I've never had the chance to meet Carl Little in person, however Carl has been a long time member of the Print4Pay Hotel. Over the years I've been able to glean valuable knowledge from Carl with his posts on our forums. At the end of the blog we'll have the LinkedIn profile for Carl if you'd like to reach out to him. You could also post a response here if you like.
How did you find your way to the copier industry?
After graduating college in 1974 from a small college in Kansas & playing football, I decided that my career would be coaching high school & college football which I did for 7 years. The whole coaching staff was fired one day & I found myself out of work.
There was an article written about me in the Topeka newspaper on the front page of the sports section about me looking for a coaching job & I got a lot of calls, one of them was from Xerox. They said they’d had great success with coaches & teachers as sales people for our company, and I said “Be a salesperson? I don’t even like salespeople!”
They were smart enough to have me talk to a former coach who was working in sales for Xerox, and he sold me on coming to work for Xerox as a summer job & if didn’t work out then I could go and coach in the fall some place. It worked out, I made too much money & couldn’t afford to go back into coaching so I stayed at Xerox.
What company & manufacturer did you start with? What was your title & what year did you start?
I started with Xerox in 1979 as a down the street sales rep basically covering Lawrence, KS with not many machines in the field.
If you worked for a dealer, please tell us what brands you sold & why that was your favorite.
I worked for Xerox for 2 years & my favorite machine was the Xerox 2300 because it was small enough that I could almost carry it myself to my appointments and do demos for potential clients. One day I sold 2 of them & promised a delivery by Friday which was pretty much impossible to deliver a machine that quickly from Xerox. I took my company station wagon & drove to Kansas City and put one machine on a gurney inside the car, and strapped another one to the top of the car, then drove back to Lawrence to install both of those that I had just sold. On my way back to Lawrence, my boss (and the best boss I ever had, Jack Goodson) called me on my shoebox sized cell phone & asked me what I was doing. And I said I am delivering 2 machines that I sold in Lawrence & I’ll be back to the office tonight with a check for $20,000. And he said you come directly to my office when you get back because you can’t put machines on top of cars while working for Xerox. So I went to his office & said “Do you want this $20k or not?” And he said “Yes, but if you ever do that again I will have to fire you.” He then asked how I got the machine on the car to begin with, to which I replied that I paid someone $20 to help & I would expense it.
What was the percentage of copier salesmen that made it past 2 years & what made them last long or not so long?
I was fortunate to be in a training class with some pretty powerful people including Jim Quesenberry who was a copier dealer in Springfield, MO for over 25 years. Karen Spencer was in that class who was also with Xerox for 31 years & Rick Taylor who is now the president & CEO of Konica Minolta US, and then there was me, the former football coach who just knew how to work hard. The people that didn’t make it simply didn’t put in the effort to make calls every day & didn’t understand how hard it was to make sales & thus weren’t successful because they didn’t do the legwork.
What did you like most about your job in the 70’s?
I liked the flexibility of being able to do what I wanted & needed to do during the day. Calling on potential clients was fun for me, I enjoyed meeting new people, learning about their business, and putting a plan together to help them manage their business better with our equipment. Being recruited away by Savin from Xerox was a game changer in my career because I had the opportunity to work with a Japanese manufacturer trying to break into the US market.
What did you dislike the most about your job in the 70’s?
I became a dealer sales manager for Savin corporation calling on dealers in Central & West Texas and working for Woody Giezentanner. Calling on dealers to help them sell more of our product was great but traveling 4 nights a week was tough on myself & my young family. I ended up making a decision to do something different. Something different was buying a small dealership in Corpus Christi, moving my young family there, and taking on the new role of owning a copier dealership.
What was the compensation plan like? Was there a salary, commissions or a mix of both?
The money at Xerox was really good because I had come from the coaching world where the money was terrible. The money at Savin was better & then the money running our dealership was terrible because we paid our people first, our bills second, and whatever was left we took home. For a couple of years there was nothing to take.
How did you go about finding new business? What was your favorite way of doing it & why?
As a territory rep for Xerox, making 40-50 cold call door knocks a day was not unusual. While working for Savin as a dealer sales manager, teaching people to make those number of calls a day was important & those that did it were successful and those who didn’t were not. It was strictly a numbers game.
Owning our own business in south Texas, I was pretty much the only sales rep for a few years, and I remember going home for lunch one day and telling my wife I didn’t think we would make it in south Texas. To which she said “You’ve moved me twice, each time further away from my family, so I suggest you eat your sandwich & get back out there because you are going to make this work, you have no choice.” So I went back to the office & loaded 2 machines in the back of the van and made a deal with myself that I wasn’t going back home until I sold them for cash that day. I sold them both that day & I was happy, and that’s how I sold machines going forward and that is how we built our in south Texas. Needless to say, I stopped going home for lunch.
What was the first sales book that you read & what did you take away from it?
The first book I read was called “Iacocca: An Autobiography” written by Lee Iacocca who was the then CEO of Chrysler Corporation. I took away that you have to be creative in business & you have to be professionally persistent which means you can’t take no for an answer. That was a time when Iacocca was very popular & we gave away lots of hard copy books of his if people would come to our office & take a look at the equipment we were selling.
Can you tell us a couple of funny stories about selling copiers in the 70’s?
My first day in the field by myself while working for Xerox, I was told by my manager to go out and make 30 calls & bring back 30 business cards with the dates of service contract renewals written on the back. I got to Lawrence, KS around 7:30 that morning with plans to make my first call at 8:00, and I made my first call that morning to a Veterinary Clinic & I was chatting with the receptionist for a few minutes when the doctor came around the corner and threw me out of his office and told me not to return, so I left. I went back to the park where I was sitting & made a decision that I wasn’t going to do this for a living, the rejection was to hard so I was going to quit. So I called my girlfriend & invited her to lunch and she said “Lunch starts at 11:30, it’s only 8:30 so I will see you at the restaurant then.” As we were having lunch, the same doctor who had thrown me out of his office that morning walked in for his lunch. He saw me, approached our table & said “I owe you an apology. Last night my wife of 30 years told me she wanted a divorce & you were the first person I saw and so I lashed out at you & you didn’t deserve that. Come & see me this afternoon, I need a new copier.”
What is the biggest problem you see facing the industry today?
The biggest problem I see is that print & copy volumes are down, pricing is way too cheap, and the competition is just dumping product into the marketplace at any cost they can get without regard for quality in performance & reasonable profit margins.
If you had to would you do it all over again? If so, what would you change?
This is my 40th year in the office equipment business & I have been very blessed to work with & for some great people, and also able to own 4 companies that we bought, built & sold with great people that helped us do that. From great manufacturers to great employees to great bankers, accountants & lawyers which allowed us to be the best we could for our clients & in turn they were very loyal to us because of those things.
What is one piece of knowledge that you would like to share with new reps entering our industry?
I would offer that this is a blue collar, hard work, integrity built industry, and if you work your butt off & do it every single day, you can make a lot of money. I would suggest you work for a great company, put in the work, be proactive with networking, and do not be afraid to ask the client if you have done enough to earn their business.