When you have two sales divisions within one company, inter-squad competition invariably develops.
Our ’80s advertising media company initially had two sales divisions.
Two managers were hired to create and develop two different sales teams. Naturally, the first manager hired who had his team in place first claimed status as the company’s elite sales team.
Because he wanted to show the Home Office Execs (The HOE’s) he was a conscientious manager, he arranged it so his alleged elite sales division was paid a small amount of commission for selling no-brainer deals.
They were restricted to calling on retail advertisers whose standard ad mix was based on the delivery of high-volume circulars every week via newspapers. (Grocery chains)
At that time, the sales psychology of moving weekly printed grocery store circulars from newspapers into our USPS delivered program was so simple, it made these deals sure things. This sales team hunted marshmallows.
Nevertheless, these guys were initially perceived as the elite reps in the company. All their clients were high profile names, and they worked a lot with advertising agencies at the ad agenicies’ plush offices.
The elites hung out in their nicely appointed offices – in the front section and reception area of our 60,000-square-foot warehouse facility.
On the other side of the street …
While elite manager numero uno was True Blue Odie and high profile, our sales manager was a sales street brawler. He arranged for his guys to receive the highest possible commissions, and built loyalty with his devotion to his team’s production of excellence.
In terms of bankable compensation, our division was paid four times as much as the elite’s commission schedules, because we hunted tigers.
Our clients were not predisposed to print meadia advertising, and in some cases, not to advertising at all. We had to create our client base; it did not pre-exist.
The elite guys worked with company employees: ad agency account execs or Marketing execs.
In most cases, our guys worked with company owners: The Bosses, decision makers of businesses they owned.
A lot of our less than conventional prospects were siding companies, chiropractors, meat men, restaurants, dry cleaners, and other locally owned businesses. Mom and Pop shops.
Others were large companies that were not using our mode of advertising because it was so new, they didn’t know about it.
(Like 7-Eleven … It took me a year to get into Southland Corporation because they only advertised on the radio. They became one of our company’s biggest clients.)
It wasn’t long before a competitive mentality developed between the two teams.
The elitists had high-profile clients with front-of-mind names and comfortable expense accounts, but they actually took home little money.
We had clients that were so low profile, you couldn’t pay one of the elite guys to go see them. And we made so much money we lived like bootleggers.
The Boss in Connecticut loves us
We were the profit generating division of the company. While the elite guys’ revenues covered our company’s operational base costs, everything our team sold was pure profit. In the eyes of The Boss, we were golden.
We make our money, and hide out …
Unlike the swanky offices of our colleagues up front, the back of the warehouse offered only warped and musty fake wood paneling around scratched up wooden gumshoe desks. Their hard wooden chairs could have been plucked from a 1950s city newspaper daily press room.
“I’m an Empire Builder”
Our elite District Sales Manager once made the mistake of proclaiming himself to be an “Empire Builder” in the presence of Roy the Boy. Forever after our entire sales team openly referred to him as “EB” for short.
At this point, our original hiring sales manager, Commando, had left. When he departed, Roy and I were the #1 and #2 salespeople in this company of 400 sales reps.
We met to talk about the sales manager job.
This of course probably had very little to do with our mutual decision, but we recognized the differences between what each of us would bring to the office.
Roy the Boy was someone who was just a little more mature, who had a little more business experience than I did. Just a little.
Like the difference between the CEO of the circus or the trick shot artist.
I forever maintain that the only reason I achieved top #1 sales status at this company was because the true #1 salesperson took on the mantle of management and left sales.
One afternoon an unusual event took place. Several of us from both of our sales divisions happened to congregate in our double-wide style back offices.
To take advantage of this wonderful opportunity, Roy and I had some fun sparring with EB and a couple of his reps.
Maybe it was due to the exotic cars that Roy and I parked outside our obscure back offices, alongside those of our colleagues. Maybe it was the chophouse cuts of their discount men’s store suits.
Whatever reason, the subject of our relative pay plans and incomes came up.
We might have suggested something like the notion that they had cushy jobs with order-taking deals and fat-cat clients. Maybe.
