When we were learning how to sell, very often with “average” training, we learnt as we went. This meant making mistakes until we developed basic good habits. This tale, from the late 1980s, is a classic case of how not to deal with an objection.
We sold books to non-book outlets. We were pioneers. Back in the day, few grocers stocked books. We had the stock in our car boots and sold it cash on delivery (ah, remember CoD anyone?) to petrol stations, grocers, newsagents, anyone actually who would buy them. We had a stock mountain of 1M books to shift and three months to sell them in. The catch was that some contract somewhere forbade us selling to book stores. I’d called up my old sales team from previous jobs and we were on the case.
It was like missionary work. “But, son,” a confused retailer might say, “I don’t sell books.” We’d counter with, “That’s exactly why I’m here,” buying enough time to open the presenter and start the presentation. That’s right. Cold calling. Some retailers were successful with the books we sold them, others less so. We didn’t know in advance which outlets would be pleased to see us again – or not. We developed a presentation, with a variety of killer closes. “So, we’ll go ahead with that then, yes?” “So, where will I put the books for you, sir.” etc.
Jimmy Gee was a selling machine but he was often wary of customer reactions. I’d tried many times to remind him that it was his job, his duty, to face whatever scenario was waiting for him on a return call. That was how he would learn, and get even better. It would also show that he was not, as we called it, a ‘One Hit Wonder’, ie, sell the books and never return.
Jimmy invented The Polo Mint Close. But he always had that temptation. He’d slink into the store without being noticed by the retailer and check the book stock. If it was all sold, he’d bound enthusiastically to the retailer. If none were sold, he’d slink back out the store again, against all training – and rules. Most retailers wouldn’t remember a sales guy they’d only ever met once before. Unprofessional stuff, no doubt. He was still learning.
Once in a newsagent run a large, grumpy ex-trucker, Jimmy saw that the books he’d sold the previous month were nowhere to be seen. This was, therefore a safe call, even for Jimmy. He waited patiently in the queue so he could get a repeat order. The guy in front of him in the queue asked the moody retailer for ciggies. The frowning retailer moved over to get them. That’s when Jimmy saw the books everywhere. The retailer’s frame has kept them hid from view. They were behind him. He must have moved them there and it was clear not one had sold. Jimmy gulped. The ciggie guy left and then it was just Grumpy and Jimmy, who was like a rabbit caught in the trucker’s headlights.
“Aye, what is it, son?” thundered the impatient retailer.
“A packet of Polo Mints, please.”
The guy hadn’t recognised him, lucky for Jimmy. He paid for his Polo Mints and left.
He told the story to much mirth in the diner we frequented after work, much as the salesmen in the movie Glengarry Glen Ross did. I called Jimmy to the bar and told him that, while his tale was funny, he had to go back to that retailer and sort out the issue otherwise word would spread that we were all just chancers. The reputation of the product and of the team was at stake. Jimmy looked pale at the suggestion but knew I wasn’t joking.
He went back to the group and dropped it into the chat that he was going back that week to do the call properly. To his surprise, everyone congratulated him for finding his balls. Jimmy Gee learned the moral that a good team always knows the right thing to do and secretly think less of you if you don’t match up – even if they do laugh at your stories.