SalesRants 12: Ask Secret Sales Guy

Answering your questions, Secret Sales Guy spills his own beans for a change, instead of everyone else’s

The “Ask Secret Sales Guy” question box saw its share of action at mediabistro.com’s recent marketing party in New York. Maybe I saw you there, submitting a question to your loyal and dedicated Man on the Inside. Though I received a number of intriguing questions, both at the party and via e-mail, this column has me speaking to the most basic ones.

Who the f*ck are you?
This was, by far, the most popular question. Unfortunately, it is also very difficult to answer. Secret Sales Guy is just another corporate wage slave. A former editor who put down the pen for the ad page, I have dedicated the last 10 years of my life to print and online media, and now manage a fairly profitable magazine group focused on consumer electronics. On the personal side, I am the father of two adorable children, and the husband of a cranky, yet cute, wife. I spend about three hours a day commuting from Westchester to go to Big Media Company. I enjoy fishing, writing, smoking, and eating foods heavy in saturated fats.

Considering the question more existentially, I guess you could say that I am a bit of a frustrated writer who turned to sales to support his family, but still yearns to make a respectable living with his pen. This hasn’t happened yet, but I still harbor fantasies of writing the Great American Novel or, perhaps moving to Armenia and taking a crack at the “Great Armenian English-Language Novel” if they don’t happen to have one of those yet. For now, I am grateful to be afforded the ability to offer my observations on the publishing business from an insider’s perspective and hopefully provide insight into the amusing world of advertising sales.

Where do you work?
I work for Big Media Company* here in New York City. Big Media Company began as an obscure family-run textbook publisher and gradually gobbled up enough companies over the years to become a huge, multinational corporation with dozens of offices, thousands of employees, and more bureaucrats than you can shake a stick at. Like all big media companies, mine dabbles in a bit of research, some television, a bunch of magazines and books, and this newfangled thing you may have heard of called the Internet. We are prone to laying employees off, selling portions of our company, and making extremely poor internal business decisions concerning technology.

Like all large media concerns (and many oversized corporations in general), my company operates under the ridiculous belief that we can create “synergy” across the wide range of companies that have been slapped together through decades of acquisition. The idea is that the television company can help drive sales at the magazine company, which can generate data for the research company, who can populate the magazine company with interesting, cutting-edge content, and then we can put everything on the Web and charge people $15.99 a month to be “informed and entertained.” Of course, since everyone at Big Media Company inhabits their own little selfish worlds mandated by our compensation policies, there is really no good reason to share sales, data, or anything else with another division of the company—unless, of course, you can both figure out a way for it to boost your respective bonuses. With the submarket salaries Big Media Company lays out, you sure as hell aren’t going to go to those lengths out of loyalty.

 

Despite this, Big Media Company is a great place to work—especially as a line manager. You make Big Media money, and they’ll humor you with a decent enough salary and bonus package to make sure you only send your resumé out a few times a month, rather than a few times a day. Fuck up, and you are out the door with a pleasant reference and a storage box for your picture of the wife and kids, along with those trade show knickknacks on your standard-issue office bookshelf.

How much do you make?
This was the second-most popular question. As my products’ top sales guy, I have a pretty decent base salary. However, a good part of my compensation comes from commission. Because I am the sales manager, I also get to assign myself several accounts. Naturally, I give myself the largest and most important—and most lucrative. Even better, I get an “override” on all sales that I oversee. Like a pimp, Secret Sales Guy makes money when his crew makes money, providing me with a powerful incentive to make sure my sales team is as happy and productive as possible. Add everything up at the end of the average year, and I’ll probably wind up with about $XXX,000. If I have a knockout year, it could be more. If I worked for a consumer publishing company, rather than the business-focused media company I work for, I would probably be making triple that. Anyway, because I live in New York, the $XXX,000 I make feels more like $50,000. But it’s enough to pay for beer and Skittles. It is also substantially more than I would have been getting if I had accepted the coveted editor-in-chief post at a top-tier trade magazine that was offered to me a decade ago.

What’s your No. 1 tip for making sales?
There is no secret to making sales. The best way to make a sale is to have something that someone wants to buy. If you have something like that and it’s priced exactly right, and the person who wants to purchase it has the money to do so, you will make a sale. It’s that simple. Even if you are a sleazy soft-brained, scumbag with half a community college education, so long as your product meets the aforementioned criteria, you will succeed.

Like you, your customer is a lazy bastard who wants to get the maximum return on the minimum amount of effort. He has already gone through a lot of annoying work and plenty of bad table wine with you.

Of course, most of us don’t have the perfect, reasonably-priced product that just happens to be ready exactly when the customer, money in hand, wants to buy it. Therefore, the key to sales is constantly being around so that when this miracle of circumstance happens, you are standing at the bottom of Cash Hill with your catcher’s mitt on. That translates to calling a lot of people to remind them that you have something to sell, going to a lot of trade shows, and drinking lots of bad table wine with your prospects.

Do this enough, and eventually someone will buy something from you. The beauty of this is that, once that an initial transaction occurs successfully, you may find yourself in for plenty of repeat business. Why? Like you, your customer is a lazy bastard who wants to get the maximum return on the minimum amount of effort. He has already gone through a lot of annoying work and plenty of that bad table wine with you so as to get to the point where he is comfortable enough to buy something, and he doesn’t want to relive that process all over again. Therefore, even if your product is a little worse or slightly pricier than that of your competitor, he will sooner buy it from you than start a whole new relationship and, worse yet, fill out another credit application.

Hang around. Bore yourself to tears at trade shows. Have something to sell. Drink bad table wine. That’s about all there is to it.

Secret Sales Guy is always here for you with his no-bullsh*t policy in effect, so please email with any questions for which you seek a truly honest answer.

[This post originally appeared in MediaBistro, 8/16/2006]

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