How Benjamin Franklin’s 13 Virtues Apply to Sales

The story of Benjamin Franklin is one of our most American – and not only because he’s one of the country’s Founding Fathers. Born into poverty in a family of 17 children, with very little formal education, he became one of the most famous, intellectually revered, and richest men in the world. Among his many accomplishments was a forerunner of today’s self-improvement industry when, at just 20 years old, he devised a self-enhancement program, targeting 13 virtues.

How he arrived at this number – 52/13 = 4. Four cycles of 13 over a year meant that he would work on improving one virtue for a week, then another virtue the second week, and so on, until Week 14, whereupon he would start all over again with the first virtue. Along the way, he tracked his weekly progress and commented on his successes and failures. Naturally, as sales people, we’re all about self-improvement, so we thought it’d be fun to look and see how Franklin’s 13 virtues fit sales.

  1. Temperance: Essentially this means don’t overeat too much or drink too much alcohol. While the latter is obvious as to its downsides (to the point where the standard advice is to avoid alcohol at business-related meals), having a large lunch induces sleepiness and has a negative effect on the latter half of your workday.
  1. Silence: Here, Franklin cautions to “avoid trifling conversation” and talk only about the things that provide benefit to other people or yourself. While speaking to a customer’s needs and pain points definitely fits the bill, sales reps often use small talk to ease into a discussion with a prospect – in other words, trifling conversation. A way to turn that around is to make the small talk of value to a client – for example, engaging with an extrovert, who enjoys the dialogue – or putting a less comfortable prospect at ease by letting the conversation develop until they’re ready to get down to the business side of things.
  1. Order: Everything in its own place and the day plotted out. Or in other words, an organized workspace and careful time management in the sales world. It certainly seems to fit in terms of enhancing productivity and cutting down on time lost trying to find something on a cluttered desk for example.
  1. Resolution: Make resolutions to do what you should, then perform to follow through on your resolutions. From a sales standpoint, this is about setting goals (doing what you should) and putting in the work to accomplish those goals (follow through).
  1. Frugality: Don’t waste anything and don’t make frivolous purchases. The second is clear enough, illustrating the importance of ROI so that we can measure the value of our investments. Identifying waste usually relates to wasted time in sales – for example, investing effort into unqualified leads, or focusing on quantity without considering quality.
  1. Industry: Have high work ethic and avoid unnecessary actions. While don’t be lazy and don’t get distracted seem obvious, it’s also worth noting that Franklin didn’t preach non-stop work as a printer (his primary day job). Instead, he took two-hour lunches and spent a lot of time socializing. Other than the networking aspects of socializing, why?Because taking breaks is important for mental health. Anders Ericsson, who coined the 10,000 hours to perfection phrase, discovered the top violinists he studied slept more, including afternoon naps. A team of researchers also found that allowing your brain to rest improves learning, memory, abstract thinking, mental health, and reading comprehension, among other benefits.
  1. Sincerity: Self-explanatory. We’ve all had experiences with insincere people, and it’s not a nice feeling. Sincerity is honesty and helps build towards Trusted Advisor status.
  1. Justice: Don’t harm anyone or omit “the benefits that are your duty”. In other words, as sales professionals, we have to look out for our customers, and not try to trick or deceive them – even if that means walking away from a deal, because we know it’s not the right for us, the client, or both.
  1. Moderation: Avoid the extremes and stay a middle course. This is just good general life advice, and also encapsulated in the ancient Greek maxim, “Moderation in all things.”
  1. Cleanliness: Franklin means here clean body, clean clothes, and clean house. The first two are particularly important in sales – you won’t close many deals if you don’t pay attention to your hygiene, appearance, and attire.
  1. Tranquility: As WW2 Britain would later phrase it, keep calm and carry on. The advice here explicitly mentions not being “disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.” See also: Don’t sweat the small stuff. A tranquil, calm mind in sales prevents you from overreacting and making rash, desperate moves, and also helps curb anxiety and stress.
  1. Chastity: This one is a little difficult to apply to sales, but it can apply to apparel – modest, professional attire will go a long way to establishing your credibility as a sales rep. The same can apply to your behavior – it’s generally a good idea to avoid romantic entanglements at work or with clients, as it can lead to complications that hurt your business relationships. The ethics of avoiding inappropriate jokes and comments – especially in the #MeToo era – also falls under this heading
  1. Humility: No one likes a braggart, especially a client who isn’t going to be impressed by your hyping the accomplishments and features of your product, service, or company. Stay humble, focused on how you can help the customer, and how you can assist in solving problems.

Although written in the 18th century, Franklin’s sagacious wisdom is still relevant to today’s sales world, just like Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations we mentioned in an earlier post. While the latter looks at things from a macro perspective, Franklin’s general life advice drills down to the micro level of the individual, helping you to become the best sales professional and person possible.