Long before I donned a suit and tie and hit the road as a wildly successful, –eh hem – cough cough,—-Commercial Salesman later to become a National Accounts rep, I was a simple and happy residential pest control salesman. (money doesn’t buy you happiness right?)
My job was to traverse the city streets and find homeowners who needed our service. The bulk of my appointments came by phone. (Leads) Housewives who had had enough of a mouse or roach problem would call and, dutifully I would speed across town and pitch my solution. Now I did sell quite a few jobs and helped a lot of people over the years but I was hardly ever very close to any of the other sales guys in our branch when it came to monthly numbers. Much to the chagrin of the Branch Mgr. I wasn’t always dead last mind you but let’s just say- in 30 years in this biz I’ve only gotten 3 plaques for outstanding sales and only one in the company I’m referring to now.
But… The one thing all 3 plaques had in common and the one avenue I seemed to excel at was…commercial sales. This is the story about one such sale I pursued, one that could have changed my career. This one was known throughout our region as Jerry’s ‘Tiger By The Tail’.
Back To School
We were in the midst of a mini commercial pest control sales seminar and I was the star of the show. I absorbed the 4 day workshop like a sponge and won the ending sales contest using the techniques I had learned and a fail proof phone script that not only got me to the right person, but also an immediate appointment that day.
I was amazed at the cooperation I received by the restaurant owner and the constant nodding of the head affirming my every recommendation. I was even more astonished by the size of the numbers coming out of my mouth. “A $500 dollar initial?” I thought– “There’s NO WAY he’ll go for that let alone TWICE per month service!” But, Alas, go for it he did and before I left, I had a signed contract with a check, and service was scheduled for the next night. It was a $5000 dollar sale, incredible!! –I tell you, I walked into the last day of that seminar like I was a gladiator returning home to a victory parade.
The Seminar Fades
The commercial forum was a nice boost for our branch as everybody picked up a few extra commercial accounts in the following weeks. But, with the daily hoop la of the regional director gone and the built up excitement fading fast, life as a residential salesman quickly got back to normal for our office. Normal for everyone that is except me. You see my sales area wasn’t known for high call volume and so I didn’t quite get the amount of leads as some others. (not complaining-I was low man on the totem pole) So to make the daily quota of belly to belly sales calls I had to canvas via the phone almost every day. Getting shot down by housewives and grumpy homeowners.. I hated that!!!! But, with my new found fail proof commercial script, suddenly I was easily filling in the holes in my day with businesses. And instead of pitching sales worth $350.00 per year–(that was our average residential yearly cost) I was now asking small delis or warehouses and the like for 800, 900 or even a $1000 dollars. This was great for my daily activity sheet but sadly, it didn’t translate much up on the sales board. I was warned several times by my not so happy boss, “Your little sales experiment is over-do YOUR job!”
Managers At Odds
While it was true my daily numbers dipped a bit, by months end I almost always was in line with where I had always averaged. I didn’t get as many sales but, the higher sales value made up for it. But my manager didn’t like my approach to sales and was never a fan of the commercial aspect. He was a tried and true top performing termite salesman for years and years… he always said, quote: “residential pest sales paid the bills, termite sales were the profit and commercial sales were just a slow path to last place in the region.” end quote… (He had the plaques and awards to back up his claim both as salesman and manager) So my daily check ins with him weren’t a lot of fun.
However I had two allies on my side. One, my sales were about the same as when I just did residential solely & # two– The REGIONAL manager who put on the seminar (his boss) took a liking to me and called the branch many times to see how I was doing at commercial sales and to encourage me to keep it up. He actually visited once and told me I needed to aim higher–go for more than mom and pop delis, go for big factories etc. My boss hated that! I was across his desk many times and listened to the speaker phone as the two of them debated the worth of my endeavors. (eventually, the regional mgr. put an end to the debate by making me a full time commercial salesman with guaranteed pay…ohhhh you talk about eye’s like daggers– I got that EVERYDAY the rest of my time there. But that’s another article. (in fact a series-check em out here)
Here Comes The Tail
Lo and behold, one day I was on the phone with my magic script and called an oil company. Don’t know why- it was just next in line in the big commercial directory we used so I dialed the number. I was put right through to the purchasing agent who then put me through to his boss… Dang, I was getting good at my little stage performance! I was given an appointment and figured I’d be touring an industrial yard. Maybe I’d get to climb up one of those huge oil tanks-the kind with the stairs wrapping around the sides. Much to my surprise the address took me downtown and up to the 18th floor of an office bldg. No chain link fences and men with hard hats. No rigs or heavy equipment. Just a nice office and a man who was eager to speak to me.
