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 and 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!