Remember Who You Are

Simba: Father?!
Mufasa’s ghost: Simba, you have forgotten me.
Simba: No! How could I?
Mufasa’s ghost: You have forgotten who you are and so have forgotten me. Look inside yourself Simba. You are more than what you have become. You must take your place in the circle of life.
Simba: How can I go back!? I’m not who I used be!
Mufasa’s ghost: Remember who you are.

My father was a salesman. I don’t think I realized this when I was a little kid growing up in the Midwest, but he definitely was one, even though his real occupation was working as a foreman for the Indiana State Highway Department. Back then, I’d spend time with my dad who was always looking to find ways to supplement his income to make an honest living. On weekends, Dad would drive me around in one of his old, beat-up cars or trucks he fixed-up himself. My family and I wouldn’t get too used to whatever vehicle he was driving at the moment, as it generally wouldn’t stay around long. The car merely served as a short-term means of transportation, and a roving billboard that advertised its own sale. While he didn’t have any long term relationship with the vehicle, he did have a certain attachment to it that came from having pride in his work, illustrated through his own mechanical abilities, which enabled him to fix things that were broken.

On any given Sunday, Dad and I would be out on a mission, looking for other “For Sale” signs on tractors, lawn mowers, cars, trucks, boats or trailers parked haphazardly in some stranger’s yard. We’d spend hours on end in search of whatever we could find that not only suited Dad’s liking but also matched his mechanical skills to buy, fix-up and sell again for a profit.

On any one of those days, my handsome dad would pull our car into some random driveway, climb out, smooth back his hair, hoist his pants and walk confidently up to knock on the stranger’s door as I stayed lingering, paces behind. “I’m here about the lawnmower you’ve got for sale out front,” he’d say, and then he’d follow the owner out to the yard to look the product over, while I stood quietly nearby.  I learned a thing or two about the basics of selling alongside my dad back then. After all, he was the master of the “wheel and deal,” and one of the best negotiators I’ve ever met. But while my father would sometimes negotiate the terms of the sale or offer a barter or trade when he didn’t have just enough money, the biggest lesson I learned back then is that my father, ultimately, didn’t mind paying a fair price for the right product.

Part of my father’s “business plan” included his self-reliance on his mechanical knowledge and his ability to fix-up something that was broken, while still keeping in mind its full potential or value. This is what differentiated him from other buyers and sellers in the local area. He understood the cost of parts and labor as well as what was involved in buying something that needed to be fixed for resale. He’d buy it, only if he felt he could breathe new life into it and if he was guaranteed a profit for it when he turned the product.

Looking back on all this now, I realize my father would have made an amazing entrepreneur/business owner. He had the right mindset and business acumen. He never compromised who he was or deviated from his goal of turning a profit to put food on the table or to simply provide for his family. He’d buy something. He’d fix it up. He’d resell it. And, then he’d start that process over and over again, honestly and fairly, always being mindful of his profit margins along the way. If he were still around today, and if he had an actual business, I know that he wouldn’t have wavered from his business approach much along the way. After all, he was in the business of making money.

While all of this may be nothing more than simple lessons I learned early on in life, they made a fairly significant impact on me, nonetheless. In this crazy, mixed-up economy we are experiencing today, it’s so easy to become desperate and to sell yourself, your qualifications and your talents short. If you devise the perfect formula for success, it should include differentiating yourself to create value, to make an impact and to stand out, while still minding those margins to make sure you get fairly compensated in the process of all of that hard work and steadfast determination. For my promotional products industry friends, remember to rely more heavily on what you know: Buy a product, fix it up with your client’s brand and sell it–at a fair and honest price. Showcase your skills and knowledge, and this will differentiate you from the masses. “Remember who you are,” but most importantly, don’t compromise yourself along the way.


1993 and the Rena Lopez Story

The year was 1993, and I just landed a sales job in downtown Los Angeles working for a national digital imaging and photographic lab that catered mostly to clients in the cosmetic, architectural, advertising and entertainment industries. It was my first corporate job, and one where a suit and high heels were my standard, typical attire. I’m pretty sure, back then, the term “business casual” had not yet been invented.

The offices were stunning, and the location at Sixth and Olive was ideal for me, the new recruit whose assigned territory was downtown LA to the Mid-Wilshire area. I had the one enviable job of being able to walk to many of my client’s offices, or at most, have to endure a ten-minute drive across town to get to wherever I was going, unlike some of my counterparts whose territories were spread across the Greater Los Angeles area.

The offices were stunning and beautiful with black and white checkerboard floors and splashes of red throughout the interior. I loved hearing the echo of my high heels clip-clapping across the floor at my new corporate gig every morning as I arrived at my cubicle. Once there, I’d drop my briefcase on the floor and reach in it and grab my Franklin Day Planner and start my busy day. The best tools I had were my pen and phone. Outside of those two things along with my planner, files on my desk, some notes and a gun metal grey recipe card box; my desk area was almost always free from clutter. On the occasion that I had to write a client letter to pop in the day’s mail; I’d turn around in my swivel chair and check to see if anyone else was on the one office computer stationed towards the back of the room. Life sure seemed easier back then.

Every Thursday morning from the hours of 10:30-12:00; all the salespeople in the company had to be at their desks for our scheduled “Phone-a-Thon”. This is the one day in the week where we’d make prospecting phone calls to targeted accounts from caveats used to train us to overcome objections. During this set allotted time; we weren’t allowed to take incoming phone calls or schedule meetings outside of the office. My boss, Deirdre, made sure of it. Afterwards, we’d all meet in the conference room to talk about our success and failures from the phone calls we made.

