It's a glamorous life isn't it? Well a bit of a curates egg actually. It's certainly a roller coaster ride. That project you were assured you had in the bag suddenly goes quiet. No one answers your calls. Is the project dead or has someone else pipped you at the post? Ask anyone in sales and it's a familiar tale. The customer spreads his enquiry far and wide and in so doing uses the field sales engineer as a free consultancy service or occasionally a spy, to find out what his competition is up to. Whizzing round the country (and some time the globe), meeting all manner of people and all types of business, no, the life of a Field Sales Engineer is never dull…
Blinded by the money
I recall an instance some years ago where a customer came to us with an unexpectedly large order, out of the blue. Despite the tight timeframe, we pulled out all the stops and managed to build their custom product on schedule. Having shipped more than half the order, many tens of expensive systems, we suddenly received the directive "hold everything".
Our customer’s sales rep, who had brought in all the new business, had vanished. Caught up in the euphoria of receiving this substantial order, our customer’s management team had failed to check the validity of the purchaser’s PO. It transpired two days before quarterly sales commissions were due to be paid that it was a scam and the ‘sales rep’ had in fact faked the PO number.
The resulting criminal prosecution established the rep had tried the scam before but the affected companies has hushed it up rather than face the public embarrassment. It just goes to show, you can’t be too careful!
Never a dull day
There is no doubt life on the road can be exciting. I remember visiting a well known aircraft component manufacture for an initial meeting with a buyer. The meeting had been scheduled for some time and I was greeted courteously and invited to start my sales pitch. After a few seconds it was clear that the buyer’s attention was elsewhere. Soliciting any sort of feedback was akin to the proverbial ‘blood from a stone’.
Have I lost my touch, I thought? What could I have done to upset him so early into my pitch? Had I spelt their company name incorrectly on the opening slide? Nothing seemed obvious. After a few tortuous minutes, my presentation was interrupted by the deafening sound of an aircraft engine coming from the car park. Responding to my anxious frown, my host interjected, "we are having a display by a Harrier Jump Jet. Would you like to take a look?". Equally keen to witness the spectacle and move on from the painful pitch, I eagerly accepted and we adjourned to the car park. For the next twenty minutes we were treated to a mesmerising close quarter flying display showcasing this truly wonderful aircraft. The display over, we returned to our meeting, and proceeded to have an extremely fruitful sales discussion. It seemed I hadn’t lost my touch after all; it was just that I couldn’t compete against a Harrier Jump Jet!
No, there is a never a dull day when I am out on the road. My job has given me access to some pretty unusual locations. Whether it is in the depths of a nuclear bunker, the vast network of London Underground, toll booths on some of Europe’s busiest motorways or the miles of tunnel making up the Hadron Collider in France, I’ve experienced it all. It makes my trips to the TV studio where our equipment was being used to control advert injection into live broadcast feeds seem mundane!
Same same but different
When people ask me what I do, the simple response is ‘I sell technology’, more often than not; it is the same technology each time. What keeps it interesting is the fascinating variety of applications people find for it…
Not another Little Chef!
The job is not for everyone though, you can’t escape the travelling. Despite the advances in technology and communications, including the development of video conferencing, nothing quite replaces the personal visit. After more than 30 years of travelling I still get a buzz from discussing a new project face to face, whether it just down the road or on the other side of the world…
What goes on at a trade show, stays at a trade show
Don’t forget the trade shows. These play a central role in every salesperson’s annual calendar. They have certainly provided the backdrop for some of the more notable moments in my career. From missed flights, getting lost in a host of European cities to writing off hire cars and missing equipment, a trade show allows you to experience the whole gamut of human emotion in the space a few days…
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