EB countered that this was by no means an easy job. Every grocery chain wasn’t just an automatic deal. He pointed out they tried to sell McCartney’s Grocery for years.
Several different reps were assigned to the McCartney’s grocery retail chain over several years, all overseen by EB, but they didn’t achieve squadoosh.
McCartney’s was a comparatively small local family owned chain. Its HQ was a couple hours down the highway from Dallas.
Because of all these things it became a sort of challenge of honor to bring them over to our side, the last chain of grocers not in our program.
EB’s guys got out their Captain Kangaroo school boxes and called upon their construction paper, glue and rounded scissors to produce all manner of colored targeted marketing maps.
They showed the exact prime market radius around each store.
They showed exact household counts around each different location.
They showed the ad campagin’s return on investment with cost versus profitability studies.
They called on the company’s marketing VP.
They called on the company’s advertising manager.
They called on the company’s ad agency.
They called on several store general managers.
They still got squadoosh.
Banned, because we sell too much
Our team was not allowed to call on “preprint” sitting duck clients like this one. We were hired to be tiger hunters and go after accounts that didn’t already use print media in the newspapers.
Besides, we didn’t want to bother with the reduced commissions paid for mailing the heavier pieces that EB’s guys sold. We made more money mailing single sheets monthly for a bunch of Bonanza restaurants than the elites did for weekly programs of grocer tabs.
In truth, EB admitted that we might taunt them about the McCartney chain being an unsold no-brainer deal, but for some reason nobody on his team of stars could bring it in.
I think I heard myself joke in my best voice of sarcasm, “Well EB, it sounds like you’ve sent in everyone but a salesman.”
Roy sniggered. Roy liked to snigger at EB.
EB shot back, “So what, hot shot? You think you can sell it?”
I was leaning my film noir chair against the warp in some trailer park’s lost wall panel. “It’s what I live for,” I replied.
EB looked directly at Roy and said, “OK, prima donnas. You guys go get it. You’ve got a month”. He nodded around the room at his own guys. “I’m telling you right now in front of witnesses, it’s all yours for a month. If you get it, you can keep the account.”
One of his other guys said, “Hey, wait. Let’s make it a bet. That’s fine if they sell it in 30 days, which they won’t, they keep the account. But what do we get when they don’t?”
EB looked at Roy.
I said, “How about a promotion from preprints into our single sheet sales division?”
Laurel and Hardy Bag the Elephant
Later, over his bourbon and branch and my martini, Roy grinned and quoted Oliver Hardy, “Well, this is another fine mess you’ve gotten us into.”
Roy already had plenty to do as Sales Manager of our Hole in the Wall Gang, but he put the word out to some friendly industry contacts for any helpful information he could get.
Meanwhile, I employed the subtle tactic for which I was known—a full force frontal attack.
When I called to speak with The Boss of McCartney’s and got his administrative assistant on the phone I asked to schedule a brief meeting with The Boss at the next available opening on his calendar.
When I replied to her question about the purpose of the meeting, she pivoted into Gatekeeper mode and said, “We have a Vice President of Marketing …”
I instantly interjected a pattern interrupt to redirect and control the conversation. I may have embellished just a little bit on our history with the account:
Ma’am, please. I mean no disrespect to your VP Mr. Donovan, and certainly not to you, but I’ve seen Mr. Donovan, and I’ve seen your advertising manager and your ad agency plus several store GMs, and they all agree your company would do better if you were in our program. But nobody will make that final decision. I just need a few minutes with the real true decision maker. As a matter of fact, if The Boss doesn’t agree with me within 15 minutes, I will terminate the interview myself. That’s fair, isn’t it?”
We enter the lion’s den
With heads hunkered down like a pair of school boys on a field trip to a grisly medical museum, Roy and I scanned the surroundings of the lobby at McCartney’s East Texas HQ.
The administrative assistant had placed the floral bouquet I sent atop her desk, and introduced a weird visual juxtaposition against their vast and prominent collection of animal trophy heads. Goats, rams, water buffalo, deer, boar, moose, elk, caribou, bear – you name it, it stared down at us from every square foot and every angle in the room.
I was reared with a hunting tradition and even to me, it looked like something out of The Addams Family.
