversation.
I was quite sure that my first sales pitch at Liberty would be to an intermediary, most likely a secretary, and when this was confirmed by the receptionist, I sat down and crafted a set of questions to ask this person:  A sales pitch, questions that would place me in a positive light, overcome initial objections, and earn her cooperation.  I knew that a boss's secretary is the 'gate-keeper', and Don Blocker's secretary could quickly kill any chance that I had of obtaining an appointment with him.  By asking two carefully thought out questions, seemingly unrelated to her job and of a personal nature, I took the edge off the unexpected phone call from a stranger.  I led her into a position of wanting to help me.  Within minutes of the initial 'hello', we had become 'friends' and I had obtained an appointment.  I had successfully completed the first step on my journey into the recording business.

Questions that led to the appointment.....................................

    • Do you swim?
    • If you suspected that the water might be to cold to swim in, what you do first?


    Do you swim? 
    This was a personal question designed to disrupt the normal thought process of a secretary taking an unexpected phone call from a stranger. It was a question that would induce  a response of a personal nature.  With this question, I engaged a stranger in conversation that I controlled. (I gambled that a secretary for a record company in Los Angles, would spend time on the beach, and swim in the ocean........I was correct in this assumption). 

    If you suspect that the water might be to cold to swim in, what would you do first?
    I felt that there was only one reasonable answer to this question, one that would lead to the purpose of my phone call.  When the secretary said she most likly would test the water first, put her toe in the water to test the temperature, I then controlled the conversation and proceeded to use her answer to state the purpose of my phone call.  I wanted to 'test' the water before jumping in and made a reasonable request  for a brief meeting with Mr. Blocker.   

    With an appointment established, I then knew to whom I would be making my presentation and his position within the company.  By the grace of God, I had stumbled into a meeting with the one man at Liberty to whom I should be talking, and now had an appointment.  At the time, I did not know the function of a director of A& R, but over the next year, I came to realize just how fortunate I was that day, for the Artist & Repertory Director makes the final decisions related to artists and songs that are recorded. It is a very high pressure job and there is a high rate of failure, and every new artist signed, places the A&R director's job on the line, and it was very uncommon for an A&R director to accept unsolicited material.  While I did not fully comprehend all of this at the time, I knew from previous encounters with corporate executives, that my presentation better hit the mark and quickly, or I was going home a failure in my desire to earn a living with the guitar.
    Was I prepared for the task at hand?  Would I be able to present myself as an expert on the subject of guitar instruction?   From the very beginning of the creative process months earlier, I was bedeviled with the knowledge that I was in uncharted waters and worried if I had connected all the dots.  Had I created a workable concept; had I thought through the individual steps of creating an educational recording, supported with a workable diagramed book of instruction?  After many months of trial and error experiments,  I felt I had  done everything that could be done.  In my mind's eye, the system was complete down to the final wording of the accompanying text, diagram design, and the album presentation.  However, I knew that if I did not have it figured out, I would fail in selling Guitar Phonics to a record company.

    I did not know what to expect when Director of A&R, Don Blocker, stood in the door of his office, shook, my hand and said, "Let's hear what you have to say".   I only knew that at that moment in time, I was placing my future on the line.  I had spent the previous two hours planning my sales presentation and had confidence in my pitch, but still, I found it intimidating to be talking to record company executive:  After all, what did I know about producing reords?  I knew instinctively that if I diplayed any hesitancy or fear, I would lose control of the moment, and lose  my chance of making a successful sale.

    From the moment I sat down at Don Blocker's desk, I wanted his undivided attention.  I knew that I must make this meeting, not about and what I wanted, but about Liberty.  I wanted Don Blocker to believe that what I was presenting was to his benefit, and what I was offering him would benefit Liberty Records.  Again, as with his secretary, I asked  a series of questions that I knew would provoke  predictable responses.  The answer to each question led to the following question, and he did not have time to make a definitive judgment as to their context.

    The three question that led to a sucesseful sale:

    • What music is selling the most records today?
    • What rock band is selling the most records today?
    • What does every fan that has purchased a Ventures record want to do?


    The first two questions set up the answer that I wanted to the third question.  I engaged Don Blocker in conversation that required him to respond to me and in so doing, denied him the opportunity of asking me questions and I was able to control the conversation.

    Expected answers to my questions:

    • Rock n' Roll
    • The Ventures
    • Play guitar like the Ventures


    When I received the expected answer to my third question, I then explained the purpose of my meeting; I presented my sales proposition: Ventures fans wanted to play guitar like the Ventures, and I had a way that they could do just that.  Liberty would sell a mountain of records, the Ventures would become heroes, and I would make a few dollars in the process.

    I then asked the only question that meant anything:
    "Are you interested?"

    When Don Blocker looked me in the eye and asked, "Ok, Bill Savidge, just how would you do that?" I knew that I had won the battle of minds.  I had made the greatest sale of my life!



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