- Ford Escort
- Impakt stationery
- Xerox demos
- Sales but no commission
- Watering holes
- Green Shield stamps
- First family foreign holiday – Estartit
Things went a little quiet in the cash register business after decimalisation and I was restless to get some formal sales and marketing training. In those days Lever Bros (who had robbed me of a win on the horses!), Pedigree Petfoods (I quite like pets but didn’t want to spend my life serving them their mush) and Rank Xerox were the only companies to have a large field salesforce and be renowned for great training (IBM joined the list later). Successfully working with them improved your CV. I applied for and got a job with Rank Xerox. One huge benefit of the move was that I received a company car, a white Ford Escort, and Jane took over the Traveller.
Xerox training was also a commercially-sold package (PSS) – Professional Selling Skills – that was sold to other external organisations. (It is still offered as an on-line course from €2,790). All the newbies were assembled at the Great Portland Street London training facility. They were an interesting bunch, many of them had joined from the ‘CP’ business, selling carbon paper – or rather earning high commissions for convincing receptionists, secretaries or office managers to sign up for more carbon paper than their employers could use in a lifetime. This turned out to be good grounding as Xerox copiers and duplicators were rented, and the trick was getting a start-up product (usually the Xerox 660) into a company. Once it was installed most users would then routinely take at least one more copy than they needed, just in case. Then there were usually club and society members on staff who would bring in their choral society or dramatic society materials to copy on the firm’s copier, and usage expanded exponentially.
I came out top on the August-1971 course and won an ‘Outstanding Achievement Award’ – a pewter mug that still sits on my desk today as a pen/pencil and, later, a reading-glasses holder.
We were awarded small territories and received a monthly print-out of all the equipment active on our patch, showing rental rates and the monthly number of copies used. We could track usage and watch as an organisation that had never before had a copier grew its volumes. We had bigger faster machines for higher rentals, priced to achieve a lower cost/copy. Once the next copier’s threshold was reached we could sell-up, knowing that its speed and convenience would blossom into their using even more copies. If a unit was static we offered various system ideas – one popular one was an acetate overlay that could copy a customer account card (not many were computerised back then), and the overlay turned it into a month-end statement.
Another volume builder was Impakt stationery.
ASIDE: I was a tad surprised that Impakt stationery appears to have disappeared. I could find very little about it on the net today or even examples of their work. The closest I could find was the Christmas example below. They were preprinted sheets with highly colourful cartoonlike images or impactful colourful text into which could be copied a sales mailer, motivational message…
My favourite was the one I used to combat those customers who refused an appointment. It had two medieval armies drawn up facing off, clearly ready to enjoin battle. Set back from one line was one leader and his lieutenant and just behind them was a salesman with a machine-gun on a tripod. The leader is saying ‘Can’t he see that I’m busy?’
Xerox used Impakt stationery internally too. Every week they would mail a ‘POW sheet’ to our homes showing every salesperson in the branch office. It was mailed to your home assuming you would be on the road before the post arrived and your wife could look at it and become an unsalaried motivator.
The week at Great Portland Street was a very focused training exercise with many varied sessions on PSS and invariably we had overnight group tasks. Often these led to role plays the next day. I recall one where we had to act out a sales call to illustrate the techniques we had been taught. We had a receptionist whom we called Miss Lead, because she would provide false information that the sales call would reveal and overcome. The individual playing the receptionist ad-libbed the opening remark, ‘Hello Handsome!’ and five of us sat trying to come up with a riposte, when in an actual situation we each would have instinctively fired something back. We ended up changing the comment to relieve us from seeking a solution.
I mentioned that Sweda cash registers were heavy and demanded physical effort on dems. The Xerox 660 was worse; it required two sales people to carry it in – on a stretcher. I always considered this as sending out something of the wrong message, as if it was infirm.
We organised dem blitzes where the whole branch descended on a patch and in twos we set out to achieve and effect demos. One of the 660’s inherent problems was that it took eight minutes to warm up from cold. We resorted to taking out the toner cartridge and placing it on the dashboard with the heating turned up to maximum, whatever the weather. At the demo it would then start up just a little more quickly, as we cooled down.
The copiers were of course black on white, but one trick we learned at Great Portland Street was to load the paper tray with a pink sheet five sheets down. Carefully counting our dem usage, we would whip out a page of the FT to make the fifth copy and out would come a pink sheet as its copy of the newspaper. Some clients never quite worked that one out.
Our selling benefit was that we used plain paper copiers and duplicators – no chemical processes, no special papers and of course there was no capital cost. The rule on competition is to ‘know it, respect it and forget it’. Present product advantages, don’t mention the competition and certainly never decry it; in part because the client may never have heard of them, but also mud sticks in a slanging match.
