The Unstoppable Door-to-Door System

This guide was created from the methods of winners and the best of behavioral science.
Follow it to be unstoppable.

Unstoppable-door-to-door-timeline

In 1962, Bill Porter got a lucky break. He’d been rejected for a position as a Watkins door-to-door home goods salesman. But Bill didn’t take “No” for an answer. The Watkins sales manager relented and hired Bill for the worst territory in Portland, Oregon.

He wasn’t a natural salesman and at the first door he took four tries to finally ring the bell. No sale, but he didn’t quit. He kept knocking doors and start making sales.

In a few years, Watkins promoted Bill to a better territory. He would become the top seller in Oregon, Idaho, Washington and California.1New York Times, 12/10/2013“Bill Porter, an Exceptional Salesman Who Inspired a Film, Dies at 81”

Bill kept at it for over 40 years. Times changed, box stores opened and online shopping expanded. But Bill kept a routine and each weekday walked eight miles to knock doors and make sales. He was a pro. Always dressed in a suit jacket, tie and polished shoes.

Even after all these years, the door-to-door sales never became easy. Bill had cerebral palsy.

The neurologic disorder made Bill’s speech slow and caused limited use of his arms and hands. It made walking especially difficult.

There were no easy days, but Bill didn’t quit. Instead he built daily routines to make him successful. He couldn’t tie his shoes, button his top button or put on a tie. He’d start his day riding the bus to a local hotel where friendly bellhops would help him with his buttons and necktie.220/20 interview with Bill Porter Then he’d visit the shoeshine stand for a shine and get his shoes tied. Then he was off on his eight-mile trek to knock doors and make sales.3The Oregonian, 12/5/13, “Bill Porter, Portland’s famed door-to-door salesman, has died at age 81”, Tom Hallman Jr – the reporter who wrote the first story about Bill in 1995

Bill’s story is one of perseverance and success. But it also shows the value in building habits. The same sort of door-to-door habits you can use to win.

In interviews with winning local Republican candidates, a clear pattern emerged. Winners campaign door-to-door. They knock hundreds and even thousands of doors.

But for every door-to-door champion, there’s a candidate who wanted to be great but didn’t do what it takes to get there. They knocked a few dozen doors. But it was tough. They put it off. Delay led to delay and soon it was an agonizing election night.

Winners follow a different path. The Unstoppable Door-to-Door System.

Today you’re excited and pumped to start door-to-door. But the motivation will fade. You need a system. The guide below was created from the actions of winners and the best of behavioral science. Follow it to be unstoppable.

Week 1: Script Your Start

Success comes from how you start



Unstoppable-door-to-door-timeline-week-1

Success doesn’t come from just starting. Otherwise gyms would be as busy in March as January. Success comes from how you start.

Door-to-door is a skill. With any skills there’s an initial steep learning curve.4Graph inspired by the book, The First 20 Hours, by Josh Kaufman The first week’s goal is simply to move up the learning curve. Remember, every candidate is like Bill Porter and nervous about knocking the first door.

Step 1: Commit to a start date

First, commit to a door-to-door start date. Write it down. Tell your campaign volunteers and spouse to make yourself accountable to the date. Just like voter pledge cards, your written commitment increases your chance of success.

Step 2: Maximize the familiar, minimize the uncertain

Door-to-door fear is from two sources: fear of the unknown and fear of rejection and inadequacy. To reduce both these fear and connect with voters, do this:

Get home field advantage – Bill Porter started in a rough territory. You don’t have to. Pick a friendly neighborhood to start. Sure, you’ll meet people already voting for you, but you will also reduce uncertainty in the short run to maximize effectiveness in the long run.

Front load the work – Take advantage of motivation in the days before by organizing your material so you’re ready. Get your palm cards, post its, maps and door-to-door list together in advance, so all you need to do is get in the car and go.

Practice your introduction – Create a simple two sentence door-to-door introduction. “Hi, I’m Jane Smith, running for [town] council. I’m just stopping by to ask what’s your biggest concern with [town]?” It doesn’t need to be perfect but practice it a few dozen times. Just start simple and change it later based on the responses you get.

Step 3 — Start Slow

Only do 10 doors a day for the first week. That’s not a typo. Only 10.

Later you can ramp up the number of doors. But Week 1 is your learning week, so focus on only 10 doors a day.

It counter intuitive, but here’s why it works. Stanford psychology professor BJ Fogg research found the best way to create a new habit is to break it down to a ridiculously small task…so small it takes little will power to do it. To create a daily flossing habit, floss only one tooth.5Fogg Method: 3 Steps to Behavior Change — also his weekly class “Tiny Habits” has helped 30,000+ people make habit change

I used this strategy to start using the rower that’d been sitting in my basement for months. Instead of 10 doors, I’d wake up and row for two minutes. Zero health benefits, but two minutes was so easy I kept doing it. Slowly I added more time and the daily habit stuck. On rare days when I can’t bring myself to row, I still row for two minutes then stop. It keeps the habit alive.

Pro Tip: On a bad day do the 10 doors in your neighborhood. You’ll get a good response and be back to your door-to-door grove the next day.

This is why 10 doors are so important. At some point door-to-door will discouraged you. On those days, go out and give yourself permission to knock only 10 doors. Once you’ve hit 10 you can stop, but you’ve kept the habit alive.

 

Final Notes on Week 1:

In the first week, we’re only focused on moving up the learning curve. Trust the system. But we aren’t looking for flash in the pan action. We’re want to create door-to-door monsters. Door-to-door monsters start slow and build momentum.

Week 2: Build the Routine

To accomplish something big, create a routine.



