Significant Sales Experiences 1965 - 1998, May 29, 2002


My Greatest Sales Experience (May 29, 2002)  

My son Rob triggered this thought: 'What was your greatest sales experience Dad?' I answered with, 'That's a tough one Rob, let me think about that for awhile.' I immediately cracked open a new Word file and saved it on the desktop as MGSE.

On a rainy day in May following several weeks of procrastination, I've considered a few of these memories for your reading enjoyment. My former partner Duncan McGregor has agreed that this paper would be a benefit to any sales person plying their trade in the lithographing business; indeed, he offered his recollection of these events and added one more horror story to my thoughts regarding the one whose itch is contained in the following material. Please read on, and know, that I have not included his comments into this report, as much as I appreciated his added thoughts, these are my words entirely.

One early success was with my friend Charles and his partner Paul on the printing of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce's introduction of Chargex. [Chargex was the forerunner to Visa a fairly successful financial instrument.] The sale to the CIBC was in the vicinity of $30,000.00 in 1967: a huge amount of money and the largest project I had seen to-date; it represented about twenty-five percent of my total turnover for the year. The work was relatively simple by design and technical difficulty; it turned out perfectly. I celebrated the sale the night the order was confirmed with LW and a few drinks at a swanky joint in Toronto whose name now escapes me. LW was a beautiful girl that I knew just a little and was determined to know just a little more at the end of the night, but that's another story. As I write, I know that this was not my greatest sales experience but I liked thinking about the party afterward, so, let's move on.

Another sales experience more of a retention nature, rather than a new client or project, was when Arthurs-Jones [in the 1980s] was doing tons of business with a major pharmaceutical company; one that I had been entrusted with when I began my sales experience in 1965. The yearly turnover for this client in 1989 was approaching $1,000,000.00 with a large percentage coming from one important product line. They had many products and we did most of the printing for them. We had worked with them since 1944 and enjoyed a wonderful and trusted position as their main print supplier. As it happened, there was a relatively new purchasing manager placed in charge and she advised me on the telephone (unbelievably so!) that she was placing the printing for this particular product with another company. I was in shock when she delivered this incredulous edict but managed to say without too much hesitation, 'Don't do anything about this for thirty-five minutes, I'm coming right over' and I hung up instantly. During the drive across town I maintained what might have been a shattered equanimity on any other day and plotted my course of action. In thirty minutes I was in her corner office. There were three of us there that afternoon at a rounded table, the lady, as well as her predecessor who was a man that I had dealt with for twenty years, and me. I loved this man; he had spent his entire working career with the firm, he was someone that I respected and worked hard for. I believed that we had a successful past and had enjoyed mutual success from our collective efforts. In due course after a few pleasantries, the lady told me that she was not satisfied with the reporting that she had been given by me, and that she had found some manner of our service and work to be substandard and was going to 'try out another company that had been after her business for some time.' Her reasoning, while not falling on deaf ears, and would be dealt with later, was not sound or well thought out and spurious at best. I looked at my older and widely respected associate to add his position. I had always tried to be on his staff but not his payroll and waited for his thoughts. His first utterance was that this decision was hers to make and that if I wanted to make a counter proposal they would listen attentively and consider it. I felt they needed an answer right then and there and with that in mind I told him how important this work had been to us and that Arthurs-Jones had solved many problems in the past to the appreciation of their company and its people. I continued for several minutes recalling success after success in serving their company since 1965. He nodded his agreement to our past performance that had actually begun in 1944 by Duncan's father Reid McGregor. Yanking this work and turning it over to an untested supplier was uncalled for and I knew it. With that I boldly or stupidly said, 'If you take this part of the business away from us, then you'll need to find another supplier for the rest of it as well.' After a few minutes of less than important added discussion and clearly nervous body language from the three of us created by the bombshell that I had drop in our laps, we agreed to talk in the morning. I quickly left the building and drove home. The next morning I was in my office expecting a call by 10:00AM. I had not spoken of this to anyone at Arthurs-Jones nor would I think of telling anyone else until I had exhausted my attempt at keeping this valued business. The phone rang at precisely 8:30AM; it was the gentleman who called, not the lady. The decision that he delivered with clarity and to my everlasting joy had been reversed; all of this business was staying with us. Over the balance of my career that moment had yielded an additional $15,000,000.00 in sales from this wonderful company whose dedication to our company's success was always in evidence; but just as important to my growth, this unforgettable happening gave me the confidence to fight for business my firm and I had justly earned, to know the difference between strength and weakness and when to act courageously. But was this my greatest sales experience? It ranks well up there; but is it the greatest?

