A few years back, a close friend who sold cars confessed he was having a crisis of conscience. It seems a particular model van on his sales lot had flunked a recent crash test that year. The front end, the tests found, collapsed on impact.
"How can I sell this vehicle if I know the driver’s legs will be crushed in a crash?" he asked me. It was, I knew, a rhetorical question. If he cared what he sold, there was only one thing for him to do.
He quit and went to work at a different dealership with relatively safer vehicles.
To me, the incident always underlined a critical principle that motivates people I know in sales – it’s easier to sell a product if you are sold on it yourself.
Sometimes you can become so sold that you are drawn to change careers – to ignore your degrees or training and, with little or no sales experience, leap into a new profession peddling a product.
That is exactly what happened to me and three members of my family. Our experiences provide insight into four very different sales careers.
My questions about her old job made my wife nostalgic for those bygone days when she sold educational toys through home parties. "I had so much fun in sales. I miss it," my wife gushed, threatening to quit her current job as a health educator. Certainly, her current gig lacks the glamour and glory of her past. In ten years, Bev had gone from a lowly sales consultant for a fledgling company called Discovery Toys to become one of its first ten sales directors, with 450 sales consultants under her. She had a company car, earned free vacations, and received recognition at sales conventions. Heady stuff! In truth, all those things were a by-product of Bev’s real goal – finding a job that enabled her to work from home so she could raise the kids (and avoid daycare).
One key to her success was that she never felt like a salesperson. "The consultant who recruited me reassured me that selling these toys was neither high pressure nor sales in the traditional sense," Bev recalls. "It was helping people with something they wouldn’t know about if I didn’t tell them." Like Bev, most of the sales consultants were teachers and they called on that background to help customers understand how a particular toy might help the development of a child.
Bev then went about learning more about the art of sales, through tapes, books and seminars. "My manager kept telling me (and I believed her) that most jobs offer what the job is worth, but sales allowed me to earn what I was worth." Of course, it wasn’t all a bed of roses. Being self employed, she had no benefits, no retirement and, working on commission sales, no guarantee of an income. Effort did not always equal reward. And then there were the "customers who didn’t want to buy no matter what sales techniques I used."
So why did Bev quit? We had to move out of state to pursue my career. She lost her customer base just as the company adopted new higher sales goals. Bev could no longer sell the toys successfully, nor did she feel she could ethically recruit people into the organization (something common in multilevel marketing groups if you want to attain a management position).
If you are interested – Bev recommends that you examine the product carefully; it needs to fit with your background and personality. Next, talk to others already in the field to find out if the financial benefits are all that are promised. For more guidance, go to the Multilevel Marketing Watch website: MLMwatch.org.
Seventeen years ago, my older brother Jack quit his job as the general manager of a South San Francisco firm to become a manufacturer’s rep. These are independent contractors who obtain a license agreement with a manufacturer to market and sell a particular product in a defined territory. As a mechanical engineer by training, my brother had learned about the profession from other manufacturer’s reps who made regular sales calls to his old firm. Now Jack saw the perfect product and opportunity to go out on his own. As part of its campaign to clean up ground water, the EPA was going to require that underground fuel tanks be replaced. My brother planned to market an alternative solution – an above-ground concrete and steel fuel vault that could safely store thousands of gallons of fuel.
My brother’s venture paid off. And he still does not think of himself as a salesperson. He instead approaches his role as that of a technical advisor, providing guidance on building codes, engineering specs and installation requirements for hospitals, airfields, government agencies, etc. His second degree in marketing and his previous sales experience provided an invaluable foundation.
When selling large-ticket items, you have to be patient since it can take considerable time from when you submit a quote to the day you close the sale. It can also take a couple of years to do the required "missionary work" – going out into the field, making sales calls, doing trade shows, before you start to cash in. My brother has no regrets going out on his own. He loves the flexibility of being self-employed, although providing your own insurance and benefits gets costly.
If you are interested – Be sure you carefully check out the product and the company. Key question: Is the product patented? (If not, you could end up not having a product to sell down the road). Will you have exclusive rights to a territory? You also need a nest egg, since it can take two to three years before you turn a real profit. For more information, visit the Manufacturers Representative Educational Research Foundation website, mrerf.org, or go to bls.gov and search for Manufacturers Rep in the Occupational Handbook.
"I never thought of myself as a salesperson," insisted my youngest son Adam, who spent one college summer several years ago dialing for dollars. "I thought of myself as an activist. I needed a job, and raising money for a nonprofit that sought to establish rights for patients and, ultimately, universal healthcare was something that I believed in. This belief in the cause I was working for is what enabled me to start making calls to our list of potential supporters." In time, his motivation wore thin. "I never truly became comfortable – being a glorified telemarketer didn’t change that people hate being called at home and asked for money. I found that to be stressful."
He didn’t get rich that summer. He along with several dozen others would make calls in six-hour blocks. Much of the salary was based on meeting a minimum target for money raised. Beyond that, he would get 20 percent. "So if you got the high rollers, you could do very well for yourself," Adam recalls. "As a newbie, who wasn’t staying for long, I was given the (expletive deleted) call list, so it was very hard for me to make more than the base." He did enjoy doing the outreach. "I liked speaking with people about the issues, which they care about. I was not great at getting money out of them, in part because they were often poor people," Adam recalls. "I saw my mission as partly consciousness raising, rather than merely fundraising, but I don’t think the phone bank operators felt the same way." So, although it’s a key to sales success, simply believing in a cause (or product) isn’t always enough to make you successful in a particular sales environment.
If you are interested – Go to CallCenterJobs.com.
The Sure Thing
Sometimes, believing too strongly in a product can inhibit your success in sales. That was the case for me when for a brief time I sold a newspapers-in-education program called Kid Scoop. The brainchild of a Sonoma teacher, her service provided a weekly feature designed to get school children to read the local newspaper. It was a proven, entertaining program that usually paid for itself. My problem was I could not understand, with my publishing background, why any editor would balk at taking it. "You needed to be more patient," my brother counsels me today. Be more the advisor, I suppose. You also need a thick skin. Why, I still wonder, did that features editor in Chico have me drive all that way just to tell me they already have their own program? In short order, I realized the best thing I could do to help my friend’s business was to let her hire someone else to do the sales. Not everyone, after all, is a pitchman – even if they are committed to the product.