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.