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Ray Was No “Norma Rae” He Understood Success

Last time we looked at Joe and the key to success. How he went from sweeping floors to plant manager in a few short years. Today we will look at Ray. As told by Dennis Miller:

It’s not Fair! No SALESMAN should make that kind of money

I started my career as an accountant for a nationwide distributor of industrial chemicals. Yes, a clerical job. My boss was named Ray, and he was the vice president of the largest region in the company.

One of my early responsibilities was payroll for both hourly and salaried employees, including Ray. I knew how much money everyone made. We would prepare the payroll checks, and I would sign them and then take them to Ray as they required two signatures.

Success SalesI quickly discovered that one of the salespeople in the Peoria branch was very well paid, a huge amount by my standards, and even more than his direct branch manager. I recall someone in our department commented in a venomous tone: “No SALESMAN should make that kind of money. That’s not fair!”

When I took a stack of checks into Ray’s office, I asked him how it was possible for a salesman to actually make more money than his boss. It turned into one of those treasured conversations that affected the rest of my life.

His first comment was, “I wish we could find a hundred more like him. I would love to pay every one of our salespeople that kind of money.”

I was dumbfounded. Ray went on to explain that the salespeople were paid commission based on their gross profit contribution to their branch. The particular salesman in question had started in a small territory, worked hard, and now he was responsible for over one-third of the entire branch’s gross profit, even though they employed five salespeople.

Ray then said, “Don’t fret over what we pay him; look at the money he’s bringing in for the company. If we had a hundred more as good as he is, imagine how much money our company would make.”

I thought for a minute and asked, “If we paid him 75% of what he currently is making, do you think he would quit his job?” Ray showed a great deal of patience as he explained that this was a very competitive business. If we didn’t pay him that kind of money, our competition would quickly hire him away, and he would take most of his good customers with him. He also pointed out that we really do not determine how much money he makes; like all the salespeople on the team, he determined his own earnings by how much he sold.

By then it was now well past 5:00 PM, and the clerical staff had gone home. I had to wait around until Ray finished signing all the payroll checks. He liked to chat in those relaxed, after-hours moments when the machines were turned off and the phones stopped ringing. Somehow he sensed what I was thinking: These salespeople were all making a whole lot more than the accounting people.

He continued to say:

“Denny, sales is the fairest profession in the world. It makes no difference how much education you have, what your ethnic background is, or where you are from. It pays on one thing, results. If you get the job done, you get paid. The better you do your job, the more money you make.”

Ray added that they’d offered the salesman in question a promotion, but he’d turned it down. He loved what he was doing and did not want a pay cut.

Then Ray pulled out an article from a business magazine. It was about a survey of the top 500 US corporations showing that 62% of the top management had, at one point in their career, some real sales and marketing experience. I asked Ray why he thought that number was so high.

He said that many people don’t realize just how competitive business works in a free market. Competition is stiff. There are always competitors trying to improve their products, or their production methods to lower their cost. They want to take away your customers. Understanding how to thrive in a competitive marketplace is mandatory if you want your business to survive. That cannot be taught in a classroom; you have to experience it in the marketplace, and salespeople have a front-row seat.

Ray said that you could make more money quickly in sales than in any other part of the business. If you wanted to move up the corporate ladder, a successful track record was a huge plus. He didn’t want to hurt my feelings, but he could hire good accountants anytime. They were a dime a dozen. Finding a good salesperson was a much bigger challenge, and you had to pay them well to keep them.

Within a month, the job of credit manager opened up, and I jumped at it. I wanted to learn what it was like to visit customers and see how our products were used. Not long after that, I abandoned accounting altogether and jumped into sales. I never looked back.

Not too many years later, I ended up in the sales training business. That became my career for the next 35 years. I trained thousands of professional salespeople all over the world, serving over 40 of the top 500 US corporations.

Salespeople fall into two different categories, industrial sales and consumer sales. Industrial salespeople have a limited number of customers and must continue to sell their goods and services regularly. Repeat business is the name of the game. Integrity is critical to their success; without it, you’re out of the game quickly.

