Secrets of a Sales Rep #6 – Salespeople Come in all Shapes and Sizes

In my early days of selling I had three mentors – actually they were the company’s three London (England) reps and I was required to spend time with each of them during my period as a trainee rep. Their job was to teach me how to sell.

Bear in mind this was in the very early 1970s and believe it or not, in the book publishing industry there were zero female salespeople. Hard to believe now, but that was the case. On the other hand, every editor was a woman and most marketing personnel were also female. I’m not sure if it was thought selling was too tough for women, or whether it was simply a boy’s club. Several years later women started to appear on sales teams and were immediately highly successful.

I have to say I did learn a lot about selling and the publishing industry from this trio, including John Abel who I mentioned in one of my earlier posts. They taught me technique, how to handle objections, how make a sales presentation interesting, how to get people on side and a whole lot more. But, the biggest thing I learned from them they didn’t teach me directly, it was something I observed.

These three guys were as different as they could be. Let me explain.

John was an older guy, very experienced, rough around the edges and had a hail-fellow-well-met attitude (excuse my old English idiom; it means he was hearty, friendly and enthusiastic). He was the sort of guy that slapped people on the back, told off-colour jokes and today would be seen as inappropriate in the way he spoke to women. If he was still alive and selling today, he would not do well, or indeed would probably never be hired. But in those days, a certain type of customer loved him. His territory consisted of railway bookstalls, wholesalers and other customers who were like him, down-to-earth.

Peter was the opposite; he was a younger guy, good-looking, wore expensive designer suits, shirts and ties and people loved him – especially women. Remember, this is the early 70s. Peter’s customers were high-end bookstores such as Hatchards, and the book department in Harrods. He had relatively few accounts to manage, but they brought in a large amount of revenue. His job was schmooze as much as sell. His job was to play a part – a debonair, playboy, upmarket publisher’s rep who mixed with celebrities. He played it well!

Finally, there was Stuart – he was a short, thin Scotsman in his forties who chain-smoked and was much loved by everyone he met. He was genuine, fun, full of humour and charming in a way only a truly authentic person can be. I loved the days I spent with him and learned a great deal about being true to oneself. His clients were everyone that didn’t fit with John and Peter.

So, what did I learn that they didn’t teach me? I understood at the very beginning of my sales career that salespeople are not made in a cookie-cutter. That it’s okay to be different, unique, individual as long as you are passionate and believe in yourself and what you are selling.

Instead of becoming like one of these great men, I became all of them. When I became a fully-fledged salesman, I took on a different persona with each call. Sometimes I was John, sometimes Peter, and often Stuart, but at all times I displayed integrity. I know that at least two of my old mentors have long passed, but if the other one is out there I’d like to think he’s still mixing with celebrities like the old days.