Marian and I have never met, however it seems we were both selling copiers in New Jersey in the Eighties. We connected on Linkedin about a week ago after I read one of her replies to RJ's comments for "Selling Copiers in the Seventies". While I was hustling copiers in Central Jersey, Marian was doing the same in North Jersey.
Selling Copiers in the Eighties with Marian Janes
How did you find your way into the copier industry? (feel free to us a story of how that happened)
I received a degree in education and then decided I didn’t want to teach. When I was 25 years old, working as a Naturalist at an Environmental Education Center here in NJ, I was making $11,000 a year-a paycut from my previous job as a YMCA Program Director where I made a whopping $13,000.
All my friends were advancing their careers, buying stuff, traveling, fancier mixed drinks, etc. I never had any money. I started skimming the “want ads” and found a company called Ricoh was hiring. Since there was no Google I really didn’t know what they did other than make cameras. I thought, how bad can it be, running around taking pictures all day.
When I interviewed the manager asked me to sell him the chair I was sitting on-how strange. I went part by part explaining the chair and why it was so great-ending with-“so, you wanna buy it?” I was a natural-right? That clinched the deal. The next week I started along with a few others and when they rolled a copier in the room I thought-what the hell is that doing here and where are all the cameras? Sales suited me well and I tripled my income in 3 months. The rest is history.
What company or manufacturer did you start with, what was your title and what year did you start?
I started with AOE Ricoh, previously known as American Office Equipment, in Little Falls NJ, by the Frito Lay distribution center. AOE later became Ricoh Business Systems. I started around 1981 and my title was Marketing Representative. A few years later I went to work for MCS Canon, formerly Metropolitan Calculator Systems, in Paramus, NJ, also as a Marketing Representative.
I remember as new sales rep it was required we take our manager with us. Since I knew little about sales I let him handle the first appointment and teach me the ropes. I think to impress me and stoke his ego he decided he was not going to leave without a sale. The fierce negotiation over the smallest copier we sold was in full swing. As he gave his final ultimatum we sat there in silence. All of a sudden he stepped on my foot so hard that I wanted to scream out in pain. It was then and there that I learned, he who speaks first loses the sale.
But I got even on one of our calls together. A cloudy day when we packed up the copier a headed out Route 80. As I was driving we were chatting away when we both realized our exit was fast approaching. Not realizing we were in express lanes and there was a median between us and the exit lanes I proceeded to move over a lane. All of a sudden we were air bound, hopping the median, and crashing down on the other side. My manager was terrified, we both were after we realized what just took place! It was actually exhilarating-like a real life chase scene, only the victim was the copier bouncing around in the back.
If you worked for a dealer or manufacturer please tell us what brand(s) you sold and what was your favorite model top sell and why that was your favorite?
I sold primarily Ricoh and Canon copiers. Early on I also sold, but more replacing Apeco units. I also sold calculators and the first facsimile machines. My favorite copier model was the Ricoh 6080. I like big and fast and it gave my competitive spirit a boost as I could now go up against rivals Xerox and IBM.
My favorite sale was facsimile. I volunteered while at MCS Canon to take on this challenge which ended up being a great experience. It was relatively easy to get an appointment since people were intrigued although skeptical. Fax directly opened the door to appointments with the VP of Finance. Fax machines were much more portable than copiers and they were many times sold in multiples. Plus-it was fun. I would bring two units with me and a simulator. As customers needed to see to believe we faxed all kinds of documents from one to the other. My favorite was an engineer who was intent on folding his blueprint in 16ths, faxing each segment piece by piece, and reconstructing it with tape on the other end. I never even had to ask for the sale.
What was the percentage of copier sales people that made it past two years and why made them last or not last so long?
Actually, about 50% of us stuck with it. Some because they were related in some way to the owners and others because we didn’t know better. I stayed because of the team and there was a clear path to making money. Those who left just didn’t like the small draw and strictly commission pay rate. They also got discouraged by rejection. Someone told me early on that if it takes 100 calls to sell one copier then each call is worth $1. Although I always sucked at math I liked to believe that I made something for my effort on every call. Thanks for the dollar!
What did you like the most about your job in the early days of copier sales?
I loved the freedom and flexibility of being on the road. As a highly social human being I made it my business to go about making friends with as many people as I could within my assigned territory. The wham-bam-thank-you-maam mentality my sales manager tried to instill in me never worked. I was able to easily get appointments and build trust. Sales came about more through friendship and many of my customers attended my wedding! People kept asking, how do you know this person and that one? They bought a copier from me and we became friends!
