Tom Ziglar Shares What a Bike Salesman Taught His Father

UPDATED: December 3, 2012
PUBLISHED: December 3, 2012

Zig Ziglar was known for his Southern charm and pithy one-liners. Quips such as “failure is an event, not a person” and “if you dream it, you can achieve it” now sit atop chapters to bestselling business books, a testament to his far-reaching influence. Perhaps my favorite Ziglarism is “You will get everything you want in life if you will just help other people get what they want.”

I encountered these wise words as an incoming college freshman, and have lived by them all my life. I’ve done pro bono work for nonprofits when I could have used that time for a paying job. I’ve invested in the lives of people younger than me, asking nothing in return. My wife and I have let people who needed a home live with us, and we even gave one of our cars to a 17-year-old girl in need. My 1991 Ford Taurus lacked air conditioning, but it ran well. But when I heard this young girl needed transportation for her job, Ziglar’s words returned to my mind. We gave the vehicle away and never looked back.

Throughout this time, our bills always got paid. People have taken amazing chances on me and my career. When I’ve needed a friend, one has always been waiting. The advice has proved true in our lives again and again.

In late 2011, I had the opportunity to talk with Zig Ziglar’s son, Tom. Now the CEO of Ziglar, Inc., he knows his father’s heart better than anyone. I wanted to ask him how his father lived this principle out in his own life.

In this advance excerpt from my upcoming book, One Question, Tom’s reply gives keen insight into his late father’s genius:


Treat people with respect, listen to people, and understand the needs of others so you can help them. When you do this, not only are you helping them get what they need, you are also developing trust. I always say that people will buy from you once because they like you, but they will buy from you continually if they trust you.

Helping people is much more than just giving people what they want. When I was twelve, my dad took me to a shop to pick out a bike at Christmas. There was only one salesperson, so we waited while he helped a grandmother purchase a bike for her grandson. The grandson was about six years old and was riding a bike all over the shop while his grandmother was looking at another bike.

I overheard the salesman say, “That is a great bike! Who is it for?” The lady pointed at her grandson and said, “Well, it is for my grandson over there.” The salesman said, “Let’s bring the boy over and see how he sits on it.” As soon as the young boy sat on the bike it was obvious the bike was too big. The salesman pointed out that the bike her grandson was riding around the shop was the same type of bike, only a smaller frame and a better fit.

The grandmother replied, “I want to buy him this bike because our neighbor has this exact one.” Shaking his head, the salesman responded, “Well, ma’am, I’m sorry. This bike is too big for your grandson. I can’t sleep well at night knowing your grandson might not be able to stop in time and could end up in the street or have a big accident. I can’t sell you this bike.”

Well, the grandmother got really mad and left. So now the salesman approached us and asked how he could help. Dad told him, “This is my son, Tom. He needs a bike so help him pick one out.” Dad knew by witnessing his interaction with the grandmother that this gentleman was trustworthy and was going to recommend the best bike for me.

The salesman knew what was best for that grandmother. His motives were to make sure that her grandson had a bike that fit him and was safe. The salesman forfeited the sale with the grandmother because he stuck to his principles. As a result, he gained my dad’s trust and he got the sale with us. I have said many times, coincidence is just God’s way of staying anonymous.

To really understand the thought—you can have everything in life you want if you help other people get what they want—you have to know what people truly need. By building relationships and discerning their needs, you can help them based on what is best for them. You should help who you can when you can because you can.


Tom’s words brought fresh meaning to the advice I’d read long ago. The principle is not about the action—this isn’t some type of karma—but rather about the motive. We help whomever we can whenever we can simply because we can. The key is maintaining a pure heart while scouting for moments, big and small, to offer ourselves. When the opportunities arise, Tom says, we must move simply because we are able.

Though he was known as “the salesmen’s salesmen” among those who read his books and listened to him speak in packed arenas, Ziglar’s legacy stretches far beyond the business world. His simple message of inspiration is applicable to just about anyone. Be the type a person who is never too busy to love others, Ziglar might say if he were still with us. Encourage someone who has been beaten down by life’s storms, and seek out moments to breathe life into those who are dying under the world’s weight. In meeting the needs of others, you just might find the very thing you’ve been missing.

Wise words from a wise man who will be greatly missed. Rest in peace, Zig, and we’ll see you at the top.  


Ken Coleman (@kencoleman) is author of the forthcoming book One Question: Life-Changing Answers From Today's Leading Voices (Simon and Schuster, 2013) and host of The Ken Coleman Show.

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