By now, for some reason, word had spread throughout every branch of the company and up to our HQ about the account and our bet with EB.
Even Our Boss on High chuckled when he inquired about it in a call to Roy, and asked to be kept posted on it.
My new friend, the administrative assistant called our numbers, and the two of us went up to bat.
This was Mantle and Maris; Ruth and Gehrig. Surely these two Hall of Famers would work together in smooth synchronization and persuade this ultimate decision maker with their professional logic and reason.
Of course these two sales aces would be so smooth, professional and persuasive, The Boss would probably ask what took so long for them to see him.
Meet the young hotshot
I worked and pre-planned every detail, from my choice of fat felt tip pen and blue-black bold ink to my yellow legal pad, my suit, tie, and shoes.
I considered where to sit in relation to the prospect’s desk (to appeal to the right or left sides of the brain). I knew my perfectly crafted opening, and the most direct route to questions about their business and pain points.
I presented myself as a total professional who instilled confidence in their prospect’s buying decision.
Meet the seasoned veteran
Roy the Boy was just the opposite.
Roy was the Lieutenant Columbo of sales right down to his signature beige trench coat and rumpled, gray felt cattleman’s hat.
But Roy was magic.
He opened with a joke or a story, identified with something about the prospect: their kids, schools, the colleges they attended, their mutual roots in East Texas.
During this jovial Happy Talk, he slowly rummaged through his disheveled leather pouch and gently shuffled the conversation forward toward the business at hand.
I remember watching the sometimes quizzical looks on the facial features of people who sat on the other side of the desk as he rummaged, and talked, and rummaged some more and – talked some more.
Then somehow, sometimes before you even knew why it was happening, the prospect was signing our contract.
Over time, all of us went on sales calls with Roy. We observed the same thing but none of us could figure out his methods.
It was like he lulled them into a trance and slowly closed around them like a Venus flytrap.
The bear and the whippet meet The Boss
So, here I sat beside the best salesman I’ve ever known. We had 15 minutes to do what had not been done in the previous three years by several of the elite team members.
We would either do the Extra Big Ass Deal across the Extra Big Ass Desk with the Extra Big Ass Boss or go back home and get the Extra Big Ass Horse Laugh from EB, his crew and the rest of the company, including Our Boss.
The top two sales reps in a company of 800 salespeople nationwide went to work—the cool collected professional laid-back veteran and the quick and fast aspiring young hot shot. A bear and a whippet.
It was the single worst sales call I’ve ever been on in my life.
We went in swinging for the fences. But we were swinging from opposite sides of the plate.
Roy and I could not have been farther apart in our presentation styles.
To say that Roy’s style and mine didn’t mesh would be like saying “Oops! Just kidding!” after pressing The Big Red Button.
Our mutual timing was all wrong; cats and mice tango together better than we danced with each other on this call. We disagreed. We argued.
Once, during an exchange only lacking in encounter bats, The Boss broke out laughing.
It was the best thing that could have happened. It was a Friday and it turned out he had had a rough day.
That opened the bar.
We sneak back home
It was after dark when we pulled into the offices back in Dallas. We drove straight to our preferred back room offices because we knew nobody was there this late on a Friday afternoon.
This was just before we all had car phones installed on our auto consoles.
Roy went in and picked up the phone to call the East Coast Home Office.
“Hi Marci, this is Roy the Boy in Dallas,” he said. “I need to talk to The Boss.”
We were at the end of a long day. We had driven over a hundred miles out to McCartney’s HQ and over a hundred more back, not to mention the meeting itself. It had gone on longer than expected.
There was nothing left for us to say to each other while Roy waited on hold for a couple minutes.
“Hello, Boss? Roy … Yes, sir … Yes, we did. Got a signed contract right here. I’ll fax it up to you in a minute. They have to give 90 days’ notice to get out of their newspaper contracts. They’ll start in three months. About 300,000 homes a week. All in areas where our coverage is weak. Really shores things up in our outlying zip codes..”
Roy hung up and grinned. He turned to me and said, “Ha. I wanted to make sure he heard it from me first, before EB tries to take credit for it.”