This one is definitely not the greatest; it is almost a non-story but one I'm itching to reveal. We were doing a load of printing for the head office of a worldwide farm machinery manufacturer in the United States. When we were awarded a project, not every time, but when it was a major brochure I would fly to their office (one big Air Canada jet and one little commuter propeller plane for each way of the trip) to pick up the art and photographs at the beginning of the project, after doing the work back at Arthurs-Jones, make the distribution across Canada for the parent company as required, and occasionally, fly back to deliver first off copies and do a little schmoozing with these truly professional people that I was fortunate to be serving. One unhappy day however, I was told by my American contact that I would be dealing with a new man in the Canadian operation and not them any longer. And even unhappier day, was the day I met this unforgettable person. His first words to me after the introductions were 'I know that it's your job to screw my company and it's my job to see that you don't.' The balance of that first meeting was a blur with one exception: he wore a short sleeve shirt and spent most of the time scratching both of his arms and talking rubbish. When I got back to my office (car phones were not widely used then) there was a call for me to call him back about an inquiry on a print project. He wanted a price; he wanted it in twenty minutes; we gave it to him; he called back in thirty minutes requesting a revision; he needed it in ten minutes; we gave it to him; he called back in fourty-five minutes with another revision request, and needed it in five minutes. You get the picture; I can see him scratching away even now. After one month of dealing with this enigma of a print buyer, his Canadian boss called me and asked me what I thought of his employee. He was apologetic regarding his question but asked me to be blunt. [I sensed the apologetic part.] I told him about our very first conversation and waited for his response before I continued. That was all I was allowed or needed to say because he ended our conversation with this comment, 'the new man is history as of this moment, and if it means anything to you, your story is the most revealing of the ones I've encountered.' He must have been scratching around in some other areas to have his demise orchestrated so quickly. No one in the printing business every heard from the short man with short sleeves, the constant itch and the worst master/servant attitude I'd ever seen. Sure, but what about the greatest sales experience story you say?

Maybe it's the one about the Royal Bank of Canada and its mandate to have their Annual Report printed in Toronto because they had difficulty getting their Montreal printers to work overtime during the Christmas and New Year periods. It was in 1983 when they decided that Toronto was the place to have their report designed and printed. Two wonderful people from the bank came to Toronto and interviewed several design firms for the project. After they picked the best one, recognized by many, not just the writer they then looked about for the best printer. The design company recommended us, along with two other firms as requested by the bank. This deal was going to be done and it was my job as well as Duncan McGregor [the president] to see that we made the sale. After several meetings with the client and the designer and some pricing activity coupled with sampling and tests applicable to the desired result, the word came down that Arthurs-Jones had won the day. We were thrilled with this windfall: approximately $750,000.00 in sales to add to our swollen order book. To get the job done effectively, knowing the past Montreal experiences as expressed by the banks representatives, we promised any amount of chargeable overtime on any day of the week except Christmas morning between midnight and noon hour would be available to complete the task. Those were the words they needed to hear. These were not idol promises, every word was truth and every action was pointed at delivering the goods and delivering on time: 10.00AM January 9, 1984 Montreal Quebec. This was a pivotal year and project for Arthurs-Jones. On the strength of this and many other significant clients in hand, we had decided to bite the bullet and build a new plant and office in Mississauga and move in September 1984. Every piece of printing equipment of any quality was employed to complete the Annual Report for The Royal Bank of Canada. We worked 24 hours a day and 7 days a week until I was on a plane with fourty hand inspected copies for the brass in Montreal on delivery day. I arrived on the 19th floor of 1 Place Ville Marie at 9:30AM with fourty individually inspected books weighing fourty pounds; the truck arrived at 10:00AM carrying seventy-five thousand pounds of the same beautifully designed Annual Report with matte black backgrounds and highly glossed full colour photographs depicting the worldwide activity the Royal Bank of Canada. They loved the report and the service and thanked me with salient comments. After a wonderful fourty-eight minute meeting with my new friends in Montreal I was in a cab on route to the airport. When I returned to Toronto I gave my partner Duncan a big huge hug in front of most of the office staff. This was a magnificent accomplishment by the people in our company and we were proud of it. With every confidence, we marched on with our seven-million-dollar-plan to build a new plant and equip it with two big-time new presses from Heidelberg. What a summer that was in terms of juggling our business, building the new plant, having no effective downtime and orchestrating all departments toward moving to our magnificent new plant and office in Mississauga on September 1, 1984 (my fourty-third birthday would you believe). Nonchalantly, in October of 1984 the Royal Bank awarded the 1984 version of their report to our major and worthy competitor who priced the work at 'a sum equal to the cost of a new Cadillac less than us.' We were shocked by this news and disappointed of course, but we recovered and won it back the next year and held it for many years to come. All in all, a great sale that netted the company in the neighbourhood of $5,000,000.00 over the next eight years. But is it the greatest?

You're probably wondering about my greatest sales experience aren't you? Because I am finding it a little difficult picking one out which will satisfy the title I am writing under. It would be easier to simply change the title wouldn't it? Yes it would, perhaps something like 'Sales Experiences That Changed My Life and Perhaps Others Too' would be a worthy revision. 

What do you think?



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