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Secrets of a Sales Rep – Episode Three

  • January 3, 2019
  • Written by Meridian Admin

The Chameleon in Action

The following article was written by Mike Wicks; he is currently an author and ghostwriter, but in his early career he was a professional salesman. He has developed dozens of sales and marketing courses and delivered hundreds of hours of sales and marketing training during his career. He is also an adviser with University of Victoria’s Innovation Centre of Entrepreneurship. “The Chameleon in Action” is the third in a series of articles in which he shares with readers his secrets of sales success. The second “Secrets” article was published in this publication in June 2018.

In my last “secrets’ post I talked about how I became a chameleon with a bookshop manager. In this post, I’d like to provide another example of how this can work in real life selling. Regular readers will know I used to be a salesperson for a British book publishing company.

When I was a trainee sales rep – I’m talking some 40-years ago – I remember a morning where I was out with a senior rep. He had asked me to turn up at a railway bookstall in Central London at 5:00am. I was of course not a happy camper as like many teenagers I did not like to be up before the sun!

I arrived as requested and was immediately instructed to remove my jacket and help unload a truck full of daily newspapers. I was unsure as to what was going on, after all I was a sales rep not a delivery boy! We worked for about 30-minutes and then went for a coffee in the back of the bookstall. Now these bookstalls used to sell a lot of softcover books – millions of people traveled through these railway stations every day. I enjoyed my coffee – surprisingly laced as it was with whisky – but was still confused. After an hour of swapping very off-colour jokes with the manager and some of his staff the conviviality stopped, and my trainer got out his sales folder and started presenting the new books we had for sale that month. He got an excellent order and when we left via the back door there was a line-up of other book reps waiting their turn. The old rep looked at me and said, “Guess who got first dibs on Fred’s monthly book buying budget?” It was then I realized why the early start and why the little bit of labouring so early in the morning.

Later that day, back out on my own, I visited a small, but high-end bookstore in suburbia. The middle-aged owner welcomed me and said that she had noticed me arrive ten-minutes earlier and sit in my car waiting for my appointment time. In future she said, if she wasn’t with another rep, I was welcome to come in early.

I started to present my new titles. Within a minute or so, she looked at me and asked why there were so many gaps in my presentation folder. These gaps were missing book jackets. She went on to say that this surprised her as I was always so well organized in every other way.

Not quite sure what to say, I admitted that I always arrived a little early and sat in the car removing all the jackets from books that I felt might offend her (we published some rather salacious titles back then) and that she would certainly not be interested in buying them anyway. She looked at me and said something that I have never forgotten, “Ooh, you’re just the sort of young man I’d like my daughter to marry!” My immediate thought was, “Not if you had seen me early this morning drinking whisky and telling very blue jokes!”

So, you see, selling is about recognizing that everyone is different and respecting that enough to alter your behaviour just a little to make them feel more comfortable. As a trainee I was given that customer, a small bookstore in a place called Ruislip, because she never ordered much. After the incident above, the owner scoured my backlist for suitable titles and the bookstore became a valuable account.