Big Joe James was older than me and clearly resented that I had somehow “dodged and weaved” my way to regional manager.
We were selling payphone contracts to retailers in the early 1990s, just after the de-regulation of Telecoms industry, and Joe was having a bad month. His territory covered Glasgow University area and so with thousands of students all out seeking places to make calls (before the days of mobile phones) he should have been putting points on the board daily. Like the man from Mitch and Murray I came on a mission of mercy to help Joe get out the grip off he Neggies (negative vibes).
I checked the boot of his car when I met him just to make sure he was actually carrying the sales kit, which consisted of one large payfone, one payfone stand, contracts book and the store merchandising including a long red window sticker, a stick on red flag for above the shop doorway and a metal swing stand for outside the window, you know like Walls Ice Cream used to do. Joe at least was carrying the full kit. Many suffering from the Neggies didn’t even do that. So, Joe could be saved.
He drove me around his patch and I saw a prime prospect, a general store so busy it was almost alive with students. The shop was called Ahmed’s Stores.
I turned to Joe and this is how the conversation went:
Me: “How come Ahmed doesn’t have our phone?”
Joe: “He’s never in.”
Me: “Never? As in, he doesn’t work there?”
Joe: “No, he works there but he’s just never in!”
Me: “Well, how do you know he works there?”
Joe’ s eyes rolled and he eventually replied, “because the guy in the shop told me!”
Me: “So, what you are saying is, he is sometimes in, at least. So, let’s try now. Stop the car. We’ll go in and sign this guy the hell up.”
Joe: “No. I’m not wasting my time. I know he won’t be in. And even if he is, he won’t want a phone.”
Me: “Joe. Stop the car. I’m going in now. If you are too scared to come in, then wait here while I sign him up.”
He stopped the car abruptly. Joe: “Go on, then, ***ing Superman! I am waiting right here!”
I knew now that whatever happened I could never emerge from Ahmed’s Store without a signed contract. But I was double motivated. Joe had challenged me and whatever happened would spread like wildfire through the rest of the teams. Plus, I was addicted to the score. And this store smelt as temping as newly baked bread.
In the store I met Ahmed’s assistant. Ahmed was “out”. But there was no way I was going to give Joe his biggest “I told you so” of the month. “When is Ahmed back?” The guy shook his shoulders. Sh**. Okay, so now sales instinct kicked in. I was barely thinking consciously. I just knew this had to happen. I went to the car, opened the boot and took the kit into the store. I sensed Joe staring at me from the rear view mirror, all sorts of thoughts and demons assaulting his Negged-out mind. Thoughts like, ‘Damn! I should have gone in!’
Meanwhile in the store, Ahmed’s assistant was scratching his head in puzzlement as I set up the stand, put the big red telephone on it, and left the whole thing in a great central spot in store. “Don’t worry my friend,” I said smiling positively. “I’ll take all this down in a sec. Will you bear with me just for a moment?” He reluctantly nodded. My hazy thought was that something positive would happen, just by setting it all up. Perhaps we could make a proper appointment for the following day, or something.
I then go to his window and put the sticker on the window, something that you’d normally only do if you had signed the contracts. I then put the swing sign outside the store and the flag above the door.
Just at this point, a guy walked in, looked around the store, hands on hips, shaking his head, and eventually uttered the magic words. “So, how much is all this going to ***ing cost me then!”
I put out my hand. “Ahmed, I presume.”
Signed the contracts and he even gave me a free ice cream. Months later, he told me that the phone was “raking it in”.
As I got back in the car, I showed Joe the contract. He studied it, hoping there was some flaw. Then he said, “That’s my sale. It’s on my patch!”
“Was your patch, Joe. If you want it back, you have a week to prove it should be yours.”
Joe then had a great month. One of his sub-agents at a meeting asked how he turned it around. He laughed and said, “I just get out the car more often.”
You see, by dressing the prospect up as a customer, the prospect felt like a customer. Sometimes it’s that simple.