My Worst Moments in Sales!

The sales profession is one-of-a-kind. There are ups and downs, ins and outs, and a whole list of goods and ‘bads’ that make it both rewarding and challenging. You will go through some trials, but my hope and prayer is that you don’t have to go through some of the ones that I endured.  Check these out!

The Boss Comes to Town

Improper Racial CommentsI was a sales representative for a major insurance company in commercial business sales.  I was young, and thought that I was on track to get somewhere, yet nothing was assured.

I was at a sales meeting, and was sitting at a table with the  Sr. Vice President for our business unit, who was someone that I had only seen his picture in company publications.  We will call him Bob F. I don’t know why he sat at our table, yet we were all exhibiting our best manners.

During a lull in the meeting a sales associate of mine, who happened to be Black as well (there were 3 of us out of 62 sales professionals) began to criticize one of the local college basketball coaches.  He was a venerable older coach who was not winning the ‘big one’ but was respectable.

The SVP listened to us from behind his newspaper, and then slammed his had down on the table and said, “How dare you criticize him.  One day you will be judged on your record, just like him, and you should hope you stand up to the criticism.” He went on to say, “If you two would stop reading the sports pages, and start reading the financial pages, one day maybe you will amount to something!”  He then stormed from the table.

I wanted to be rude in my response, but was calculated.  As a single parent of three, I needed my job badly.  It is unfortunate that someone is “judged” like that.  He did not know either of us.

To this day, there is nothing that has ever infuriated me like that comment.  He did not know, but I was reading a lot more than the financial pages.  Whether I did, or did not, it was not his business.  We were merely having a conversation within his earshot.  What is larger than that was the perception that we were absorbed in the sports pages, which was something that I seldom read, or read now.

He made that assumption based on his perception, and how categorically wrong it was.  Needless to say, he was long retired before I moved up in to a senior vice president and executive vice president roles, yet I have often relived how I should have reacted to him.  I made sure that I respected our young professionals regardless of color and gave good constructive counsel without inserting my view of what they “must” be like.

Hello, I am Your New Sales Representative!

Boss Man

I was more than willing to accept, and take a chance on, any reassigned account, as it was a way to increase sales revenue.  I needed new accounts badly.

This account was medium in size, and although complicated, well within my capabilities as a new sales representative.  After much preparation I made my first visit to the account to make my introduction and discuss a change in pricing on the account.  My sales manager accompanied me on the call, as the increased price was sure to be a touchy issue.

After the introduction it was obvious that the call was not going to be warm and fuzzy.  The customer, who was an older individual, sat motionless with a foul expression even before the increase in price was discussed. Once pricing was discussed, the customer slammed his hand down on the desk and said, “This is bull _ _ _ _ , you are trying to put me out of business!”.  “I will not accept this!  Get the hell out of my office!” he ranted.  We made a feeble attempt to explain the pricing but were told again to “Get out now!”

We gathered our materials and made a hasty retreat.  The buyer followed us through the open office, full of his employees, ranting at us.  On our drive back to the office, my manager and I discussed the call and it was obvious that neither of us expected the reaction, price increases were happening everywhere and ours was modest compared to others.

Upon arriving at the office the Regional Sales Manager (my sales manager’s boss) called me to discuss.  The customer had called him and advised that he was ticked and that they were going to move their business if a change was not made.   I told the Regional Sales Manager that I had done everything possible on the pricing.  He said to me “It is not the pricing that he wants to change, he wants you off of the account.  He advised that he was not going to work with you based on your race.”  I knew from the conversation that he was sparing me the actual comments made.

Then came a statement that changed my life.  He indicated that he told the account that if that is the way you feel, “He is our sales representative, and if you work with us, you will work with Michael.  If not, we will, at your suggestion, terminate your account.”The account ‘fired us’ later that day he indicated that he was moving his business and never would return.

Lunch With “the Guys”

Racial DiscriminationI highlighted this situation in one of my Black Sales Journal articles over year ago.  Sales is historically one of the loneliest professions.  Countless hours of cold calling in high-rises and industrial manufacturing complexes and numerous hours on the phone tend to put you in the mood for some type of camaraderie.  This was usually reserved for paydays.

We ‘lunched’ at local restaurant exchanging stories.  There were six of us, and I was the only African-American. At that time, I was the only Black sales professional in an office  of more than 30 sales professionals.

The subject of automobile accidents came up and here’s the dialogue that followed:

“People are driving crazy these days! On the way to the office this morning I almost got hit by a car load of nig…” He paused before the word could be completed. There was not a person at the table that did not know what he was going to say next.  There was also not a person at the table that was not quickly and silently embarrassed.  You could see them thinking, “What in the heck is he doing?” I don’t know what normally happened when I was not at lunch with them, but today I happened to be there, and the comfort level was just a little too high.

The table fell silent, and I felt I needed to reinforce what happened by allowing the silence to be deafening. My associate exited to the washroom, and everyone turned and looked at me. I thought that was interesting, but it was an expected reaction. One of my associates said, “I thought you were going to clock him!”  I responded, “Then you don’t know me at all.”  You could cut the tension with a knife at that point.

Had I not been there the conversation would have continued.  Had I not been there tension would not have enveloped the table.Had I not been there no one would’ve been embarrassed.  Being there served as a stark reminder that things are often different when you are not around!

When he came back to the table, I took the opportunity to say, “so what happened next?” Letting him know that I heard everything he said clearly and succinctly.  He paused in obvious discomfort.  As everyone else had a sandwich stuck in the throat, I gave him a less than threatening stare and finished the last bite of my food.

Later that afternoon at the office, several individuals present at the lunch came over to me and told me how uncomfortable they were.  But… I know that had not been present there is a strong possibility that no one would have been uncomfortable with the language that was used.