Unstoppable-door-to-door-timeline-week-2

 

You’ve now moved up the learning curve. You’ve passed the frustration-filled start where everything is new. Door-to-door doesn’t seem so bad. Now create your door-to-door routine.

Step 1: Forget goals

Door-to-door-learning-curve-week-2We’ve all talked to candidates who say, “My goal is to knock 5,000 doors!” or “I’m going to knock every door in the district!”. They start to knock doors and get discouraged as they realize the work to meet their goal.

In his recent book, Scott Adams, “Goals are for losers.” To focus on a large goal, our subconscious feels we’re failing until the moment we reach the goal. If we somehow reach the goal, we lose motivation because the goals accomplished.6How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Bigby Scott Adams the creator of Dilbert.

Instead, focus on creating a routine.

Routines don’t sound sexy, but here’s a secret: Everyone who’s accomplished something big or created a body of work has a system or routine.

Stephen King didn’t set out with a goal to write 60+ books. Instead he created the routine of writing 2,000 words a day.7Stephen King, Wikipedia The byproduct of the routine was 60+ books.

Step 2: Create and keep a regular schedule

Build your door-to-door routine by setting a weekly schedule. Simply mark your calendar each day you plan knock doors. Mark it with a circle. Once you’ve hit doors that day fill in the circle. The more days you do door-to-door the more circles you fill.

Even Bill Porter kept a door-to-door schedule. It started as he caught the same bus each day. Candidates who knocked the most doors all kept a door-to-door schedule. Some changed each week based on their work schedules. Others set certain days of the week they always knocked doors. The key similarity between them was a door-to-door schedule they stuck to.

Step 3: Recruit a driver

Recruit volunteers or family members to drive you door-to-door each day. Having a driver provides many advantages:

Double your door-to-door productivity – your driver can turn around the car and look for the next house while you’re at the door. You’re left free to focus on your interaction with the voter.

Share your experience – a driver makes the tough streets or doors easier by having someone to share the frustration with.

Increase safety – someone waiting in the car gives you a good reason to leave a long-winded or strange voter.

Stay accountable – it’s hard to quit your door-to-door plan when someone’s taking the time to drive you.

Tap into local knowledge– a driver who knows folks in your area turns a cold door knock into a friendly introduction.

Week 3: Wow the Voter

A little more effort for significantly more impact.



 

In November 2010, Jim Shukys sent a thank you card to one of his customers. The simple handwritten card surprised the customer so much he posted it online. In a matter of hours the little card went viral.

No one expects great customer service and a thank you card from their mechanic. But Jim Shukys goes the extra mile for his customers in Streetsboro, OH. They love it and refer their friends and family.810 Stories of Unforgettable Customer Service“, by Gregory Ciotti on HelpScout.com [See Jim’s actual note]

By Week 3, you’ve pushed up the door-to-door learning curve. You’ve created a routine and set a schedule to dominate. Now’s the time to go the extra mile and wow your voters.

As we’ve discussed, door-to-door is extremely effective in meeting voters one on one. But in time the memory fades and part of the effect wears off. To counter this, write a thank you note to everyone you talk to door-to-door. Door-to-door-learning-curve-week-3Mail it the week before the election and give voters a reason to talk about you to their friends and family.

Yes, to write hundreds of a thank you notes is a lot of work. But it’s already hard work to knock on doors. Why not go the extra mile and wow your voter?

Your voters get a deluge of direct mail, phone call and TV ads in the final election week. In the midst of a glossy stack of political mail a personal note stands out. It’s likely the only personal handwritten note they’ll get all week.

Step 1: Order cards

Order custom post cards for your door-to-door notes. Keep them simple. Use your logo or a picture from your town on the front (don’t forget your political disclaimer). Print your return address on the back and leave plenty of room to write.

Pro tip: Check the postcard paper coating to make sure it’s easy to write on. Also review these postal regulations so your writing isn’t covered with a barcode sticker.

Step 2: Take notes

As you leave a door, write one or two words on the voter list to remember the conversation. Some candidates use a digital voice recorder while others take notes. Find a system that works for you and stick with it.

Step 3: Write cards

Schedule time weekly or after each door-to-door day to write your post cards. Incorporate it into your door-to-door schedule created in Week 2. Just like knocking doors, the key is steady weekly progress.

Step 4: Mail cards

The week before your election mail out the cards and wow your voters.

 

Final Thoughts 

Door-to-door is a skill. Like any skill excellence takes time. But trust the system, create the routine and go the extra mile. Your voters will reward you for it.

About the Author

Trevor Bragdon

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Hi, I’m the founder of EquipGOP. Every election cycle I meet smart, hardworking Republicans who are running for the first time but don’t know where to start. EquipGOP's goal is to help these local Republican candidates learn tactics and strategies they need to win on Election Day.

Sources & Notes   [ + ]

1. New York Times, 12/10/2013“Bill Porter, an Exceptional Salesman Who Inspired a Film, Dies at 81”
2. 20/20 interview with Bill Porter
3. The Oregonian, 12/5/13, “Bill Porter, Portland’s famed door-to-door salesman, has died at age 81”, Tom Hallman Jr – the reporter who wrote the first story about Bill in 1995
4. Graph inspired by the book, The First 20 Hours, by Josh Kaufman
5. Fogg Method: 3 Steps to Behavior Change — also his weekly class “Tiny Habits” has helped 30,000+ people make habit change
6. How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Bigby Scott Adams the creator of Dilbert.
7. Stephen King, Wikipedia
8. 10 Stories of Unforgettable Customer Service“, by Gregory Ciotti on HelpScout.com