The same holds true for salespeople in the consumer marketplace. For a salesperson to make a lot of money in that competitive arena, they must rely on referrals. Ripping off customers makes for a short career.

To piggyback on Ray’s lessons, sales is the best way I know to truly learn about business. It is the fairest profession out there. The more you sell, the more valuable you are to your employer. And you’re paid accordingly.

If a young person were to ask me about choosing a college major, I would tell him to get a technical degree. That’s your entry ticket. But remember, engineers, like accountants, are a dime a dozen. While you may start out with a job and a decent salary, look at the salary for an engineer with ten years’ experience who’s still doing technical work. It’s not that much different.

During my career, I had many top-name consulting engineering firms as clients. The top-paid engineers were the ones who learned how to sell and interact with clients. Oh, they had titles like “Business Development Manager,” but don’t let that fool you. They were in sales and made a darn good living. They brought in revenue-creating jobs and then passed off the technical work to the young engineers in the back room.

A good engineer who can work with clients can keep dozens, if not hundreds of other engineers employed. Revenue generators do not get laid off.

I was fortunate as a young man to have Joe and Ray come along at critical junctions in my life. They taught me lessons I never could have learned in college.

If you are a recent graduate and are un(der)employed, here is your challenge.  Particularly here in Florida, seniors go out to dinner several nights per week. A good number of the folks waiting on tables are recent college graduates who grabbed what they thought was the only job they could find.

One young man told me the industry he wanted to work in and mentioned he was hoping a job in his field would become available soon. There is a local company in his chosen industry, and I asked him if they had any job openings of any type. He said, “Oh yeah, but I don’t want them. They pay less than waiting tables.”

I felt my wife kicking me under the table, warning me not to come unglued. I wanted to ask him several questions. Why was he screwing around waiting tables? Did he want to wait until he was 30 before starting his career? What made him think that there weren’t 200-300 other folks waiting tables looking for that very job?

Let me be blunt. The job market is based on the law of supply and demand. If there were a great demand for jobs in your educational field, you would already have one. There is an oversupply of candidates, and demand is low. Waiting for things to “open up” is dangerously shortsighted. You may be well into your 30s before demand in your field opens back up.

How long do you want to hang out waiting tables? Unless you want to make your career in the restaurant business, you are wasting your time.

What the young man failed to understand was that if he got a job – any job – at the local company he wanted to work for, he could do two things. First, do a good job of whatever he was hired to do. Second, make it known to the personnel department that he really would like to earn a shot at a job in his field and that he’d like to be considered when it became available.

If you’re waiting for your dream job to appear in the “Wanted” ads, you’re going to be waiting a very long time. That job won’t be on Craigslist either; the guy sweeping the floors or handing out the mail beat you to it.

There are differences between a job and a career. One of them is commitment. Find an industry you think you will love, one you can see yourself enjoying for the next several years. Then do whatever it takes to get a job in that field, even if it’s sweeping the floors like Joe. Sure, you want to get along with people, but dare to be different. Follow the advice Joe gave me years ago; those principles still work today.

I want to address a sales career in particular. It’s difficult to find a sales job because they want to hire someone experienced. How can you get it? Shoot for an inside sales job where you talk to customers and take orders. Get to know the customers and their needs. Learn your company’s products and how your customers use them.

Most salespeople get their first big break by being promoted from within to the outside sales territories. Learn the business and work with your customers. Then, as Ray told me, “Make yourself so valuable, they have to pay you well to keep you.”

When you look at the current Fortune 500 list of wealthy people, a surprising number are quite young, including a certain young “hoodie” wearing gentleman who started Facebook. I can guarantee you, none of these folks waited around for things to open up. They had more important things to do.

Missed Part 1?  See: Although He Swept Floors Joe Knew the Key to Success

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About the Author:

Dennis Miller is the editor of Money Forever. At Money Forever, I try to explain things just as I would to a friend over the kitchen table. Many folks have accumulated a good nest egg but don’t have the financial background to confidently manage it. That’s where we come in. Our mission is to build a great Money Forever portfolio, conservative but ambitious enough to help us live out a happy, well-funded retirement.

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