Compensation · Sales · Sales Management · Sales Rants · Sales Tactics

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]

Compensation · Sales Rants

SalesRants 7: Doing the Devil’s Work

Carpentry fantasies are good and well, but let’s be honest—if he had a hammer, Secret Sales Guy would probably use it to pound out another commission

The Devil’s Work
I was just reading back through the Secret Sales Guy archive, and boy—until now, I had no idea just how depraved Your Man on the Inside sounds. Obsessed with money. Bitter, perhaps? Maybe. I suppose that when you’re doing the Devil’s work, there are times when the dark rewards don’t outweigh the means by which you earn them.

To further the good/evil theme I seem to be building here, I should mention that I always wanted to be a carpenter (yes, just like Jesus). You see, at the end of a tough day, the carpenter gets to see the result of his labor. The amount and quality of his work are on display for the world to see. There is no mystery in carpentry.

Conversely, at the end of my day, it is impossible to tell how many widgets or DVD players I have helped to sell. How many faulty pieces of software? How many overpriced laptops?

 

The carpenter knows that thousands of meals will be set upon the dinner table he constructs; one can see the patina of life in the scrape from a steak knife, the ring left from a glass of beer. When the owner of the beloved family dinner table dies, his heirs will squabble over its disposition—after all, this simple piece of carved wood has, through time and use, become more than the sum of its parts.

The July issue of my magazine will be unceremoniously chucked in the trash in a few weeks time.

For those of us on the business side of publishing, our fulfillment comes in the form of the monthly commission check and the occasional year-end bonus. There, written unmistakably to the right of a dollar sign, is the validation of all of our hard work—its worth easily quantified by the social status of our peers, the sticker price on our automobile, and the hotness of our respective significant others.

Cynical? Perhaps. But I can barely swing a hammer, so how the hell would I pull off being a carpenter, anyway?

Do Not Feed Media Sales Guy
Leave it to my editor to call this column “SalesRants.” In a retrospective mood, I looked even further back into the archives. The name is oddly apropos. Maybe it’s a good angle—that whole Glengarry, Glen Ross thing. A ranting, egomaniacal salesman, hellbent on his next commission check—ready to say or do anything to close the next sale.

This column is basically a freak show. Go ahead… Peek behind the curtain, and have a look at the simpering maniac. Please don’t put your fingers through the bars, folks, unless they’re filled with crisp hundred dollar bills.

Do editorial, production, and marketing people have a similar outlook? Are they also cynical, putting in their 10 hours a day with nothing else in mind but their own advancement?

Or, do I have it completely wrong? Might I be speaking with a larger voice? Do editorial, production, and marketing people have a similar outlook? Are they also cynical, putting in their 10 hours a day with nothing else in mind but their own advancement—working to quell that constant, nagging feeling, reminding them that a minute wasted is a dollar less earned?

I could really give a shit, to be honest. You want to know how we sales folks really, truly feel? You want a peek inside the media sales cage? Better read the sign before the curtain draws open, so at least you’ll know what to expect:

1) Do not feed the Media Sales Guy—he has already eaten a hearty lunch with one of his many clients.
2) The material on the floor of the cage is editorial, or filler. That’s what goes in between the ads we sell.
3) The production department exists to give us deadlines, so we can sell more ads in the magazine. We can get them fired, but not the other way around.
4) Beware of the Publisher. He is not your friend—he is just another salesperson, but with more “side duties.”
5) Do not respond if the salesman approaches you with offers of “remnant space.” That is just a way of selling you a cheap ad without shame.

[This post originally appeared in MediaBistro, 7/12/2006]

Compensation · CRM · Sales Rants · Sales Training · Writing

SalesRants 5: The 2.5 Percent Solution

Swapping an editorial gig for ad sales in order to write? Doesn’t make sense to Anonymous either, but he’s living it

“Shut the F@#$ up, Trudy!”
More training today. this time on CRM. That’s “customer relationship management,” by the way. The way it works is, Big Media Company spends a few hundred thousand dollars on a piece of software that tells you when to call your customers. You put in names, addresses, your client’s daughter’s name and age, underwear size, etc. Then, when you give him a ring about the August issue, you can bullshit a little and pretend you care about his family, all the while looking up his sales history, sock color preference, and any other thing they can load into the program through SAP or whatever general ledger software Big Media Company happens to be running.

