Michael Dell sold subscriptions to the now-defunct Houston Post as a teenager, but the most interesting part of this story is how he managed to eliminate cold calling. First, he followed two steps to maximize sales:
- He spoke with a heavy Texas accent when he was talking to prospects (because people like it when you sound like them)
- Focus on people that had just moved to a new residence because they were more likely to subscribe
The second point put a plan in motion. Michael realized that under the Freedom of Information Act he could walk into any county courthouse in the state and request all marriage license applications. A marriage license required the newlywed couple to list the address they want the license sent to. So now Michael had a source for item 2 on his list. Using an Apple II, he started recording all of this data, and he hired his classmates to drive to the surrounding sixteen counties and do the same. With this information he then conducted a massive direct-mail campaign.
In addition to this source, he would also drive to any new apartment or condominium complex and offer new residents two free weeks if they filled out his forms. “Between all the young marrieds and the new apartment dwellers, I made a little over $18,000 that summer.”
When school resumed, a teacher that had accused Michael of goofing off asked the class to fill out their federal tax returns as an assignment. The next day she announced to the class that it appeared as though Michael had made a “big mistake.”
She looked at the return. “It says that you made over eighteen thousand dollars last year, Michael! My gosh! If that were true, you would’ve earned more than I earned in 1981!”
The room got very quiet. Then I said, “Well that’s actually my tax return.”
If it was possible for anyone to hate me more than [Computer Class Teacher] did, Mrs. Miller was that person.