Saturday, February 23, 2013

On being a Salesmun............

February 23, 2013

Anyone out there remember the old cartoon that went something like this, minus the toon? “ A week ago I could not even spell salesmun, now I are one.” I Blog today about the world of being a salesman. Are you aware that there are no universities, anywhere, that can grant you a major in salesmanship? You can get a major in marketing. You can get a major in communication. But getting that sheep skin in salesmanship? Forget it.

Growing up in a small community I remember my first gig as a salesman. It was along about the third grade at Union Elementary school. The school fundraiser was sponsored by the American Seed Company. Yes, the product was seed, mostly vegetables for that spring garden. I remember walking around my community knocking on the doors of my neighbors and pitching the product. Most likely a simple pitch: “ How ‘bout buy some of my seeds for your garden.” I was 8 years old. I looked like a waif member of the play Oliver and heck if it took pity to close the sale , so be it. I was successful in my own right. I sold enough seeds to earn a wristwatch with a genuine pigskin band.

As I moved on in life I made it to high school and worked for Kwik Chek, a Winn Dixie, type of store. It was then that I learned the art of schmooze. I was a bag boy and I was paid .75 an hour. I learned to bag the groceries proficiently. If I worked 20 hours a week I made $15.00. I soon learned that if I engaged the customer with a little razamataz on the way out to put their groceries in their station wagon that I earned a tip. A good tip was .25. Many people would toss a dime your way and if you got someone who was just on their way home from a cocktail party sometimes you were handed a dollar bill. There were many times when my tips outpaced my minimum wage. Add $20.00 in tips to the $15.00 paycheck and now you were talking some serious spending money.

On to college and earning a degree in Business Administration. I was fortunate enough to land a job in college working for a milk distributor, Farmbest dairies, formerly Foremost dairies. I was engaged as a numbers cruncher working in the office. After graduation I stayed at Farmbest because they wanted me. A job in management. I was the office manager eventually and placed in charge of payroll with a lot of other responsibilities. I was 24 and fairly smart. Smart enough to figure out that the guys who got up and went out on a milk route selling and delivering milk door to door were making considerably more money than I. Of course I had a title, Office Manager. I had a dozen post menopausal women reporting to me. They all hated my guts and made my life miserable.

Along about that time I decided to seek part time employment. There was an ad in the local newspaper concerning going to work for Alcoa aluminum. I showed up at a dank and dark hotel along with 5 other people. We all got hired to sell Cutco knives. We followed up on leads that were produced by people in malls with clip boards signing up young ladies, primarily, to receive a gift and a presentation about our fabulous knives. These were perfect for hope chests. By this time I was dressing better. I was 24 about 5’11” tall and weighed about 160. Put a tie on me and some pressed slacks I made a decent appearance. The very first weekend on my own in this job I put $300 dollars in my pocket. This was part time work. The office manager side of me was rapidly getting an ulcer from the PMS crowd and I was making $200 a week.

It was all about the schmooze. I found that I could do it as well as anyone. I tendered my resignation and soon found a job selling educational courses for Bell and Howell schools for their Devry Institute of Technology. I worked all of the leads sent my way and as the dust settled on my first month I had earned $1600. That was eight weeks of Farmbest pay earned in 4 weeks. I learned that this was my career pathway and I never looked back.

I went to work in the pharmaceuticals business in 1972. I received a paycheck of $900 a month, a company car, benefits and all expenses paid. I loved being a salesman and it showed with the raises and the bonuses I earned. I respected my products and I took care of my customers and I was promoted to the guy who taught other people to sell the products. Eventually I was in charge of sales training for 13 southern states and Puerto Rico. I made 1000’s of presentations to small and large groups as well as one on one training sessions. I trained people who were all smart and had degrees. I noticed one common theme among those who succeeded and those who failed. What was it? Simply stated, it was the schmooze.

I eventually went on to be in public affairs. I was in charge of lobbying and association work and worked issues all over the country. Lobbying is no different than selling. There are just more seeds in the package and more outcomes at risk. That is where I retired after 30 years of getting up every day and not being able to wait to get in front of a client or customer.

The bottom line to being a successful sales person goes beyond the schmooze. You have to like people. You absolutely must have people skills. People have to like you back. Some never will. Most will eventually accept you and who you represent.

Is it possible to learn to be a successful sales person? I don’t care what you do for a living. Physician, politician, teacher, police officer, and so on, you must have people skills to be successful. There is a very good reason why universities do not offer degrees in salesmanship. It is a very simple conclusion that successful sales people are born to the role. You can be oriented and made to improve but if you don’t like people and they don’t like you back a PhD in anything you want will never make you successful. The people skills must follow at some point.

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