During the class—mandatory for anyone earning over $50,000 at the Company, incidentally—some lady named Trudy* actually starts bitching about it. Things haven’t been right since we rolled up the new CRM application, she says. There’s no help desk. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Does this ridiculous, menial, little peon—from accounts receivable, of all departments—really think she is “speaking truth to power” here?

The CRM consultant—who happens to be a Big Media Company Player through and through—issues Trudy the old “let’s talk out your work-related issue, even though you and I both know nothing will change the software rollout” invitation, and asks her for more information. It’s a damn shame he can’t say what his eyes are telling me he wants to say.

 

His exact words are, “That’s an interesting observation, Trudy. I’ll bet, when the rollout is complete, we can find you a CRM software person to sit down with your team and get everybody up to speed. Let’s discuss this in more detail offline, and we’ll get to the bottom of this training issue. Anyone else want to share a similar experience?”

What he wants to say goes a little like: “Shut the fuck up and read the manual like everyone else.” But he doesn’t cave to the urge. Oh, well. Can’t wait for the “Violence in the Workplace” mini-session next week!

The 2.5 percent Solution

A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob! Make up the fires, and buy another coal-scuttle before you dot another “i,” Bob Cratchit.
—Charles Dickens

I love Big Media Company. After capping annual raises at 2.5 percent a year sometime back in 1973, we have editors at our company who literally bring a can of Friskies to work for lunch. With gas at $8 a gallon, the price of cigarettes going through the roof, and the general expense living in New York creates, the 2.5 percent raise policy means that, with inflation, the Big Media employee effectively gets a pay cut each year. Half of our guys live in Brooklyn—and not the nice part either (unless you know something about the J train that I don’t).

Not everybody’s hurting, though. The sales guy who’s consistently bringing in the cash isn’t complaining—and when he is, the boss usually busts his ass to find that extra $10 grand to placate him so he doesn’t have to go through the hell of hiring and training somebody else.

Editors? Slap them in front of a Mac and a telephone, and throw them a decent pizza party every once in a while, and you’re good to go. There are a billion budding Noam Chomskys ready to “cut their teeth” with some “good writing experience” at Big Media Company. It makes me sick.

That’s when I knew publishing was a big racket. It was also when I knocked on the publisher’s door to switch into a job selling ad space.

I used to be an editor. I remember the day I switched to sales. It was when I recommended a guy I knew as a salesman for a job at my magazine. He came in knowing fuck-all about the Industry, and started off making about $40,000 more than me right off the bat—all before he had even sold his first ad. That’s when I knew publishing was a big racket. Not coincidentally, it was also when I knocked on the publisher’s door to switch into a job selling ad space.

Although I still regret the day I left editorial, it’s pretty much been steady roast beef on a roll with extra lettuce and tomato every since, and that Friskies can hang out in the cabinet until I get a cat.

I guess my English teacher knew what he was talking about. He told us to get a job as a garbage man (or anything providing a steady income), so we could afford to write. If you want to be a writer, why not be an ad salesman to pay the bills?

[This post originally appeared in MediaBistro, 6/28/2006]

Compensation · Sales · Sales Management · Sales Rants · T&E

SalesRants 3: Big Man, Small Ball

This week, reverse psychology’s the name of the game for our ad man on the inside.

Big Marketing Man

Eric Blumstein* is staring at me over the top of his Diet Coke (no fruit) and telling me in no uncertain terms how important he is. With me is Rod, the World’s Most Amiable Sales Director, and I’m not exactly sure he’s getting just how big a prick Blumstein is being.

Having just put in his first year, Blumstein’s about the fourth man down the marketing totem pole at Big Electronics Company. His boss’ timely promotion has left him holding the keys to a fairly sizable marketing budget, a portion of which is responsible for 5 percent of our total annual gross revenue. Bottom line? Without Blumstein’s complete enthusiasm for the majority of our elaborate, big-money sponsorships and programs, we’re in serious trouble. Therefore, we must acknowledge Blumstein’s marketing wisdom and let him dot all the “i’s” and cross all the “t’s” he wants to. So far, Blumstein seems determined to do a whole lot of crossin’ and dottin’ before the fall media-buying season.