My co-workers and I always went out after work and there was much comaradiere. There were also lots of sales contests and I won a lot!I felt so empowered and brave heading off into the trenches day after day and actually producing over time.
What did you dislike the most about your job in the early days of copier sales?
The copier dealer mentality of my managers and the business in general. By nature I possessed a consultative mindset which was repeatedly challenged. If you lost a deal that seemed likely, they laced into you with foul, uncensored remarks. If you didn’t fit in with the guys you were not happy. Fortunately, for me I have thick skin and made it work.
What was the compensation plan like, was there a salary, what is just commissions or was there a mix of salary and commissions?
I think it was something like $500/month draw plus commissions. There were also special bonuses, like box bonuses for specific models, unit bonuses, quota bonuses, etc.
What was the first sales book that you read and what did you take away from it?
Master The Art of Selling by Tom Hopkins. I guess I thought it was cool that I was working in a capacity that people actually wrote about. Tom’s book gave me not only a framework for selling but the motivation to keep at it.
What type of car did you use for your demonstrations and how many demonstrations would you perform in a week?
It didn’t take me long to realize that I was going to have to trade in my beloved Toyota Celica. After months of missed opportunities since there was no company van available I bought a Suburu wagon that couldn’t get out of its own way. Now I could grab a copier and a cart anytime I wanted-unstoppable!
Our initial goal was make 100 phone calls, get 8 appointments or presentations, resulting in 4 demos and then 1 sale. My goal was to do 4 demos a week and close 1 sale-4 minimal for each month.
Can you tell us a couple of funny story about selling copiers in the seventies and early eighties?
The stigma of selling copiers was not very glamorous. My dad, an accountant in an office in the town where we lived, despised fast talking, pressure solicitors. When I told him I was selling copiers he stood up, looked me in the eyes and said, “my daughter is NOT being one of those!” I felt so dirty!
A few funny stories about me and my cart. It was not out of the ordinary to load the copier on and as I was pushing it into a corporate office having it flatten in front of my eyes. Since there were no cellphones I had to use the receptionists phones for my SOS calls.
Another time I had an opportunity to close a sale of a mid-sized copier. It was snowing and sleeting and I had on a suit and stockings, since pants suits were rare. I was determined to get the copier there and close the deal. Halfway up the sidewalk I slipped on the ice and as I grabbed the cart for support I fell, and the entire cart is now pointing upward like the titanic, with the copier strapped to it.
One of my biggest embarrassments is a day I recall since I was first, going to make a sale and second, wear my very new white linen pants suit. Although it was a small copier I had it strapped tightly to the cart. When I got to the customer location they escorted me a conference room where the old copier sat on a stand in the corner. Fresh off of sales training I remember someone saying it helps to have the customer envision ownership. So, that’s just what I did. I walked over to the old Saxon, grabbed it off the stand and held it close to my chest as I turned to bring it to my cart and replace it with the new one. I clearly didn’t think this through as the black liquid toner proceeded to run down my new white linen pant suit onto their newly carpeted floor! And they still bought it!
What is the biggest challenge you seeing facing the industry today?
As a sales coach I am reminded daily that nothing has changed. The biggest challenge people bring to me is basic-communication. How to have a productive sales conversation. Simple things like asking questions! As copiers become more commodity based and easier to obtain the role of the sales person is shifting as are the conversations. Sales people need to modify their communication when interacting physically versus digitally. There is opportunity within every conversation.
If you had to would you do it all over again, if so what would you change?
Not much! I would have bought a darker pants suit. Being able to share all this makes me realize the personal growth that took place as a result of my time selling copiers. There are things I Iearned about myself and my capabilities that I am calling on once again as an entrepreneur. I keep reminding myself that if I sold an ugly copier I can certainly sell myself. As my business evolves it takes me back to those days where I had the opportunity to create something from nothing. When I reflect back I mostly remember fun times with good people and great customers!
What’s the one piece of knowledge that you’d like to share with new reps entering our industry?
Don’t let the industry define you-find a way to define it and differentiate yourself. Always put people first and believe that you are in service to them and their needs. Be that refreshing person who provides a creative and innovative spark to your customers buying journey. If you learn to ask the right questions and then listen, your customers will tell you what they need and how you can help. Listen with the ear of the heart, where relationships are formed. Have fun!
Please feel free to connect with Marian Janes on Linkedin or post a reply here