Rank Xerox systemised this by producing a Facts ring binder. Issued it monthly, it detailed every other copier on the British market. It showed the product and objectively detailed its benefits and disadvantages compared to our various products. It provided a comparison of price/copy at different volume levels. The authors kept it honest and they did not shirk from showing when we were less competitive. But we were also fully briefed on our qualitative benefits to combat each competitor.
Xerox used a Kalamazoo system to define territories that were considered of equal commercial potential. This meant some London salespeople had just one building or just part of one major organisation. I was allocated Gloucester, Stroud and half of Cheltenham. I’m convinced that William Blake’s ‘dark satanic mills’ must have referred to Stroud, most of my clients were one-man bands set up in breezy corners of derelict mills. But I did have Gloucester’s Hucclecote Trading Estate in Cheltenham, with Eagle Star insurance and a CEGB regional centre, as regulars for coffee, upgrades and adopting any new kit.
On being allocated a territory you were given several lever-arch files that had at least one sheet for every business identified on the patch. So, we had been properly trained, we knew our product, we knew our competition and we had good data on our patch – how could we possibly fail?
One way was when the previous salesperson knew a change of patch was coming, he could flood the patch with bad installations. He would put in a copier and offset the first few month’s costs by supplying the client illicitly with free reams of paper, ‘liberated’ from Xerox’s stores. You would therefore arrive on your new patch and inherit these. Most clients would cancel when asked to pay the true full price for the system.
In December 1971 I won prizes for selling more than anyone else in the branch; it was at the launch of a new product (the 7000, a large faster duplicator with document feed and sorter/collator). That month’s series of POW sheets made for fantastic reading, but I earned next-to-nothing as the new units I added to my patch ‘establishment’ were more than offset by the dodgy deals that I inherited and lost.
At this stage there were some 800 salespeople in the UK, a similar number of engineers and a large number of female customer relation officers (CROs). In any large town there was usually a designated ‘Xerox’ café, a place where, if you stopped for lunch or a coffee, you could reasonably expect to meet up with fellow Xeroids. There was a great deal of what today would be called ‘bants’ and very little exchange of intelligence (see above under Sweda how I had previously worked with other non-competitive firms’ salespeople).
There was also a lot of jockeying with orders taken towards the end of a month. You wanted to be top that month and the pressure was on to lodge these late deals. However, if you could be top and still keep a deal in your pocket for the following month, it gave you a nice head-start.
There was also huge interbranch rivalry, particularly Bristol versus Cardiff. We staged a rugby match between branches and fielded a young guy who worked part-time in our warehouse who played for Gloucester RFC. He was brilliant. While the rest of us ran through the mud he raced across it; he even dropped a goal from the touchline. The return match had the Cardiff branch find tenuous reasons to field most of the current Llanelli side!
ASIDE: Just before I joined Xerox, they held a Green Shield Stamp sales contest. Two Xerox guys won enough books of stamps to redeem for a Ford Capri!
This brings to mind an incident with Sweda. A flood in Bedminster was exacerbated by a bus driving down the high street at pace. Its bow-wave caved in a Tesco’s front window and the Sweda registers were pushed off their checkouts to lie under water for several days. On top of these registers were Green Shield stamp dispensers. Back at base we salvaged rolls of the stamps that had been submerged and divvied them up. We soaked ours in the bath, peeled them off and pasted them into redemption books –certainly not enough for a Capri but Sarah did have a new pushchair!
First family foreign holiday
One very strange incident occurred when we agreed to take our family holiday with another guy working in Xerox’s Bristol branch and his family.
This was our first overseas trip as a family We visited Estartit on the Costa Brava in a rented apartment near the beach. We agreed to take it in turns to buy the essentials and apart from two nights when we would hire a babysitter, we agreed to take it in turns going out either until 20:00 or after. It seemed to be a fine scheme.
We tended to be up earlier than them and got to the beach and hired a couple of sunbeds. When they joined us later his wife would grab my chair as soon as I moved, and when we left for lunch he would grab Jane’s bed. They refused to buy their kids ice-creams so we had to decide whether to deprive ours as well or feel guilty as his children watched our enjoying theirs.
We made sure we bought the basics promptly when it was our turn but they didn’t and their definition of basics was also very different from ours.
When they had the early turn in the evening they were invariably late back and we were left hanging with four children.
Immediately after our return to England, he took out a second mortgage on their home, bought a sports car and promptly left his wife and young family! Obviously we had been experiencing their marriage’s death throes. We learned later that this is the basis for regular squabbles on shared holidays – and have been careful since!