A good friend of mine once said that a conference is “an organized way of postponing a decision.” I have stood in front of many a booth during the last 33 years and questioned why I was there. Whether it was at the Retail Industry Leaders Association, the National Retail Federation, the Food Marketing Institute, or the National Association of Chain Drug Stores conferences, my main concern was what to say about what I was selling.
I learned quite quickly that the object of a salesman is not to make sales but to make customers. I made a sale one day to the executive editor of LP Magazine when he was the vice president of loss prevention at Marshalls. It may have been the single greatest “sale” I have made in my career. That business interaction was the start of a lifelong friendship that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
Jim Lee and I went on to work together for three years at a company called The Network. Those three years selling awareness programs for Ed Stamper’s company were some of the most rewarding in my career. We were like Butch and Sundance running around the country trying to impress LP executives with our creativity. Jim was the creative director, and I was the salesman. Jim’s role was to invent creative concepts that would embolden sales associates to do the right thing. Mine was to say, “Press hard. The third copy is yours. You bought it!”
Those three years was great fun as Jim and I went from one major retailer to another merely amusing each other and incredulous that someone was paying us to do it. The fact that someone actually bought something from us was quite remarkable. I thought that despite having a quota that never went down, the profession of salesman was rather amazing.
Over the years, people would say to me that there must be tremendous pressure in sales. The pressure of making your quota is the defining factor in staying employed. I was in a job as a surface warfare officer in the US Navy for six years. When you are standing officer of the watch on a destroyer at midnight conducting plane guard duty behind an aircraft carrier during flight operations with 300 enlisted men dependent on your decision-making processes, that’s pressure. As a salesman, I realized that if I didn’t sell an EAS tag or a fixed camera, nobody was going to die.
The Roving Reporter
I am now contemplating changing my profession. I have witnessed my old friend and running mate, Jim Lee, at these same conferences wandering through the exhibit hall at a very civilized pace chatting up LP executives and vendors with great panache. If he is feeling pressure, he is camouflaging it well.
I decided to give the media consultant profession a try. I asked LP Magazine’s Managing Editor Jack Trlica for a favor. I asked for media credentials to the recent National Association of Convenience Stores show in Atlanta. After reviewing a plethora of technologies that were being displayed at the show, I chose to report on the Virtual Lineup technology from ClickIt. This company has a patented technology that (for lack of a better explanation) homogenizes your digital profile as you enter a store and gives you a unique, random-generated identification number that can be associated with video and track you whenever you visit that store.
I stood outside the ClickIt booth with my media badge and engaged people at the show. My initial approach with patrons was to inform them I was writing an article for LP Magazine on a breakthrough technology targeted for convenience stores and wanted their honest opinions. It was refreshing to find that they were more than willing to listen to the ClickIt executive team explain the product and engage in substantive dialogue on how it might truly be applicable in their genre of retailing.
Suddenly, I was not the salesman who was trying to sell them something. Instead, I was a mild-mannered reporter illuminating them about an opportunity that would make their stores safer, more secure, and more profitable. I felt good about myself; my self-worth soared to new heights. I thought, “So this is what Jim Lee feels like.”
No More a Pariah
In the past, I was a pariah who was trying to get someone to spend precious capital dollars on something they could not afford. In years gone by, they might have sprinkled anthrax on me and sprinted like Usain Bolt to the open bar at the back of the exhibit hall. I thought to myself that my old friend has found a way to be relevant without the stigma of people thinking they have to actually buy something from him.
I need to be a reporter. Do reporters have quotas? Maybe their expense accounts are not as big, but surely people like them. People want their name in print. I want to be Jim Lee. I want to be the William Randolph Hearst of the loss prevention world. Put me in, Coach; I can make good.