Friday, March 10, 2006

A Career in Sales

I have had a few sales jobs in my day. I sold office equipment for several years, was a stock broker (which is largely a sales job) as well, and was a “market manager” for a company called “Angie’s List,” where I had to sell ad space in our monthly newsletter.  Let me also say, I did fairly well at these jobs. I was one of the top sales people at the office equipment company and was even on the fast track to manage a branch before I quit.  As a stock broker I was one of the top “rookies” at my branch, having over $6 million under my management at the end of my first year.  The Market Manager position was a crappy job for a kind of screwed up company, but I still got them 115% growth in the two years I ran that market.  In all those years of sales, I never thought of myself as pushy.  If someone said they weren’t interested, I’d leave them alone.  On the other hand, if they said I should try back another time, or did show interest, I would be sure to follow up. My organization and persistence helped me grow my customer base steadily, but never did I have to resort to being pushy, nor would I, because it really isn’t my style.  

Now that I am a business owner myself, I know what its like to be on the receiving end of those telephone and in-person cold calls.  Most people take “no” for an answer and leave me alone.  Yet, there are some sales people who can be quite pushy, and it really can become obnoxious.  Telemarketers always seem to call at the worst times: on a Wednesday when we’re in the middle of receiving in our new inventory; on a busy Friday afternoon when I have people trying to purchase items and a line is forming; or on a day when I’ve already had to spend a couple of thousand dollars and I just don’t want anyone else asking me to buy stuff from them.  But at least with telemarketers I can quickly say, “Thanks, but I’m not interested,” and hang up on them.  

It is the “walk-in” cold call sales people that can be trickier.  There are some who come in with duffle bags of cheap junk, and I turn them around and send them out before they even get past the half-way point.  Then, there are the those that look like they aren’t stopping in to shop, but I can’t be sure, so I ask if I can help them…and oh boy, am I sorry I asked.  We have had bank reps, insurance salesmen, office supply company salespeople, ad salespeople, credit card processing people, and even a guy selling light-up signs, all come and ask for our business.  Still, once they get their intro spiel out, I can usually say no and they leave.  Sometimes, I will even tell them that I am NOT the owner, and that the owner rarely comes in, but that he’s the one who handles that so they’d have to talk to him.  Craig even told a sales guy that “John” was the owner, and they’d have to talk to him. But of course “John” is NEVER here (and that poor guy came back looking for John every day for two weeks before I finally told him we’d call if we were interested).  

Then there are those that just won’t leave, no matter what. They just WILL NOT take “no” for an answer.  For example, one day I got a phone call from a woman, saying that she wanted to make sure someone would be at the store on a particular day, between a specific time.  She didn’t say why, or who she was or worked for.  But the call was quick, and I soon forgot about it.  Not once did she even ask if someone would be there who could make decision for the business – so she wasn’t a very good pre-qualifier, which, for a second, makes me feel kind of bad for the sales rep.  Well, this time a guy did show up on that day during the designated time.  I had pretty much forgotten about it until he came in and said he’d had an appointment, and as I thought about it, I figured her call must have been to schedule this appointment.  It turns out the guy is selling credit card processing.  I let him go through his entire spiel.  I argued some points with him, asked him some questions, and agreed with him on some things.  Then, he tries to close the deal. He gets out the paperwork and says, “Nobody wants to loose money, so sign right here and we can get you started on saving money.”  I explain to him that I can’t just sign this, as I am one of a two-person ownership, and I can’t just make this decision without the approval of the other.  But he insists, saying again that there shouldn’t be ANYTHING stopping me from saving money, and I should just sign his paperwork.  Right about this time Craig walks in.  

Let me just give you a brief aside – Craig owned a business once before, and had some problems with credit card processing companies.  Now he HATES them.  One time a credit card processing sales person came into the store while I was at the counter and Craig was in the office in the back.  If you have been to our store, you know the office has a window so someone in there can see and hear what’s going on in the store.  The gal introduced herself and said why she was there, and Craig jumped up, saying, “I really hate you people.  I’m sure you are perfectly nice, but I can’t stand people in your line of business, please leave.”  She looked quite shocked, but quickly scampered back out. It was the first time in the 5 years I’d known Craig that he ever stood up to someone like that.