Every Thursday morning before I began my cold-calling routine, I would open up my recipe card box and review each card with my “future” client’s names on them. On the back of each card; I’d check my last date of contact. One lone divider separated the cards. All my prospective leads went to the front of the box. If I got someone’s voice mail, I would move the card to the back of the first deck in front of the divider. I would also move the cards of people I couldn’t get an appointment with behind the divider, thinking I’d try them again in three months. Looking back on it; it may have been an archaic system, but it worked for me and helped me to get the job done.

Each Thursday, I would try to get a gal named Rena Lopez from First Interstate Bank on the phone; and every Thursday morning, week-after-week; I’d get her voice mail. I’d always leave some new and different message telling Rena that I would try her again the following week, and I always did just that. For ten weeks; I never gave up on Rena. I was after all, committed to her and she had by then, represented somewhat of a significant challenge to me. On the eleventh week; assuming I was getting her voice mail again; I began to leave a message with my standard, “Hi Rena,” when she finally spoke. “Tonia?” she said, “Oh good! It is you! I’ve meant to call you. Anyway, you are one of the most pleasant pains in the derriere, I’ve ever come across! What you don’t know is that every week, from 10:30 to noon, I’m in a meeting with my boss! You only got me today, because he’s out sick!” I laughed and said that I was so glad to finally reach her. She asked me to walk up Bunker Hill to see her right away. If you’ve ever worked downtown LA; you’d know that that’s an arduous hike straight up an oddly placed, giant hill. I remember it was a brisk walk and I was feeling elated and confident the whole way. I couldn’t wait to meet Rena Lopez!

Long story short, I stepped away from that meeting with a rather large purchase order. I didn’t have to sell myself or my company to Rena. By then I had already established rapport. I think it’s fair to say, a “typical” sales professional would have already given up on Rena, but I was no typical sales professional. I loved a good challenge!

There are some significant lessons in all of this pondering back to my days of yore. I’m not suggesting you give up on technology and lose your computer or your Microsoft Outlook program. Clearly, those technological advancements and others like them since the early 1990’s, have come a long way, and have made my life as a business owner and sales professional improve immensely. But, there’s something to be said about a good, solid system that keeps you grounded and focused, like mine and my trusty, old recipe card box.

My success with Rena Lopez, and other clients like her also had to do with the set date and time every week that I put away to prospect. Be sure to carve out some time on your calendar and stick to it, and also be sure to implement software (or, a recipe card box if you prefer!) that tracks your leads and calls. And most importantly, don’t give up too soon on prospects who haven’t called you back. People are shuffling a lot of work around these days and they may not have the time to get back to you. Consistency really pays off. Who knows, your next prospect could be your Rena.

Budget vs. Per Unit Costs in Determining Promotional Marketing Spend

Finding the right promotional product that enforces a brand, while delivering the right message under budgetary restrictions are some of the biggest challenges that a promotional products sales rep faces with their client.  Too often in this economy, salespeople inadvertently  compromise brand integrity due to a client’s budgetary constraints, by delivering sub-standard product that meets those budgetary constraints.  Too often, the buyer is convinced since they’re working on a shoestring budget, they are limited in the products in which they can choose.  Sometimes, this might be the case, but in most circumstances it is not.  Even with a sizable budget, it’s imperative that salespeople don’t get too focused on per unit costs of the products that they are selling, but rather a client’s overall marketing spend.  

Instead of thinking about per unit costs which limits the customer’s choices, learn how to get an overall understanding of the client’s total marketing spend for the event, trade show, promotion, product launch or campaign.  Then, begin to  understand where the products you present fit into that bigger picture.  I like to think about all of this in terms of a pie.  I’ll fraction my client’s trade show budget pie off into five pieces, after we’ve discussed and learned some of her projected trade show expenditures.  Her first “spend”, or piece of the pie, goes to her exhibitor company who makes her booth and graphics; the next piece to her transportation company; the next piece to her fulfillment house; the next piece for exhibition costs; and then finally, the last piece of the pie went to her marketing budget for uniforms and trade show giveaways.  

In discussing my client’s exhibition costs, or the first piece of the pie; we learned that her exhibitor company outsourced table cloths, banners, graphics and the like, but specialized in the  booth hardware.  By asking questions, we learned that we could save our client money through our own promotional resources, trimming her booth design costs.  Through this process, we also learned that our client’s transportation costs included a handling fee from her fulfillment house for holding  the goods as we shipped them, and that she was also charged by the day.  In addition, we knew she would be charged both shipping and handling fees for transporting the goods to the show.  From that discussion, we worked to save our client money by shipping our products as close to the event date as possible and in some cases we shipped product directly to the trade show, cutting out fulfillment costs altogether.  Due to this big picture planning, we were able to trim from the client’s overall trade show budget and shift that spend to promotions that our buyer could use to generate booth traffic, develop leads and promote sales.  In my client’s eyes, I shifted from being a product salesperson to my client’s on-call consultant.

Now that the budget was finally determined; I started to break down my client’s needs for their uniforms and promotional giveaways for all attendees.   We determined that the uniforms had to be  top-notch and SCREAM quality.  Next, we realized that we had different levels of needs for the attendees of the trade show.  Those attendees were placed into into A, B, and C categories.  All attendees who stopped by my client’s booth received an “C” level gift.  (We needed lots of under $5.00 items that our client could hand out at will to anyone that stopped by.)  Mid-level managers in attendance received a “B” gift with a higher spend and lower distribution, and executives were given a “A” level gift with an even higher budget and much lower distribution.  We had four pieces of the pie this time, and determined our giveaways by focusing on the client’s total budget and not the client’s initial per unit cost directives. Inevitably, the client spent more on promotional product used or distributed at the trade show to promote company awareness and goodwill.

Tonia Allen Gould
Tagsource (Founder)
BrandHuddle (Founder)