Archive for the ‘ Learning to Sell ’ Category

Get it right and sellers are an amazingly flexible resource. In my day at Rank Xerox UK, they kept employed someone who sold at least 40 machines net pa, that is, what goes in less what comes out. Most sellers sold between 40 & 80 machines. 8o is twice 40. The top sellers sold 120 machines. That’s 3 times 40. Same training, same base cost.

The pressure was always there. The top seller grew on the sales board in the office during the month. At the end of each month, the District Manasger and the Branch Manager would take the top seller to lunch at a good restaurant. They got sick of taking me to lunch. Ran out of conversation. But who could put up with this pressure? For how long? A year? How could a professional seller adapt to the pressure year after year? It needed thinking about.

Rank Xerox moved into duplicators while I was there. What did they do? They took the desktop 813 and changed the meter. They called it the 330 or so I think. Now, instead of a flat rate per copy, the first copies in any run were more expensive but the later copies cheaper. Clever stuff and a lesson in selling. The seller had to get his head around a difference in argument with the duplicators. It wasn’t cost per copy. It was the freedom to let people make what copies they needed without cost getting out of hand. It took time. Customers were locked into cost per copy. To reinforce the change, Rank Xerox set up a competition running over 2 or 3 months. Each group of 2 x 813 plus 1 x 330 installed bought you so many miles on your journey to Bermuda. Once you got there, you were working to take your wife or girl friend. Vans were running around to deliver to meet the deadline, engineers to install. That’s sales support for you. Would you believe it, when I got there with the girl friend, they said they had never had hail before in the history of the island.

The battle was now on to become top Rank Xerox seller for 1966/67. Between me and my friend & rival Ian. He worked a City territory very effectively. Ian had invested heavily in the gogo Poseidon Oil shares. He came second and shortly after left for Australia to spend it. I had become top man. An MGB GT was in the garage.

Now it was time for the annual review. Management by Objectives they called it then. The Branch & District Managers congratulated me for my success, thanked me profusely for taking them both to Bermuda too. They had looked through the numbers. I had sold 120 machines net plus. I had made X calls on average each week and sold a machine for roughly every Y calls. Yes. I had run between calls. Yes. The conversion rate was amazing. But did I realise that if, next year, I made X+5 calls on average each week and converted one order for every Y-0.2 calls, I would earn £xxxxxxx. I looked at them. What in the f**k were they talking about? It was a nail through the heart.

The following month Rank Xerox ran an ad in the jobs section of the Telegraph. “Be like Philip Lund. Get a degree from University and come and be our top salesman.” On the day the ad appeared, I was walking out the door.

It is axiomatic, however good you are at selling, you will sell nothing unless you can find your way to the decision maker. The good news about the London Hatton Garden/Smithfield territory was that it was a warren of small businesses. Small businesses are run by decision makers. They all had copying machines though. Mostly crap maybe. Wasteful, funny papers and so on; but, to them, copying machines were an old story, a problem already solved. You, the seller, had first to get in front of them; and then to persuade them the sooner they binned the machine they had just bought, the better off they would be.  Sounds simple.

The trick to successful speciality selling is to have a high new call rate.  These are calls to a new or existing customer where new business is discussed for the first time only.  Covering the ground in the Hatton Garden/Smithfield warren effectively meant cold calls. It helped to see the place. Starting at one end of the street and working your way down to the other end. Every business a cold call. Everytime you got to the decision maker a new call; and, where you didn’t, you had a number to phone for an new call appointment. One call I went straight through to the decsion maker. “Hello. My name is Philip Lund. I’m from Rank Xerox.  Would you like one?” “Yes” came the reply “I do want one. But first give me the pleasure of selling it too me.” Possibly one of the most difficult sales I have ever made. I could only lose it.

Management support to the sales effort at Rank Xerox was excellent. Vans brought in the demonstration machines. We stumbled up narrow stairs with them. Even if we left them for a day, people had found a hundred more things to copy on them, far more than they ever copied before. Minimum contract volumes were seldom an issue.

At St Paul’s we had a demo facility. With Xerox, the image was sealed on to the paper with heat. Our scripted demonstration left gaps ‘to sell the magic of the machine’. If the copy did not appear to schedule, we would move to another machine while the demo lady doused the incipient fire.

It was all excitement. There were plenty of laughs. But, above all, there was the thrill of the chase.  I ran between meetings. I always took the risk the decision maker was working late, after reception had gone home!

Rank Xerox delineated their territories in an interesting way in their quest for machine population density. Their algorithms defined areas of similar sales potential. At the end of each year, a seller would come off his territory swearing not another machine to be sold there. Rank Xerox would revamp & cut the territories again, to smaller geograhical areas. The seller would be moved to a new territory; and each time that area would produce even more business than before.

I came out of the training period with a lot of support. I was offered one of two good territories in London, a City area in EC2 with a high machine population, or the jewellery and meat area around Hatton Garden & Smithfield which looked like a salesman’s graveyard. Logic said business that would be where business already was. Big machines in big City companies. But was Hatton Garden/Smithfield an area of untapped potential? The classic ‘shoes in Africa’ sales dilemma! I chose Hatton Garden & Smithfield, full of small businesses, just itching for the new Rank Xerox desktop copier, or so I hoped.