I think it is better in this day and age, but the underlying problems can still exist for some professionals of color.  I think the key is to never overreact.  Coworkers, customers, and upper management all showed to be a challenge at some point or other.  I can only emphasize that I worked with an outstanding company, and with a wonderful group of people, on average, and was blessed with customers that I still consider friends to this day.

Make the best of all of it, and always learn from others.  Always be prepared!

Your comments are welcome. You can reach me at

Mastering the Telephone Interview

I share those often at job fairs and employment clinics.  It will always be true. Many companies are attempting to avoid costs and wasted time by doing preliminary employment screening with a telephone interview.  This is your first chance to shine!  Simple objective: Get a face-to-face interview!  Here is how to be successful!


You have been selected to have a preliminary or phone interview as part of the screening process for a job that you want badly.  This job has all of the trappings including the business automobile, protected territory, great compensation plan, and more.

The phone interview, if you are successful, will lead to an in-person interview in another state with the hiring manager.  The phone interview is with the human resources recruiter and you want a home run!

This scenario is not uncommon.  In the sales profession, with candidates often located good distances from the main offices, companies wisely make decisions to screening interviews on the phone before considering bringing a candidate in for an in-person interview.

There are many reasons to use the phone for this purpose; the main reason is that it is cost effective.  Travel which is very expensive now days, and companies are wise to try to avoid some of this expense.  Additionally, if candidates are closely matched in their qualifications, a decision as to who to interview might be determined by some well-directed questions.

There are some tactics that you can undertake that will prepare you and put you in the best light.

You Are the Expert on You!

You have heard me say this before, and you will undoubtedly hear it again, “You are the expert on you!” Don’t fall into the trap of waiting for questions that will show your worth, be prepared to give the interviewer the requisite information that makes you shine.

Gather the following information:

  • Your Resume – the exact copy that the interviewee has been given.  Know your accomplishments, that is what sets you apart.
  • A clear concise salary history (This is for you, not as much the hiring party).
  • A brief ‘elevator pitch’ on yourself describing why you deserve the job.  Brief means 45 seconds or less.
  • Your reasons for leaving any job that you have had in the past 10 years. Reduce it to writing and be strong at explaining it.
  • Your sales statistics (this is a big one). That should include percentages of improvement or growth (or the opposite).  Again, it is all about accomplishments
  • A clear concise picture of the organization you would like to join. What are the markets, products, accomplishments, etc.

Your objective is to have this valuable information at your fingertips, as when there is a pause on the phone, the interviewer cannot tell what you are doing.  You need to be prepared mentally, and prepared from the standpoint of reference material on your background.  The most important part is that you should be able to recite it chapter and verse without much prompting.

Any question on your background and talents should be in your realm of information.  Additionally, you should be able to put into words your strengths, weaknesses and professional objectives as these are common questions.

Phone Interview Etiquette

Just a couple of rules for the interview itself:

  • Establish what you will call the interviewer. This can be done during the introductions.  If you don’t know, then stick to “Mr. Johnson” until he tells you differently.
  • No background noise at all if possible. You don’t need Barry White begging in the background, even if it does not distract you.
  • No interruptions. Set it for a time when you will have no interruptions such as young students returning home from school.
  • Don’t interrupt the interviewer. Do not step on someone’s sentences, as that will annoy them.
  • Use a landline phone if at all possible. There is nothing more distracting than a dropped call when someone is trying to give you a chance at a career.
  • Block call-waiting notifications. If your service allows it, block call-waiting notifications.  Those annoying clicks when your friends are calling are extremely distracting to an interviewer, even if they do not bother you.  (Dialing *70 prior to the call usually blocks the call waiting feature)
  • Speaker or Conference correctly. If you use the conference feature on your phone, be careful with rustling paper and background noise.  No gum or candy, and no pets in the vicinity.
  • No Eating. This may sound like a no-brainer, yet people do it.  Have water nearby, and recognize swilling water does produce noise.

It is important to realize that if they are annoyed by your background noise, or the difficulty they have in understanding you, they will ‘check out’ and lean toward another candidate.  Make this a pleasant experience.

Your Objective is Simple – a Face-to-Face Interview!

Go in knowing what the prize is, but also know that your chance to make the impression is increased if you can get face-to-face.  So…your phone interview might be done in racial anonymity, especially if your resume and other correspondence was done in a race neutral format. I am compelled to explain these briefly here:

Racial anonymity – Meaning there has been no disclosure as to race on your part, and none was asked.  The interviewer has no positive verification of your race, and presumably makes the decisions on the basis of the quality of the telephone interview.

Race Neutral Format – The resume, and any supporting information gives no indication of race, fraternal or sorority involvement. The reviewer is left to make the decision on the basis of your qualifications and the telephone interview itself.

You are not concealing anything, you are answering their questions and attempting to get the position.   The more level the playing field, the less of an effect that preference can have in the initial screening process (Refer to Black Sales Journal 12/30/2010 – Preference, Perceptions, and Prejudice and Your Employer).  I know that there may be issues that don’t allow racial anonymity including which college or university you attended, and some voice intonations, yet it is worth the effort if you can sound as race neutral as possible.

Above all, recognize that you will not have a chance without getting past this initial screen.  Approach it with vigor and a plan.  Be prepared!

“What Kind of Money Do You Want?”

There is an important question that you should be prepared for that many sales professionals get surprised by: “Now that you know the opportunity, what would you need in terms of salary for this position?”

I think the best answer to this is a simple one:  ”I am open and flexible with my salary demands.  Much depends on the benefit structure and the compensation (commission or remuneration) plan.”  You want a face-to-face interview so you can show your worth.  This response is legit and fair.  Keep all of your options open.

Your comments are welcome.  You can reach me at