Sporting a wannabe-hipster goatee and carefully arranged hair meant to simulate bedhead, Blumstein takes a measured sip of his diet soda and brushes an errant piece of tuna tartar from his chin. I am deep into my second scotch-and-soda of this casual meeting and trying to let Rod, Blumstein’s direct sales rep, absorb most of his blather. At one point, Blumstein actually says “Everything goes through me.” Wow. This bastard is cocky as hell. However, it could be a reaction to our selling a sizable sponsorship behind his back to his ad agency.

As Blumstein goes on, it is hard not to think about the fact that my assistant probably outearns him, and I chastise myself for such a base notion. Later on, I think of this when I start the 90-slide PowerPoint presentation that will be the price of admission into Blumstein’s marketing party. God, this is no way to live.

**

Small Ball
Do you sell ads? Then you know this hoary old chestnut as well as the next space representative: “There is no bigger pain in the ass than the small advertiser.” Yes, it’s true. You’ll sell a $500,000 program (large, even by No. 1 Industry Mag standards) in a week to Grey Advertising or OMD, and never hear from them again until the next quarter. But, dare to sell an 1/8-page B&W vertical to Small Company, and they will call incessantly at all hours of the night. You can count on this more than the fact that I am going to start my day with a Camel Filter and a cup of coffee (black and sweet, just like World’s Most Amiable Sales Director Rod).

 

The small company can’t really afford the ad in the first place (which is why they pay up front); is actually genuinely counting on the ad to bring them business (now they call it “ROI”); and is counting on glorious No. 1 Industry Mag to partner with them to raise their fortunes in the business. By the time the negotiations are over and you factor in all the long-distance phone calls, time spent, and the occasional T&E, you have generally lost money on the ad. The kicker? If Small Company doesn’t sell a dozen widgets or whatever (which they track mercilessly using “ad codes” and the like), then you will never hear from them again—they’ll be in No. 3 Industry Mag, where the 1/8-pages are selling briskly at $250 each, rather than the $1,850 a pop you command.

How about not selling them at all? I’m trying this now, based on this book about “firing your customers.” Perversely, once you tell clients that you don’t need their business, they stop negotiating and buy something. The old reverse psychology never fails, does it? Now, if I can only figure out how to make the bastards stop calling Rod.

**

Rod, the World’s Most Amiable Sales Director
I am sitting with Rod, the World’s Most Amiable Sales Director, at an Italian restaurant in the West 20s. We are having our monthly lunch with Tad Tramanto, one of our smaller, but more regular advertisers. Rod is wearing his uniform: a crisply pressed Brooks Brothers striped button-down under a handsome blue blazer, a pair of dressy blue jeans, and some expensive English bench made lace-ups. Maintaining “office casual” attire is something Rod does extremely well, unlike many of our colleagues at Big Publishing Company.

Rod is top boy at No. 1 Industry Mag, and has been bringing in close to $2 million annually for the past several years—a Herculean sales effort for a niche book like ours—and one that brings Rod a respectable, but not extravagant, salary that edges just above the six-figure mark. Along with his salary, Rod receives a healthy benefits package, a decent T&E account, a laptop computer, 20-odd vacation and personal days, and the promise that Big Publishing Company’ll clink the retirement jar to the tune of a 5 percent matching contribution. It’s not a king’s ransom by any stretch of the imagination, but it has afforded Rod a decent lifestyle and, not to be discounted, a sense of stability and predictability not easy to find in New York’s volatile job market.

Hailing from South America by way of London, Rod is an extremely handsome black man of refinement and culture, well-spoken, and possessed of real charm. He is, in a word, amiable—the perfect salesman.

I have personally seen him close $20,000 worth of business within 20 minutes to get himself out of a tight spot.

Rod’s sales history and account list reveals his ability to attract—and, more importantly, keep—advertising clients. Rod rarely gets a new one, but when he does, they usually stick around for a while. Rod’s client base is like a thriving garden, one which he tends and nurtures on a daily basis. Because of his well-tended client base, Rod’s one of a select breed of salespeople who can pull in favors when they’re needed, and I have personally seen him close $20,000 worth of business within 20 minutes to get himself out of a tight spot.

When you are competing against 10 other magazines, a big part of whether you get the business comes down to relationships. Rod’s specialty is creating and nurturing those relationships to the point where he’s not just a salesperson, but a trusted confidant, adviser, and—more often than not—friend. This is something that cannot be trained into a salesperson: either you’ve got it or you don’t. Every magazine needs a Rod—preferably two or three of them.

[This post originally appeared in MediaBistro, 6/14/2006]