SalesRants 10: The Hardest Sell of Them All

No stranger to the hard sell, Secret Sales Guy still has morals enough to question a rep who trades on her looks to land a big sale.

Pushing the Applecart
When it comes down to it, I really enjoy my profession. I get up in the morning, shower, put on a collared shirt and crack open my Wall Street Journal, secure in the knowledge that I am doing my small part for the American economy. Even on a bad day, some commerce will be transacted. Big Media Company will make a few bucks, an electronics company will sell a few more devices, our beloved and faithful readers will have another issue to peruse at their desks, and I will make a few bucks myself. Happiness all around.

Media sales can be complicated, though. There are existing clients to stay on top of, new business to hustle up, agencies and PR firms that need attention, publishers to please, and salespeople and editors to manage. Every month, a million things have to come together seamlessly so a nice, profitable, ad-filled issue can hit the mail. Invariably, things get complicated between the publication of the month-by-month editorial calendar and the actual time the issue appears in readers’ hands.

But when you get right down to it—where the ink meets that gauzy 70 lb. sheet of magazine paper stock—it’s all about pushing the applecart.

Like the street vendor of old pushing his wares down a busy street, hawking fruit to a newly arrived immigrant population, the media salesman is—at his very core—a simple man. He has products to sell and families to feed. Sometimes, his produce isn’t the freshest on the street, either. But sell it he must, to both longtime customers and new prospects alike. Won’t you please sample my wares? Feel the firmness of my apples today, Mrs. Giancotti. See how the thin veneer of wax I have rubbed into the skin gives them a shine? Won’t you please take six of my apples to your dear mother, as well?

It’s enough to make you puke.

 

When you’re rolling down a trade show aisle, outfitted in your Sunday best and trying unsuccessfully to elicit the name of a marketing manager from some logo-happy, golf shirt-wearing computer salesman, you almost wish you were a street cart vendor. You may not be sporting a Hermè’s tie and $200 loafers, but at least you get the sense that somebody, somewhere out there, wants a fucking apple.

But hunting down new prospects is part of the job, isn’t it? Who the hell’s the new guy at Sony? Well, you had better find out, because you can bet your bottom dollar that No. 2 Industry Magazine already knows. For God’s sake, they’re probably already in his office chatting placement over a macchiato. So you push that applecart, hat humbly in hand, and lurk near Sony’s trade show booth like a loser, waiting for the sales guy to free up so you can ask him who’s in charge of print advertising. That’s the way it’s done.

One mealy apple at a time.

Spreading for a Spread?
Editorial staffers sometimes cross over to the advertising side of publishing (your Secret Sales Guy being a living, breathing example). When they do, it’s not uncommon for them to hear their editorial brethren claim that such a move means they’ve automatically exchanged their upstanding editor’s soul for a commission check. Granted, this journey to the “dark side” doesn’t happen often but, when it does, is the traveler entering previously forbidden territory? Will a former ASME member in good standing trot traverse roads lower than those of his editorial cohorts, set up shop at the bottom of the moral barrel, and start selling like the tramp he’s secretly always been?

In other words: Is there any truth to the notion that sales is a whore’s game?

Personally, I can tell you that I have never traded my integrity for the price of a hefty commission—but, then again, I’ve never had the opportunity to sell an $80,000 page of advertising. I can tell you what Secret Sales Guy has seen over the course of ten years in business media, though. I can relate this story from a recent trade show.

Back in January, I received a surprise phone call from our Midwest representative. An attractive woman in her mid-thirties, Judith* commanded men’s attention for her looks, as well as for her obvious sales prowess and industry knowledge. Giving notice, she told me she was leaving No. 1 Industry Magazine and going to No. 1 Consumer Magazine. It was a major leap and an opportunity to nearly double her salary. Underpaid corporate wage slave that I am, I was simultaneously delighted for her and wracked with jealousy, since I would have sold my mother for that position. Judith’s departure was a tough loss, but what could I do? Big Media Company wasn’t exactly forking it over in terms of salary, and Judith had put in two excellent years —capped by two disappointing raises. Go with God, Judith.

Well, who do I encounter at the first trade show of the year? Not Respected Judith, who men yearned for, since she was more untouchable than a 30 percent discount off our rate card. She’d left the building. Instead, I met up with Saucy Judith, the hard drinking, client-cuddling, giddy slut who, despite her two years at Big Media Company, I had never encountered before…

Was Judith married? Yes. Was her thigh and upper ass now firmly planted in the crotch of the guy who could give her the biggest account of her career? Check.

Watching Judith wrap her legs around Tom Black, the marketing manager of Gigantic Software Company, took me by complete surprise. I had to check the old internal memory banks. Was Judith married? Yes. Was her thigh and upper ass now firmly planted in Tom’s crotch ? Check. What the hell was I seeing? A formerly demure and subtle business media sales representative draping herself all over the biggest customer in the room, trading on her good looks and overly available flanks—the living embodiment of the nightmarish slide into the true dark side of consumer media, where the page rates are big, the custom media projects are bigger, and the sponsorships are biggest of all.

My new Midwest rep and I witnessed all this from the bar in the hotel lounge. According to her, sales were down at No. 1 Consumer Mag, and someone was having a difficult transition going from trade mag to “real” mag. Also, Judith was now surrounded by a bevy of younger (and, frankly, hotter) reps in their twenties, who didn’t shy away from the occasional flirtation—or more—to secure an ad schedule. Life at No. 1 Consumer Mag came with some serious pressure, a big expense account, and plenty of internal competition.

I was now feeling a mix of emotions: sadness, for this once-proud colleague now mired in an ethical hell; fear, because this piranha of the print ad was gnawing on one of our biggest clients; and joy, because in some sick way I loved watching the late-night sales effort that the New Judith was putting out.

“Think Tom’ll get any tonight?” I ask New Midwest Rep.

“Nah,” replied New Midwest Rep, “She’s not giving it up.”

“How do you know?” I asked.

New Midwest Sales Rep, single and quite the looker herself, faced me and smiled. “Because I’m meeting him later tonight,” she said.

We high-fived and turned back to the bartender for another round of vodka-and-Red Bull. Let Judith cozy up to Tom late into the night and pay his bar tab. No. 1 Industry Mag had the inside track on Humongous Software Company, and that’s the way this trade show cookie crumbled. Better luck next time, New—but far from improved—Slutty Judith.

[This post originalyl appeared in MediaBistro, 8/2/2006]

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