High Flying Sales in the Cockpit

This story is set in 1989 and starts at Brisbane airport and has to be one of the best of my sales stories reflecting environmental opportunity and sales activity with a focus on referrals and systems.

The Meet and Greet

Sitting at the airport in the café, I was greeted by a tall man in a pilots uniform, “Would you be Janet?” he asked.  The pilot’s name was John.

John was referred to me by another pilot, Peter, whom I had met at the gym I went to, and he had recently bought income protection from me.  Peter was my ‘centre of influence’ to set me on my way as he happily gave me many names and numbers of pilots around Australia.  All I did was ask for referrals.

“I will have the hostess bring you to the cockpit when you board the plane.” says John.

The flight from Brisbane to Melbourne and back again was a frequent one in the late 80’s.  I always travelled in the cockpit to and to and from my seminars.  Only thing is I only ever had one confirmed appointment and had not even met any other prospects to fill in my week in Melbourne.

The stewardess pulled down the extra seat in the cockpit between the two pilots and asked me to belt up and enjoy the trip.  The take off always seemed so much faster looking out the front window compared to the sides. What an absolute high to be in the cockpit, see the runway falling away fast under me, feeling the pressure of moving forward, hear the power of the engine roaring and just enjoy the experience.

Once in the air the pilots engaged the plane into autopilot and I pull out my laptop and start my sales presentation.  Selling in the cockpit of a plane with the pilot’s attention on my laptop instead of where we are going was always a buzz.  Who would think that my boardroom would be the cockpit of a plane and soaring high above the clouds.

The Pitch

That night I would be in the pilot’s home to present a seminar on income protection for pilots with seven or eight of his friends, prearranged of course.  A short presentation, systemized of course in the usual way starting with the meet and greet, moving onto the brief intro, 1st qualifying question, features and benefits, revealing objections, storytelling, close, repeating this format for about 30 minutes then of course final close which is locking in times for individual appointments and of course getting referrals.

The seminar is always short and sweet and the main focus for me is to set a time with every pilot in the room for a one on one home appointment in the next couple of days.  This was never a problem as they were all referrals so I was like one of their family and not only invited me into their homes over the next week but offered me lunches and diners with fine wines during their personal home appointment time.  Is this really work? It goes without saying that more times than not the trip offered 100% closing ratio because I was working with referrals and the referee would qualify the prospects for me first.  The closing ratio is always higher when working with referrals.


The timing of this work was crucial and worked well because at the time their was a pilot strike in Australia and the American pilots came to Australia to take over their jobs.  Because the American pilots were new to Australia every single one of them needed income protection thus the 100% closing ratio.  Little did I know any of this at the time until I started this journey, the opportunity just came to me through meeting one person who referred me to alot of people.  The pilots strike was just a coincidence that worked very well in my favour, all I did was work hard and implement a simple referral system and pitch to the equation.

Target Marketing

Target marketing is a smart way to sell anything.  Just find a large body of people that would be interested in your product and create ways to build relationships with them. In this story I focused on the pilots and did a ‘trip to Melbourne ‘just for them’ so they felt special and in return they looked after me by feeding me good food and being very hospitable.


22 July, 2012 feature in the Sydney Morning Herald 

I was there ‘The Pilots Dispute’

by Konrad Marshall

By the time Captain John Frearson came face to face with prime minister Bob Hawke on the streets of Kilmore 23 years ago, the 1989 pilots’ dispute was in full swing – more than 1500 pilots had quit Ansett, Australian, East West and Ipec. There was a long-overdue pay rise to consider and, more important to the likes of Frearson, the right to negotiate through their union, the Australian Federation of Air Pilots. How much were the government and airlines willing to lose before they would negotiate? Would the steady drip of pilots crossing the picket line become a torrent?

Flyboys were leaving the country for international carriers and in Australia the military began carrying passengers on domestic routes. Pilots were brought in from overseas, mainly America, to cover the shortage. Frearson was one of many bombarded with letters and phone calls offering a pay rise … conditional upon leaving the union. “I thought the prime minister’s background in the trade union movement, his roots, suggested he should have taken a conciliatory approach rather than what seemed a fairly aggressive approach – talk to us on our terms or we’ll break you.”

Pre-dating email, the pilots mobilised however they could. Formal meetings. Barbecues to boost the spirits. “Those gatherings were a bit of self-help, really, because of a lot of the families were pushing it as far as food went, having difficulties,” Frearson says. “I’m not saying people were starving on the streets but it was a very tough time.”

About 30 pilots seized on a Hawke campaign stop in Kilmore (ahead of the scheduled March 1990 election) as a chance to act. With wives and children, they drove up the Hume Highway to remind Hawke that the option to negotiate through a union was a basic right – and, for many, a non-negotiable one. Hawke saw their placards, smiled and asked who the ringleader was. He happened to be standing in front of Frearson, so Frearson spoke: Would Hawke agree to negotiations with the union if the union ran up the white flag? Would there be good faith?

“And he strongly intimated to me that there would be good faith,” Frearson says. “History will record whether he was speaking what he believed to be the truth or not.” History shows that 1300 pilots never went back to work with the major airlines. Ansett went under, Australian was absorbed into Qantas. East West was wound up, and Ipec, too. “Really, the pilots’ dispute never ended – it just ceased having a reason for being,” says Frearson. “I was disappointed like everybody else.” In a way, he is proud of that moment. “We were free to meet, free to talk and he was free to listen to us. I am proud that I had the chance in a free society to speak my piece and have it heard.”

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