Non Sequitur Fridays

Sales, like rock & roll, will never die

This post is part of our Non Sequitur Fridays series, which will feature a different Wistia team member's take on a non-Wistia-related topic each week. It's like our "employee of the month" but less "of the month"-y. Adam Zais is VP of Business Development at Wistia. Last time, he wrote about filmmaking in high school.

News flash: the width of men's neckties expands and contracts in a predictable cycle. Of course, designers, retailers, and fashion magazines like to make it sound like they just thought up the idea that skinny cravates are new and fresh and inspired.

Skinny tie

"Inbound" is this season's skinny tie. People too numerous to count are thinking and writing about this topic, from the hugely visible and popular Seth Godin (Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends and Friends into Customers) to someone I know personally, Frank Belzer (Sales Shift). I like what they both have to say, and they say it well. And I agree with them: traditional marketing and sales models need to change. Fast! I'm very glad that they've contributed to this important discussion. But, and I say this with not a single iota of disrespect, I feel that they both have tapped into things that have been thought and said before, more than I feel that they're saying something entirely new and fresh and inspired.

Oh, you want proof? Look no further back in history than to the year 1936 and the publication of Dale Carnegie's book How to Make Friends and Influence People. True, some of the writing style is, well, just "so five-minutes-ago." My old ties look pretty silly today, too. So, despite differences in writing style, use of gender, and vocabulary, the central thesis of the book not only has stood the test of time, it could easily have been written by Godin or Belzer.

I submit that this is because Carnegie was talking about something that is fundamentally and universally true, and not a fashionable business idea or trend. Both Godin and Belzer write that the availability of useful information, and access to it, has dramatically tipped the balance of power in favor of buyers in the age of the Internet. But that's beside the point. Success in marketing and sales isn't about power or control of information, any more than it is about "outbound" or "inbound." Rather, the secret to being successful in marketing and sales has been staring us in the face all along.

Where I Learn this From One of the Best, My Father

My dad ran an engineer-to-order manufacturing company most of his life. The company, at its peak, was about a $60 million operation. And he used to take me to work on occasion, which I dearly loved.

At first, I just really liked the forklift trucks out on the factory floor. But as I got older, I became really interested in the drafting department. Mind you, this was in the days before CAD systems. I admit it, I thought the electric pencil erasers were the bomb! C'mon, I was, like, twelve! Anyway, I used to ask my dad all the time about how the business functioned. I found it fascinating. I didn't realize this at the time, but my dad's business functioned successfully because they followed sales and marketing principles that would now be described by terms like inbound marketing, permission marketing, and content marketing.

In a nutshell, my dad knew that his company could only be successful if the entire organization was aligned such that every person intimately knew how their job connected to every other person's job and how everything they did was connected to the buyer and the shared goals of the company. Being exposed to how my dad ran his company laid the foundation for everything I've subsequently done in my sales and marketing career. And, not surprisingly, how we do it here at Wistia. If I had to boil it down to a couple bullet points:

  • Don't talk, listen.
  • If you talk, you are either teaching, or asking questions so you can learn.
  • The reason for the conversation is for buyer to find out if you have what they want, and whether they want to get it from you.
  • Never lie, exaggerate, cheat, or say you know something you don't.
  • You are not alone and you can't do everything yourself - ask for help if you need it, and always offer to help.


Where I Learn More From One of the Best, Vern Getman

My first job out of college was at a lighting fixture manufacturer based in New Jersey. I was hired as an inside sales rep. We had an office environment in the front and a factory in the back. My job was to work with outside rep organizations who called on electrical distributors that carried our line of products.

One of these guys was Vern Getman, who covered upstate NY from Albany to Buffalo. He had been in the business forever and, in the parlance of today, was absolutely killing it! And it was an organization consisting of only himself and his wife. He routinely outsold other rep organizations with far larger numbers of reps and, on paper, richer territories. He was a legend around the company. One of the rites of passage for every inside sales guy was to spend a week with Vern. So, after getting my bearings and learning the biz a bit, it was time for me to take my turn.

The way this worked was that I drove up to Vern's house on a Sunday evening. Vern and his wife hosted each of us on a pull-out couch in their home. A bit unusual, but I didn't have enough experience at the time to see it this way. Of course, this was all part of Vern's plan to better size me up. I just thought they were being super nice and hospitable.

So we get up on Monday morning to start the week. At 4:30 am (!) Mrs. G. has prepared breakfast and packed a huge cooler full of sandwiches and drinks for the week. Seriously. We pile into Vern's car - an absolutely huge late-60s Mercury - and set off for our first call. Oh, by the way, ol' Vern has a unique style - a "high-and-tight" standard Army-issue flattop haircut and a uniform: black suit, white shirt, and a red clip-on bow tie. I kid you not. In fact, he has a box of bow ties in the trunk. One gets dirty, he tosses it and gets a new one.

Bow tie

He orders by the gross. He hasn't worn anything different for work in nearly forty years. His business card has a little caricature of him and his red bow tie. His card says, "Getman Sales, just ask the guy in the red bow tie." Every stop we make, it's the same thing. We walk in and everyone greets him with a smile and a big collective shout of, “VERN!”

He knows everybody's name. If there's a new employee who he doesn't know, he makes a point of stopping and chatting with them, learning their name, asking about their life and congratulating them on their new job and giving them a nice word of encouragement. And he gives them his card and a bow tie. Even if they're female and have zero intention of ever wearing it. They only cost him like thirty cents each but, as he says, the memory of getting one's first Getman bow tie is priceless.

Bear in mind that we're calling on electrical distributors. They sell stuff to electricians and building contractors. They're wearing Carhartt work pants or overalls, and flannel shirts and stuff. And there's Vern in his black suit, holding court and roaming through the stockroom, looking for low inventory and checking on how much of the competitor's stuff the supply counter is selling, and so on.

Basically, he comes up with the order and brings it to the owner or manager to sign. He never gets resistance or questions about his judgement of what the guy orders. He asks only about the local business climate, housing starts, and so on. He talks about new stuff coming from the factory, but only if asked by the customer. Or as a seemingly off-hand remark, as part of shooting the shit about how business is going for the customer. The orders he gets are strong, but they're not padded… which he could easily do. He knows that's not only wrong and a violation of the serious trust he's built up over the years, but it's also not in his best interest long-term. He simply checks every possible SKU, not just the high-margin stuff or fast-moving inventory.

And he's always asking how he can help in any way. This goes on for a solid week. First calls at some supply house at 6:30 or so, last call twelve hours later. Same routine. At the end of the week, he's got scores of order sheets and he knows that there he got everything there was to get, he's solidified his reputation and left the customer happy. I'm exhausted, and I'm 22; he's forty years older than me - truly amazing! And seriously humbling.

Vern was an old-school outbounder. But doing what Vern does has nothing to do with what most people traditionally think of as sales. He thinks of the customers in his territory as his audience, his tribe, his friends. There's some serious trust, collaboration, and permission going on here.

Vern was deeply embedded in the customer's business, he was a trusted partner - far more so than the reps from his competition. The people in his audience have essentially outsourced the buying to Vern, the sales rep, because he was more helpful, more trustworthy, and more engaged than the others.

Far too many people in both marketing and sales are in the dark about how to deal with today's buyer. But Vern would be perfectly at home today's inbound world. And he'd still be killing it!

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