William Faulkner called him “the father of American literature”.
From my research, Mark Twain may also be “the pioneer of sales enablement”.
Here’s the story:
Ulysses S. Grant led the Union Army as Commanding General in winning the Civil War, then became the 18th President of the United States, serving in that role from 1869 to 1877.
After the end of his presidency, he invested his life’s savings in an investment firm on Wall Street. The firm was called “Grant & Ward”, founded with his son (Ulysses S. “Buck” Grant, Jr.), and a third partner named Ferdinand Ward.
Turns out, Ferdinand Ward was a swindler, later known as “the Best-Hated Man in the United States”.
In 1884, Grant had lost everything through Ward’s Ponzi scheme. Everything, except the “$80 he had left in his pocket”. At the time, the President didn’t receive any sort of pension, so there was nothing left, and no means to a retirement plan.
In walks Sam Clemens, aka, Mark Twain, who is best known for his books, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885).
Twain received word of Grant’s financial situation. Having met years earlier, Twain was a big fan of Grant, considering him to be a national hero — and the savior of the Union. So, he sprung into action!
U.S. Grant was planning to write a book about his own personal memoirs, but was signing with a publishing house that was looking to take a big commission. Knowing that his story is an incredible one, Twain felt Grant was owed a debt of gratitude, and countered with a proposal in which Twain would publish and distribute the book with terms greatly in favor of Grant and his family.
While Grant felt obliged to honor the original publisher’s offer, he eventually accepted Twain’s offer and started writing.
Just two months into the project, Grant was diagnosed with throat cancer — which, in hindsight, probably wasn’t a big surprise, given that he smoked 20+ cigars per day. It was terminal, so the writing became urgent. Grant wrote night and day through intense pain, knowing that without this book, his family would have nothing following his death.
Grant completed the writing of the book in July of 1885, and died somewhere between three days to two weeks later.
During the time of Grant’s writing, Twain was building a publishing house. Twain and his nephew, Charles Webster, assembled a MASSIVE sales team of 10,000 — many of which had been members of Grant’s army.
They weren’t just recruiting soldiers. Twain & Webster had a profile they were looking for — the “something else” beyond just being a soldier. They wanted individuals would could evangelize, bringing energy and confidence to every conversation.
Twain put together what is clearly the most impressive sales enablement program of the 19th Century…and even the first half of the 20th century.
- Twain put together a 37-page sales playbook to sell the book. This included a sales script, “How to introduce The Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant”.
- In it, Twain had lessons on how to be a courteous, polite, and respectable salesperson.
- The playbook also had explanations to help the prospect understand that the value of such a book would increase with time, while they’d also be doing the Grant family a service given their financial situation.
“I called to give you an opportunity to see General Grant’s book, of which so much has been said in the papers.”
All 10,000 were trained, encouraged to wear their old uniforms, and sold door-to-door.
In the end, Twain had the honor of presenting Grant’s widow the largest royalty check ever given to an author — totaling $200,000 — and eventually over $450,000 — which in today’s dollars would be somewhere around $12 million!
Twain’s actions were born out of a deep sense of patriotism and friendship, but also raised the bar for sales campaigns — while creating the blueprint for massive scale product launches through sales enablement lasting generations.
(note: each source had slightly different information, so I had to infer some of the details. For example, one article claims Grant passed away 3 days after submitting the final manuscript. Another says 5 days. Another says two weeks.)