The company made a truck body which tilted and slid back to form its own loading ramp. A tailgate folded down to improve the loading angle. It was used to load and move plant like earth moving equipment, forklifts and access platforms. It was bought by the manufacturers of these things and the companies that sought to hire them. It had been a profitable little add-on to an engineering company that had been sold. The son, Jaime, now set out to make the add-on worthwhile in its own right. The company was profitable but needed turnover.
The first task was to go out with the existing salesman. The decision had already been taken on the second one. The objective was to get an understanding of the value of the prospect list and to evaluate the sales skills. I remember it as one of the most nightmarish days of my sales life. I had to drive a fair way and meet in a car park somewhere in Birmingham. We then set off in the salesman’s car. It was like a high speed car chase, revving engines, hurtling down every street, 2 wheeling every corner. I have never felt more car sick in my life. And the sales meetings he had set gave no respite. Without exception they went like this:
“Hello, Mr Customer. My name is (blank) and I work for (blank). I am accompanied today by a colleague who just wants to meet some of our existing and potential customers. You will remember I wrote to you last year and I have phoned you a number of times since. I have called in today to see if you would like to place your order.”
“No. I don’t want to do that, thank you.”
“I don’t want one. I have no need for one”
“What would you say if I gave you a discount of 10%?”
“I’d still say NO. I’ve told you. I don’t want one.”
“Are you saying you are happy to throw away a saving of £428 just like that?”
And so ended this lesson. And the next. And the next. By the time we arrived back at my car, dusk had fallen. It was dark and miserable. I was exhausted. I now had to drive home. Whatever else my companion was, he wasn’t a salesman.
So began the challenge of bringing together a quality sales team. I worked behind Jaime, ostensibly as his employment adviser. There wasn’t a lot of money to spend yet so we chose to have me in the background with Jaime as my mouth piece. It worked well. Not least, it turned him into an accomplished sales manager and made him sound like one too. “Do this and say this”, I’d say. “I did but they said this back”. “Well say this to them and, if they say this back, say this in reply”. We ended up with a great sales team. Without exception, they loved the chase and would work all hours for the thrill of the sale well closed. And they were well paid for it.
Not everyone can survive the rigours of the professional sales life. The ones that do are often one-offs, certainly memorable characters. In particular, there was Alan I had known previously. He took the East of England, from Nottingham shire through the Home Counties and London to the South Coast.
He was a salesman through and through. He had walked the talk, as they say. It was he who coined the expression “eff’em” to denote someone who was not a decision maker. An “eff’em” would typically say: “It’s not my bloody problem, eff’em.” So clearly not a decision maker. If Alan ended up with the wrong person at a meeting, he had ended up with an eff’em. If he had stopped at a Cafe Transport for lunch, he had stopped at an “eff’emry” which is where “eff’ems” ate.
Then there was Donald, a Welshman of the ‘boyo’ variety. To the uninitiated, Donald talked absolute nonsense. But the punters loved him and gave him their orders. Donald always made a point of driving home to see his wife, wherever he was in the country; but he could never understand why, when he got home, he ended up having an argument. Once too he took his new Vauxhall back to complain of clutch smell in the car. They changed the clutch and said he had been driving with his foot on it. “It’s all nonsense,” he said as we drove along in his car. “You see. You can still smell the clutch now”. “Yes, Donald. And you’re still driving along with your foot on it.” Donald worked the west of England from Birmingham downwards.
I remember Roger too. He worked the North East. He taught me a valuable lesson, never again to employ someone who could not explain every year of his working life. He had apparently spent a number of years in the SAS which he said he wasn’t allowed to discuss. As it turned out, I suspect he had spent it in some other part of Her Majesty’s Service.
After some time, we had our agent Michel in Belgium. He was a Walloon (French speaking) who lived near Waterloo. I found this reassuring. At the Brussels Motor Show, Michel refused to speak to any fellow countryman who was Flamand (Flemish). “They’re too mean” he said. “The conversation will go no-where. You speak to them”. And he was right. Almost without exception, a Flamand would go on endlessly beating you down on every aspect of the price. Once he gets to this point he says “Now we have got to the base price, what discount will you give me?” End of conversation. However, when I pointed out to Michel that Belgium really had no reason for existing anyway with the two communities barely speaking to each other, and suggested the country be split into two with the Flems going to Holland and the Walloons joining France, he was outraged. Such heresy! It was he who advised me on the French translation in Sales Tales from the Trenches 6 (which will follow).
In Germany we had Hein. Hein was a Dutchman. He probably shouldn’t have been fiddling around as an agent. But he had his moments. Once at the Frankfurt Motor Show, we had two men in trilby hats and dark raincoats climbing onto our truck bodies unannounced. They looked like spies from a cheap movie. “Who are those guys?” I asked. “They are probably TUV (German quality assurance licensers) men.” “How do you know they are not Gestapo?” Apoplexy. Gestapo is not a word you are allowed to use in Germany apparently. Hein also introduced us to the term “ant f**ker”. It goes like this. We had a guy deeply in conversation with Hein. When he returned to the stand I asked him how he’d got on. “Pah. The guy’s a waste of time. We have already sold him equipment. We delivered it. We delivered it early. It was perfect. There was just one bolt missing, one bolt, and all he does is talk about that bolt. That’s what he is. He’s an ant f**ker: someone who bores away at small problems!”
Finally for a short time we had an agent in France. He was memorable for a number of things. He had been selling dustcarts to local authorities for a number of years. And his customers were always asking for blatt, back handers. These negotiations were always difficult. “How can I tell you what I can give you when I don’t know the size of your order? Is it going to be a motor cycle? Or is it going to be a house?” He said he had crossed over the Swiss border so many times the border police even knew his grandmother’s name. He also advised, if you wished to speak French, you would get a better result if you translated the English into Chinese first; and he described sitting in the back of a French car as like sitting on an old sofa.
God Bless them all