Thinking Outside the Sales Box

March 24, 2011


Let’s set the Way Back time machine to 1982 in New York City at the IBM Branch office G-13 IBM Corporation. I was a newly minted IBM Office Products salesman assigned an enormous rookie sales quota after finishing IBM Sales school in Dallas Texas. At the time I was assigned to an IBM New Business sales office in Manhattan as low man on the totem pole so I inherited the smallest most non-productive sales territory in the office. At the time, the largest and most lucrative accounts for IBM Office Products, which included Copiers, Typewriters, DisplayWriter Word Processing Equipment (The IBM PC was still in development at the time), were the Brokerage Firms, Ad Agencies and Large Law Firms. The most senior and successful veteran IBM salespeople were assigned those accounts as they were rewarded for their year over year sales success. A rookie salesperson had to make their living on the scraps left on the table. I remember walking out of my Branch Manager’s office with my head hung down low in January clutching a copy of the quota and territory agreement I had just signed and agreed to.

What have I just done? My career is finished, done, down the drain…kaput! There’s no way I will be able to sell this much equipment let alone displace competing copiers and typewriters from Xerox and Exxon Office Equipment.

After getting over the initial shock, it turned out that, I had a walking geography new business sales territory with no large named accounts to speak of. There really wasn’t any repeat IBM business to be had as the territory was never a productive one in the history of the New York IBM Branch sales office. This was truly a supreme test of my sales skills because there really was not an install base of IBM equipment or repeat business to go after.The sales territory started west of Broadway and north of 57th street to the south side of 72nd street. It looked pretty dismal at first glance as most of the buildings are apartment buildings but I found out later that a lot of them were mixed use commercial zoned.hidden amongst those apartment buildings were smaller commercial office buildings.. A lot of the senior account and sales reps in my office covered a few accounts or even just one city block they were responsible for. They could derive a year’s worth of sales from a fraction of a zip code or even a number of floors in a prime real estate midtown office location. In my assigned upper west side sales territory, there were not many commercial accounts packed into that area but after a few days of hyperventilating and chilling out I decided to spend a few days scoping out the territory and figuring out a plans to how I was going to achieve this impossible quota assignment. I knew that conventional tactics and strategies would not be effective here as my time and resources were extremely limited. I really had to work against the clock and forced myself to think outside of the box and to be as creative as I had to be without breaking any IBM conduct rules or laws of New York City. I bought a AAA map of the Upper West side and got busy by matching the streets with the commercial office buildings and cross referenced the business address with the New York Manhattan set of the Yellow Pages. Armed with the current addresses, I was able to scope out Law Firms, Small Advertising agencies, Publishers and Consulting Firms and tried to ascertain where the most densely populated commercial buildings were located. These buildings happened to be clustered between 57th and 60th street which is the Columbus Circle Area.

I came up with a plan to knock on doors (Cold Call) each small business in each of these 15-20 story commercial buildings. I was able to close some good sales pretty quickly but the time it took to go from door to door and floor to floor was pretty exhausting and time consuming. One day, I took a coffee break at one of the commercial buildings and brought the guard/concierge a cup of coffee to chat him up. As it turns out, and after talking to him, I found out that he knew everything about the office moves going on in the office building. Who was moving in and who was moving out. BINGO, here is the gate-keeper for all of the Commercial Real Estate Agents, Telephone Installers, Plumbers, electricians, Building and Construction Contractors. Having access to this information could prove very valuable for a Rookie sales guy who wanted to sell his office equipment in the most efficient manner. Next thing you know, I am bringing this guy coffee and donuts every week, getting to know him and more importantly, which businesses are moving in and which businesses are moving out. I got access to the business cards and the sign in log book so I was able to get the jump on my competitors. I was able to call the office managers of the law and advertising firms that were in the process of moving in and out of that particular building. Office moves are a gold mine as they usually order new typewriters, copiers and word processing equipment.

By focusing and concentrating my efforts on seven specific identified office buildings within my territory, I was able to quickly build up an intelligence network of which companies and professional firms were moving in and out of my sales territory. I had my “contacts” phoning in leads to me almost every other day and quickly built up a healthy sales backlog and sustainable forecast. As a result, I was able to make my first IBM 100 percent club with room to spare by the end of October.

Lessons Learned:

When you’re under the gun and you have a huge sales quota assignment, it’s best to take a deep breath, step back and approach it logically and methodically. Its best to take a few days off and devote them entirely to research and planning. Write up a sales plan, with well defined goals, objectives, strategies and tactics.

Consult with other more experienced sales people from inside and outside your field. Creative time saving tips can be gleaned from any and all types of sales people, young and old,  from all walks of life.

Don’t assume that your assigned or targeted sales territory cannot sustain your sales targets until you actually research it thoroughly and I mean thoroughly. There are a lot of diamonds in the rough and you need to be on top of everything that goes on in your sales territory.

You need to read up on current economic trends, where your customers are and what the demographic make-up is. Work backward from the targeted annual sales number. Figure out what you need to sell to make your aggregate sales target for the year.

Know your competitors, not only their product but how they sell. You need to go where they are not customer-wise and you have get creative to gain and maintain a competitive edge.

Compete fairly. Do not trash your competition. Emphasize the benefits and advantages of your product and service and sell yourself as the point person that takes the ultimate responsibility for the performance and customer satisfaction of your product and services.

Learning how to be a good sales person is critical to becoming a great sales person. It takes a lot of patience, experience, mistakes and risk taking to succeed where others have failed. You need to convey confidence every step of the way in the sales process. Are you selling yourself? You bet. Most companies buy because of the relationship the sales person has established with the buyers or decision makers, not so much the superiority or benefits of the product or service. I learned this very early on in my sales career and this advice has served me extremely well over the years. Having the best product or service helps, but in the end, it’s the salesperson that demonstrates how effective they are in solving their customer’s problems that wins the sale and future add-on business.

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