DeWese--No Holding Back On Sales Slackers
Last month I wrote that about 35 percent of all printing salespeople are laggards—underachieving slackers and no-account dawdlers who feed at the trough of their employers. Most of these folks arrive late, leave early, sell only on price, make no new account calls and blame their failures on the plant. At the risk of getting sued,
I'm going to name some names in this column. I'm going to give you the facts on two members of my all-time Rogues Gallery of Print Saleslackers in the hope that it may convince them to resign or it may help some other borderline malingerers to get on track and actually sell some profitable printing.
By the way, I'm in a bad mood so I'm not going to pull any punches as I tell you about these losers.
"Stormin" Norman Acherwald—Norman gave himself the nickname "Stormin" one night in his favorite, and only, haunt, The No Name Bar. The "No Name" bar literally has no name—just a sign out front that says "Bar." The bar is exactly one half block from Norman's apartment in Broomall, PA, a suburb of Philadelphia. Norman arrives at the bar most days around 5:30 p.m. and scoffs down a couple of meatball sandwiches with his first two or three beers.
The regulars at the bar like to brag about their life achievements, so Norman came up with a story about his high school and college football career. Norm is about 5'11˝, weighs 283 pounds and claims he was an All-State nose tackle at Valley High School in Columbus, OH. He's told the story many times. He was "recruited by many major colleges and accepted a scholarship to Ohio State where he blew out his knee during his freshman year." Norman created the blown knee idea just in case anybody ever checked the Ohio State records. He occasionally remembers to limp into the bar to dramatize his injury.
Actually, the only thing Norm ever blew was his nose. The truth is that Norman suffered from asthma in high school and was team assistant trainer in charge of taping ankles. He managed to keep the job until the coach fired him for failing to bring any tape to a road game and six starters sprained their ankles in the first quarter. After graduating from high school, Norman attended a community college for one semester.
Norm tells his bar mates that he got the nickname Stormin' because he set a national high school record for making 158 unassisted tackles in one season. He adds, "The name stuck while I was fighting in Desert Storm where I single-handedly captured 200 Iranians. Some nights it's 300 Iraqis. None of the regulars at the bar can remember what happened the night before, and are a little blurry on current events, so no one ever challenges Norman when the story changes.
With Stormin', Sales Sag
Now, by day, Norm sells printing for his uncle, Horace Acherwald, the owner of Acherwald Printing & Litho. The plant is located exactly 123.7 miles from Norman's apartment. He is supposed to cover the Philadelphia market.
Norman's mother, Jean, begged her brother, Horace, to give Norman a chance and hire him when the previous Philadelphia rep quit. Horace, an old softy, acceded to his sister and "trained" Norman by letting him work in different departments for six weeks. He then advanced Norman the money to move to Philadelphia, leased him a new Taurus, bought him a fax machine and a cell phone, and gave him three longstanding accounts to service.
After three years, Acherwald's Philadelphia sales have dwindled from more than $500,000 to $280,000. Norman has become a master of creative writing for the call reports that he dutifully faxes to the plant every Saturday. Norman has found seven to eight prospects that regularly fax him RFQs that Norman writes up and faxes to the plant for estimates. Occasionally, he lucks out, has the lowest price and is awarded a job.
Norman sleeps in and watches TV until it's time to go to the bar. It worried him that Uncle Horace or someone at the plant might disturb him so he has cleverly programmed his cell phone and home phone voice mail to answer, "Hello, this is Norman Acherwald. I'm busy meeting with a customer now, so leave a message when you hear the tone."
Norman makes my Rogues Gallery for living a lie. He confided to me, while suffering a fit of contrition, that so far this year he's actually made 11 face-to-face sales calls while reporting 328. His job hit rate with the three accounts he was given is 12 percent. The hit rate for the handful of "developing accounts" is 4 percent.
