Cast of Sales Characters
If you ask someone what comes to mind when they think of a salesperson, you’re likely to hear adjectives like “pushy,” “arrogant” and “obnoxious.” Hollywood certainly has done little to portray the career choice as anything but negative. From Herb Tarlek in “WKRP in Cincinnati” to “Groundhog Day’s” Ned Ryerson (“Bing!”) to Alec Baldwin’s stress-inducing and (literally) sales-killing management style in “Glengarry Glen Ross,” we salespeople have been stereotyped, typecast and pigeonholed, making it hard for us to get any other acting or even commercial work other than the annoying character others really don’t want to be around.
In truth, a print sales team requires balance and takes all kinds of personalities. Contrary to what Tinseltown tells us, success can take many faces. There is no right answer, no one-size-fits-all sales type who will work every time, all the time, in every sales territory. Break down the cast and you’ll find as many different descriptions as there are personality types in the customer base they serve:
1. The Tasmanian Devil - Unorganized and highly caffeinated, this sales rep sells at a frantic pace. His/her clothes are a mess and hair is askew as calls are made and details are neglected. We all know the type from the Looney Tunes cartoon character. While frustrating to witness, this sales type can be incredibly effective, if managed properly.
Keep him/her out selling, spinning frenetically and focusing on new business. Provide leads on the front end and plenty of support on the back, making sure that when an order comes in, that’s the last time the sales rep sees the job. Customer service takes over and The Tasmanian Devil shoots back out into the field like a tornado tearing up everything in its path.
Many new salespeople fit this description. In time, they will calm down and sell with more structure, patience and planning. But until then, hide valuables, secure anything breakable and let them go wild.
Tortoise and the Hare Reps
2. The Meek - In the fable, “The Tortoise and the Hare,” the former prevails over the latter with a slow and steady pace. Neither exciting nor flamboyant, and often not in possession of any one account whose total volume would exceed 10% of their overall business, The Meek plods along, driving to work in his/her 10-year-old Prius, finding his/her place in the world and on the successful sales team.
As much as a company desires slick, game-changing, big fish-landing personnel in its sales department, it’s important to remember that more than 50% of print buyers would identify more with “meek” than “outgoing” in a DiSK personality test.
A balanced sales team requires the presence of this type of salesperson in order to capture the portion of the customer base that would otherwise shun aggressive selling efforts. Not only will they inherit the earth, they will bring in a steady pace of solid and profitable business.
3. The Dominant - Okay, Hollywood, let’s give the devil his due and include that “right out of central casting,” prototypical salesperson. With perfect hair, freshly pressed clothing and standing completely erect, The Dominant rules his/her world with utmost confidence. Typically associated with veteran/legacy status, this sales type has a personality that is, at minimum, assertive and, at most, obnoxious.
This doesn’t make them bad people, however, as these are characteristics required for them to do their job successfully. It is important to remember that what makes salespeople good at what they do can also make them individuals you would cross the street to avoid bumping into.
The Dominant must be held in check by management and reminded often that customer service and production works with them, not for them. Proper ego stroking is required — most often through management’s gritted teeth - in order to keep them producing at a high level. They believe themselves to be all that and a bag of chips. Don’t argue with them.
Handle With Kid Gloves
4. The Struggler - Most every successful salesperson says some version of the following, “If I had known how hard it was going to be, I might not have done it!” Sales is hard. Wicked hard. Day after day, week after week, and month after month of calls and rejection can wear down even the most optimistic optimist.
Through hard work, luck and no small amount of naiveté, a breakthrough occurs … sometimes. In other cases, The Struggler wilts and dies on the vine, giving up and moving on.
For managers who are trying to help, this is where the “skill and will” argument applies. Some Strugglers have the ability, but lack the desire. Motivate them and hold them accountable. Others want success badly, but possess neither the skills nor the natural sales abilities. Train them. Of the two, it’s those who put in the work (read: have the will to succeed) who are the most desirable. So long as they don’t give up on themselves, management should never give up on them.
Not Everyone Can Be a Star
5. The Non-Superstar - While we like to think of salespeople as high producers, not everyone can be in the top 10%. A company’s base of business - work that comes from its core clients — requires a sales type that is neither under- nor over-achiever. This group might forever frustrate management, which believes it needs reps with greater potential for growth to exist.
However, The Non-Superstar brings in the kind of business that makes it possible for a company to offer attractive pricing for other, perhaps larger, new business opportunities. A sales team’s overall makeup will consist of attention-getting Dominant types and attention-demanding Strugglers, but it’s this middle-of-the-road salesperson who dutifully keeps the presses rolling day in and day out.
Don’t Hire a ‘Mini-Me’
In the end, a sales team is a mix of characters. Great movies often have an ensemble cast made up of bit players who know their part and stars who lead the way. So, too, must a combo platter of talent, personalities and desire be assembled. Management should hire not with their own image in mind, but rather the right person for the territory. A common error made by managers, company presidents and shop owners is to “hire themselves.” That is, they look for someone who possesses the same traits they have.
Remember, you’re not looking for someone to drink a beer with. You’re looking for a company representative - whether it’s a door-opener, a farmer, a bit player or a future top sales rep.
When the lights fade and the cameras roll, the presses are tuned up and ready, bindery is standing by and the delivery trucks are waiting patiently, it takes a village to start the process. Success is achieved by combining personalities and matching them up with selling opportunities. It’s up to the director - management - to ensure that when he/she yells “Action!” a balanced cast of characters responds and a blockbuster ensues.