The question now was how was I to tap all this untapped potential. Smaller machines meant smaller revenues and smaller commissions. I had to find the way to sell more of them. And that meant setting more meetings and closing orders more quickly. What should the sales cycle look like to increase the number of customers you met, yet reduce the time spent in front of the customer, without prejudicing call effectiveness? One thing you could bet on with Xerox, if the customer wanted the machine and only wanted to eg. confirm it with his partner (reasonable, you would say!), the chances of taking the order at all on the second meeting fell by 60% if you left the room without the signed order actually in your hand. You just had to know how to cover all of the ground, bring the customer to the point of decision where no questions remained unanswered; and CLOSE for the signature.


Rank Xerox UK was a great school for learning to sell. The company was looking for population density so what they wanted was high closing sellers.  It’s called speciality selling.  Commodity selling is where the customer will buy something like it sooner rather than later. Technical selling is where the sale will be won on the technical merit of the product. Speciality selling is where the customer didn’t know he wanted it until you turned up.  You can imagine, all the world had copying machines before Xerox.

Xerox UK also had a great sales community and culture. The sellers came from all walks of life. In those days there were plenty of rubber planters and colonial administrators, thrown out as each colony in Africa and Asia became independent, to earn their money now selling Xerox. There were also a group of high closing sellers who moved from market to market as new products came on stream and paid higher & higher rewards. Now Xerox. Then vending machines when they became popular. Then life insurance sold direct. You know the names.

So the culture was all about the sale. The machines were rented monthly. You were paid each month for what you put in less whatever came out.  You can imagine the exhileration after a good day in the field walking home with a pocket full of money in the form of contracts. The boards were up in the office.  Was your name top of the list?  Not now, it will be tomorrow.  The teams were small, maybe 7 people in a District, 5 District teams in a Branch, each with a manager.  You hardly spoke to anyone outside the Branch.  What mattered was your District was top, your Branch was top and you were top of the whole lot.

So formal training was around two weeks while you learned the vocabulary of selling and some of the blinding flashes of the sales obvious – how to close, how to handle sincere & insincere objections, selling benefits and so on. From then on it was selling in harness and learning in the field with some of the great names of Xerox.

There was the Irishman Aubrey. Rumour has it they went out and bought him a clean shirt and a pair of socks when he turned up. He wasn’t wearing socks.  Aubrey would find his way into an company’s office and wander round until he found the sign MD on the door. It was he who famously said, when the customer was worried the 914 machine was too heavy and would fall through the floor, that he shouldn’t worry at all. In that event the machine would still continue to work very well on the floor below.

Then there was Campbell. Campbell taught me the lesson how important it is to put the order in your pocket and to leave when the business of the sale is over. He took an order for 9 big machines from a North Sea Oil specialist. Serious money for Campbell.  But he left the order on the table, sat around happily and chatted, the customer changed his mind and tore up the contract.  Simple as that.  The order was never reinstated. Campbell never did get his commission

Then there was Vic. Vic cared. He would burst into tears even recounting a story of how he lost an order he should have won. The great lesson he taught me was always to ask the last question.  We were there in a snotty accountancy who had steadfastly refused Xerox.  We were sitting with a decision group led by a very difficult and snotty partner. Slowly the sale presentation progressed when, amazingly to me, the snotty one said he would order one if it copied on to both sides of a piece of ordinary paper.  Well that was something in those days that Xerox did alone.  Everything in me cried out “Yes. Yes. We do. Give us your order now.” Not so Vic. “Why do you want it to copy both sides of the piece of ordinary paper?” he asked. Then it all came out. New office in New York. High postage costs. Game set and match. Thanks for that one, Vic.

How I became a salesman (1 of 5)

My background looked interesting at least on paper: born New Zealand, ‘O’ & ‘A’ Levels in England, short spell in Her Majesty’s Navy on the lower deck, good degree  in Economics from Harvard USA. Plenty of sport. Went to Hollywood to become a famous actor but the film industry had gone away for the spagetti westerns. Met the famous Hal Roach though and had lunch with Cary Grant and Norman & Phoebe Ephron. So I became a market analyst in the Empire State Building, New York.  Percentages were not my forte even so.

Back in England no-one was very interested. Interviewed by old farts in mahogany panelled Boardrooms but nothing came to anything. The City was a closed shop. Then I saw Joe Hyman was taking over the UK textile industry with the help of ICI and needed a Centre Group Economist. Viyella International in Saville Row, John Blackburn my leader. It was a big step to move from the ‘good ideas’ culture of New York to the ‘do it my way’ culture of London. I didn’t like it much. An outing was lecturing to the grey managers of ICI on the markets for polyester/cottons.

It was then I saw the ad. Become a trainee salesman with Rank Xerox. Starting salary (1965) £1500. Then the sky’s the limit.  Hold on. I was earning £1500 as a trained Centre Group economist with Viyella, no view of the sky. Where’s the catch? None that I could see.  Offices in Great Portland Street, London. Could walk there from the station. Interviewed. They liked the background. Accepted. Job done. I HAD BECOME A SALESMAN.