Once in a while, especially when Norm has a real bad hangover or when he's watching one of Oprah's inspirational shows, he will vow, pledge, swear to himself that he's really a great salesman and he's going to make some calls and become a winner. Then he rolls over and takes a nap.
Congratulations Norman, you are finally famous!
My next individual is Ellen Kay Pearce. For several years Ellen Kay was a fair-to-middlin' sheetfed salesperson at Golden State Litho in Merlot, CA. Year in and year out she'd sell $500,000 to $600,000. In 1997 the company had annual sales of $12.5 million generated by nine salespeople. That was the year the sales manager quit. The former sales manager had been a selling sales manager who sold nearly $2 million annually and had little time to actually manage the other salespeople.
Ellen Kay wanted the sales manager job. She had always believed that she could motivate and manage other salespeople. Ellen Kay is single, has time on her hands, and is a self-improvement freak. She has read dozens of books on sales performance. She listens to tapes and attends sales motivation seminars regularly. She has paid big money to attend "happenings" where she's walked on hot coals, eaten various insects and has been to Outward Bound four times.
So, when the previous sales manager left, Ellen Kay was primed to take action. She wrote a marketing plan, a sales plan and a mission statement for the company. The various documents were prepared in triplicate, numbered and were complete with color charts, laser printed and beautifully bound. She did all this work in her condo and in total secrecy. She was paranoid that one of the other salespeople might apply for the job or that the owners, Bill and Joan Westmoreland, would hire someone from the outside.
Ellen Kay's Master Plan
Bill and Joan Westmoreland were nearly 70 and married for more than 40 years. They have no children and wished they could sell the company. They were surprised when Ellen Kay presented them with her plan, and asked for the job and 20 percent of the company. They concluded that with a great plant manager in place, maybe Ellen Kay would be a success as sales manager and, with a stake in the company, eventually become a buyer for the company and provide them with an exit.
"After all," they'd heard that sometimes, "mediocre salespeople make the best sales managers." Ellen Kay insisted that she needed "clout" and demanded the title, executive vice president of sales and marketing. She also informed Bill and Joan that she would be too busy managing the company growth to handle any personal sales.
Ellen Kay began a series of daily inspirational sales meetings and Saturday training sessions. She installed a daily call reporting system and insisted on debriefing salespeople after every new account call. She openly second-guessed the salespeople over lost jobs.
Golden State's sales declined to $11.8 million in 1998. Two of the top salespeople left the company to join competitors. Three more salespeople left in 1999 and were replaced with rookies Ellen Kay had met at a conference called The Super Spirituality Weekend. Sales in 1999 dropped to $10.1 million and the plant manager quit rather than suffer the overbearing Ellen Kay. Bill suffered a heart attack and required triple by-pass surgery. Joan stayed at his bedside and ignored company operations. Meanwhile, Ellen Kay kept planning, insisting on weekly plans from the salespeople and conducting training sessions. She blamed the plant and inept salespeople for the precipitous decline in sales.
In June of 2000, Golden State's outside accountants warned Bill and Joan that unless the trend turned up, the company might face the prospect of bankruptcy by year-end.
Congratulations Ellen Kay! You made my Rogues Gallery for fixing something that wasn't broke. Your overbearing micro-management, in fact, has broken something that was working well. Nineteen people have been laid off, and there's a likelihood that Bill and Joan will enjoy their retirement living on Social Security checks and that you will own 20 percent of nothing.
The truth is that Ellen Kay never liked selling and conceived her "sales executive" role as a means of getting a desk job.
Okay! You are all warned! If you don't want your name in my Rogues Gallery, you'd better get out there and sell something!
About the Author
Harris DeWese is the author of Now Get Out There and Sell Something! published by Nonpareil Books. He is a principal at Compass Capital Partners and is an author of the annual "Compass Report," the definitive source of information regarding printing industry merger and acquisition activity. DeWese specializes in investment banking, mergers and acquisitions, sales, marketing, planning and management services to printing companies.