02 Dec On pink slips, deodorant, and faking it ‘til you make it
I remember it like it was yesterday: There I was, sitting in my dad’s car, wearing my brand new power suit from The Limited. It was my first time being invited along to meet a customer, and all I could smell was my dad’s Speed Stick. As we drove along I90, he shared some hard-won words of wisdom with me, explaining that if I wanted to be a good salesperson, I had to learn to be a good listener first.
What landed me in sales training with my father was the same tragic event that affected so many in 2001. When 9/11 hit, I was forced to say goodbye to my beloved marketing job at a trade show company (where I learned a ton from my wonderful boss, Jerry Goldstone). Thankfully, I was handed a six-month severance package along with my pink slip. Business at MMD was booming at that point, so my plan was to work there for free until I found another marketing job I was excited about.
At MMD, I would just pop in and out of the office and would look for ways I could help. I was given complete freedom to do whatever I wanted creatively, which was an amazing gift. The first suggestion I made was that MMD should have a website, so on June 28th, 2001, I created it myself, using Microsoft FrontPage. Needless to say, it was horrible, but MMD had one before any other supplier in their industry.
I brought a lot of skills to MMD, but selling construction supplies was not in my wheelhouse. I didn’t understand much about the construction business in general, let alone what the heck they were doing out there with their sticks and paint. To this day, I’m a horrible salesperson, but I figure I have another 40 years to try and get better.
So there I was, riding around with my dad in his weird-colored Saab for three months while we visited customers. If we made it past the administrative assistants (AKA “Gate Keepers”, as my dad called them), we had worked a miracle. Most of the time I didn’t say a word. I always felt like they were thinking, “Oh geez – the boss’s kid. Here we go with another second generation family member ruining the company,” or, “what the heck is a woman doing in this business?” or, “She’s probably not that bright.”
Luckily my dad never saw me as “a woman” in this business. He saw me as someone who was smart enough to catch on quick. #thanksdad
Everywhere we went on these appointments of ours, people told me what a great salesman my dad was. The pressure was incredible; I knew I could never be as engaging or charismatic as he was. The more I tried, the more I belly flopped, until I finally decided I would just be me, and have a natural conversation with each customer. I still use this strategy today, and so far, it’s worked pretty well, even if it’s not exactly “strategic.”
My mom was always behind the scenes at MMD, handling the financials of the company and interacting with customers by phone (as well as greeting the customers who would come in to pick up their orders). She would talk me off the ledge when I didn’t think I could do the job. She also reassured me that there are customers worth firing, on the odd occasion when one of them would act inappropriately.
In the office my mom hired people, rewarded them for a job well done, and rewarded herself at the end of the year if she felt like she had done a good job. She taught me to how to treat employees well, recognizing them for their efforts and rewarding them based on small victories.
Today, the scent in the car is Lady Speed Stick, because I’m on my own now. After that initial period of working for MMD for free, I officially became an employee. For two years, I was a road warrior who visited customer after customer. It was hard (like, Death of a Salesman hard). My job consisted of driving to Munster Indiana, Madison Wisconsin, the Quad Cities, and everywhere in-between.
I got kicked out of offices, was snubbed by administrators, drank with the boys at association meetings, and stayed at Fairmont Suites all over the place. I’m so grateful this is not my single role at the company anymore, because I really like my bed at home. Those two years were hell, but they definitely helped me to understand the customers, purchasing process, locations, and how to meet everyone’s needs.
I joined the company at a time that could be equated to the Dot Com Boom, so things were absolutely wonderful, and everyone was making money. Little did we know the housing market crisis was just around the corner. This impacted the business, and so many of our customers’ small businesses and personal livelihoods.
I officially became the owner of MMD in 2009. My parents haven’t been a part of the business since then. Reflecting back on my journey (the rides in the car with my dad, crying on the phone to my mom, and feeling guilty about drinking too much at industry meetings), I can’t wait to see what the next 10 years has in store. Something tells me it’s going to be about finding ways our little company can have a BIG positive effect in our community, and beyond.
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