I guess I was still in a fog as to what I would be bidding on and perhaps my questions weren’t lining up with what he had in mind as it seemed we were not on the same page. That’s when he pulled out a thick three ring binder brimming with page after page of what was to be my target. This was an oil company alright, but this guy was in charge of the division that handled all of the gas stations they owned up and down the east coast!!!! Not only gas- but the majority were convenience stores to boot. My jaw must’ve made a thud hitting the floor and the tone quickly changed from a quick mom and pop proposal to a serious BIG BUSINESS deal when this regional big wig leaned forward and said in all seriousness, “Can you handle this?” Dumbfounded, I think I managed to say yes.
The Bottom Floor
Going down the elevator I couldn’t help but dream about the big commission check in my mind. I bought a new car, (one with air conditioning) went on cruise with my wife, the works. But then as the big doors opened to the lobby I cracked a huge smile at the mere thought of posting a gigantic number on our sales board and seeing the face of my boss as he tried to fit all those zero’s in that little 2×2 square slot. “That”, I thought to myself would make it all worth it.
With my huge binder tucked under my arm I tried to sneak into the office and to my desk so I could take a real look at what I had. Didn’t work… “11;30” came a call from the big office, “kind of early to be back at the office isn’t it? Come in here and let’s have a chat.” I hated going in that office as it was never a good thing but at least with this visit I felt confident that at the least my boss would be excited at what I had, maybe even thrilled like I was at the possibility of what a big account like this might bring. He was neither.
Thumbing through the big book he didn’t say a word. However I was still on cloud nine so I guess I couldn’t help but rattle off all the great things this could bring. The big numbers, all the work for the company etc etc. And then, slowly, he closed the book and looked straight at me and said, “We don’t have any routes that go to North Carolina, nobody in this office services Georgia either. How much of this work is for THIS branch?” I was speechless!
I couldn’t believe that anyone could find fault or the negative in this situation but here he was. He continued to denigrate my little gold mine and of course came full circle as always when he pointed to the board in the other room and said “There– THAT is where your efforts should be. You want to sell this? Do it on your own time. NOW, get in there and get your activity sheet filled and see me before you leave!” With that, and completely devastated, I scooped up my big binder, went to my desk and began canvasing through the residential listings.
No Mans An Island
All in all there were over 500 stores and adding up the possible numbers were astronomical. (at least for me) This was long before the internet (no google earth) so I could only go by the small descriptions in the book for square footage and address. Using our company directory I made many calls to confirm what I could with other branches. Being a National company I figured there’d be no problem getting to any of these but much to my surprise there were many, especially in the south, that were in areas we didn’t handle. Another surprise was the push back I received from some of the branches I called. I was told more than once that rodent service would be extra, we don’t cover german roaches or that I’d better charge an initial or they wouldn’t even consider the job. WTF?
Being so new to sales and certainly not understanding the system I had no idea how to handle this. Meanwhile, my perspective client had called a couple of times and I’m sure my less than confident tone was more than obvious. I needed help but couldn’t turn to my boss. My fellow sales crew tried to offer suggestions like contacting Copesan. (which apparently we were members of) “What the hell is Copesan?” I remember thinking but that’s as far as that went.
Then, out of the blue I got a call from our regional director who I hadn’t heard from in weeks. And I clearly recall thinking, “Finally, the Calvary is here & I’m gonna land this thing.”
I had so many questions and needed quite a bit of help but this guy was so far up the ladder from me I didn’t dare just start blurting out all over the place. Respectfully I remained quiet and listened waiting for my chance. Sadly, this is about all I heard.
“ Heard a lot of good things are going on down there for you Jerry, he said in a very business like tone. The whole regional office up here is buzzing about you right now. Sounds like you got a Tiger By The Tail- we’re all betting you can get it. Hope to see you real soon.”
With that-the phone went dead. Dumbfounded I didn’t hang up until the obnoxious disconnect sound of— enn enn enn– alerted me…. I am on my own, there is no one on the other end.
The Tiger Got Away
In the coming days I tried to scramble and piece together a proposal but my prospective client wasn’t impressed. He wanted a universal price and service and I was giving him a list of demands for what I could do and just a “good luck to ya” on what I could not. The long elevator ride down from his office seemed to be quite apropos because I felt like my whole career was sinking too.
There’s no telling that if I ever got the account how my life may have changed. No way to know if the industry and company I loved would have been my life long path complete with plaques, 401k’s, advancements and a nice gold watch at my retirement. There’s no way to know, but perhaps that’s best. As Mark Twain famously once said;
If you hold a cat by the tail you learn things you cannot learn any other way.