Craig sees the merchant services sales guy, and knows instantly that the guy is trying to sell me something. So, instead of coming to bail me out, he hides in the office, eating his dinner.  The guy continues to push me, forcing that paperwork in front of me, telling me that I am stupid not to sign it right now, and that any good business owner would take him up on his offer without a second thought.  I continue to insist that I cannot sign it (I don’t think he ever even asked me if I had the authority to make the decision when he began his sales pitch and threw that paperwork in front of me initially), and ask that he leave information for my partner to look over and that we’d call the company after we do our own math and decide for ourselves if it would really be in our best interest.  He won’t leave information, and he won’t leave, but continues to try to persuade me just to sign the paperwork, saying that I have 24 hours to change my mind, if my partner isn’t smart enough to see how much money I saved the company.  That’s when Craig jumps up and asks the guy to leave.  He tells him, “Listen, she’s just being nice.  She can’t sign that paperwork, and she won’t sign it. We are not interested. Now get out of my store.”  The guy doesn’t drop his pen or put his forms away. Instead he steps closer, saying that “he has an appointment.”  Craig says, “I don’t care, your time is up, get out.”  The salesman STILL doesn’t want to leave, and makes some kind of comment.  Craig picks up the telephone, and says, “If you don’t get out of my store right now, I am calling the police.”  The salesman tells Craig to go ahead and call them, since he has every right to be there because HE HAS AN APPOINTMENT.  Craig begins to dial the phone, and suddenly the forms go into the salesman’s briefcase and he’s headed for the door, telling Craig how rude he is.

That credit card processing guy was by FAR the pushiest of all sales people to come by here.  Although, just last week, I had another pair of people come in.  They worked for some Milwaukee based classic hits station, playing the hits of the 60’s and 70’s.  He introduced himself and asked if we’d be interested in radio advertising.  Now, I’ve dealt with these people before, and I have all of my talking-points ready.  First, I explain to him that our business deals very much with visual stimuli, and that we only advertise in visual forms of media.  He then says we could advertise on the station’s web site instead of, or in addition to, radio ads.  Before I can even respond, he continues to push, explaining to me what a great deal radio ads are.  I explain to him that we’ve gotten radio ad quotes before, and they’ve actually been more expensive than what we’re doing now.  I also elaborate, explaining to him that we just don’t need the “reach” a radio station has (they hit tens of thousands of people across the state and even into northern Illinois, with a good FM tower), while most comic book store customers come from within a 15-mile radius of the store.  So, I’d be spending money advertising to people who wouldn’t have any interest in driving all the way out to Waukesha.  He insists that the more people that hear about Neptune Comics, the more will come in. Now that makes sense, but it’s not entirely accurate. Next, he suggests that we let them do a remote broadcast here. I say, sure, that’s cool – is it free? Of course it is not – its $400 plus any advertising. Why should I have to pay for them to promote themselves in front of my store?  Finally, he hands me a flier, takes one of our cards from off of the counter, and leaves, saying he’ll follow up.  Thankfully, I have not heard back from him.  I think he was just trying to train the other sales person he was with, to show her how to push people into buying.  But frankly, he was just irritating. I certainly hope she doesn’t use his style of salesmanship in her future sales career!  Once they left, I had a customer say, “boy, he just wouldn’t take no for an answer,” and then go on to comment about how he didn’t really think that an “oldies” station was really the right demographic for a comic book store anyway.

It isn’t easy being a sales person, and I know that. Often most, if not all, of your income is based on commissions earned from those sales.  But honestly, if someone tells you straight up that they are not interested in what you have to offer, leave them alone.  I know when I did my office equipment sales calls, if people said they weren’t interested, I’d just leave my business card and ask that they hang onto it and give me a call when they were in the market (because every company’s fax machine or copier will break down eventually).  They might just forget about my visit until the copier broke down, but at least they didn’t throw away my card because I was so pushy that they wouldn’t do business with me ever.  From my experience in sales I found that my time was better spent trying to sell my goods to people who expressed a genuine interest in them, rather than trying to convince people that weren’t interested that they really should be.  So, you sales people out there, take my advice. And if you come to my store and I tell you I am not interested, leave your card and go. We will ALL be happier!


Anonymous said...

Nice, Lisa. It wounds like there are more behind the scenes stuff than people who just chase business away from you :) or the ones who hang out and watch entire movies and not buy anything.

I feel for you guys. Craig, I think you are scarred for life my man.

Take it easy,
Mike Costello

Lisa said...

PLENTY goes on behind the scenes here, but most of it is too boring to rehash. Some day I'll have to blog about our Wednesday morning ritual, just so everyone can see what we go through to get books on the shelves.

I know Craig scarred the credit card guy for life. I don't think we've had another credit card processor in here since-there's probably a memo or flier that goes out to all CC services sales people telling them to stay away from Neptune Comics.

Anonymous said...

I dislike most all salespeople, I mean salespeople like carsalesmen, insurance salesman, etc. So, Craig and Lisa, how many tickets to the policemans ball do you need????? HeHe, Im just keeeeeding....