He wore a lot of gold, drove a BMW, and always had people around him. In an African American inner-city community like ours, he was a standout. I was 19, right out of high school, and didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. I decided I’d walk up and introduce myself. His name was Tony. He told me that he and his father sold home improvement. That’s how I started canvassing.

Canvassing back then had different rules. If the job sold, you, the canvasser, got 10% off the top. The salesperson and the company split the profit on what remained. If nothing sold, you got nothing.

Because I was hungry, I wasn’t afraid. And because I wasn’t afraid, I did well. If I was having a lousy day, I’d tell myself that I only had to get one job. One job led to two. Then a few more. I was soon making a lot of money.

But I wanted to actually sell. That’s when I found a mentor in Tony’s father, Charles Jones.

I canvassed for C.J., as he was known, for about five years. At some point he began to take me with him into the house with him. Two things I remember: when he walked in, he had an instant connection to the people no matter what color they were. I thought: If you can connect, you can sell.

But I couldn’t figure out how to do it to save my life.

The other thing was that when he went to close, he placed the contract on the table. Instead of saying: You can sign right here, he said: Put your name right there, and pointed to the signature line. And they always did.

One day I went with him into a house carrying a window sample. He said: I’m going around the corner, you stay and close the deal. Go ahead and do your thing.

I tried and I blew it.

A few months later we were driving past that same house and he pointed to the windows. All of them were new, all of them replacement windows sold by a competitor. He said: “You call yourself a closer?”

I looked at those windows and I knew he would have closed that deal. So after that I stayed on him. I watched every move he made. I breathed when he breathed. I thought when he thought. And I learned. That was a foundation. Later, I learned a lot more from sales trainers and from self-help books. But to this day I never ask anybody to sign anything. I lay the contract down and say: Put your name right here.

—Grant Winstead operates the Success Sales System That Never Fails, designed to help home improvement owners and salespeople close at higher rates and “put more profits in your pocket.” Reach him at grant.winstead62@gmail.com or 703.728.4966.