Posts belonging to Category minority entreprenuers

It’s 2017… And You Can Still Can Be The First!

Sales Professional and Manager

Amazingly enough, it is still not too late to be the first! Being the first is an important role in American society.  It is equally important in business.

I am going to use cite one iconic American company as an example. As a matter of fact, it is more than symbolic, because this organization took a leadership role.  This is a brief study in how an organization handles diversity.


Let’s revisit a true sales pioneer and trailblazer, Thomas J. Laster. His ability to deal with racial preference, racial discrimination, and acts of racial prejudice are legendary.  We cannot avoid giving kudos to International Business Machines (IBM) in their effort to promote diversity.


A Leader in More Ways than One

In 1946 International Business Machines, also known as IBM, hired its first black sales representative. It was an individual named Tom (T.J.) Laster. This was well before the Civil Rights Act of 1963.  This act was also well before the Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier inprofessional baseball.  This was not a beauty products company, or someone selling durable goods products to the Black community, this was a business products company that was on the technical leading edge, and selling their product to basic ‘white’ America’s businesses.

The audience that Laster was something to was decidedly in the majority. If we think we see racial prejudice and racial preference, we need to recognize that we see nothing like this gentleman was faced with during his tenure as a sales professional.  A couple of years later, Laster joined the 100% Club, an honor for reaching his sales quota.  This was affirmation to many that this individual was a qualified and accomplished sales professional.

The 40s, 50s, and 60s were decidedly difficult time even dream of being “the first” in B2B sales, but someone had to do it.  Soon after Laster, IBM hired their first Black marketing representative (Lionel Fultz) in 1951, their first Black engineer in 1952 (Harry Cochraine), and their first Black engineering manager, (Calvin Waite) in 1956.  Lionel Fultz also was named branch manager in 1964.

This made IBM a leader in both business machines as well as employment diversity.  It also made Tom Laster a pioneer in the sales diversity situation.  He was willing, and obviously began destroying the racial perceptions that Blacks, or Negros as we were referred to in that time, could not handle the technical nature and business relationship issues related to B2B sales to a white business populace.  I would believe that partially as a result, many others Black professionals followed through the doors that were opened.

There was no greater a threshold in business sales as this one!  This was certainly important.  Although you probably won’t read books about it there is no doubt as to the impact.

Following this, IBM, assuming the leadership role again, penned and enacted its Equal Opportunity Policy through the Thomas Watson’s (the president of IBM) letter to his organization termed as Policy Letter # Four.  This September 21, 1953 letter directed his managers to “…hire people regardless of race, color, or creed.”  We wish it was as easy this declaration, but this was a start.

This is Significant, But Why is it Important?

I hope you see the significance in the story of Laster. He is truly a pioneer, and really knows what it feels like to be the first.  What is equally important is that you still can be the first Black sales professional in many organizations.

By the same token, you still can be that individual the changes everyone’s ideas about the abilities and work ethic of black professionals.  It would be nice not to worry about that, but it is significant.

I was not the first Black sale professional in the organization that I came up in. I was actually the third. I was the first Black sales manager, and the first Black vice president, senior vice president, and executive vice president.  I had some interesting experiences, which I try to share in this ‘journal’, but I am certain that many of these assertions would have paled in comparison to the stories that Laster could tell.

Be the Best

There are many small and medium sized organizations that have avoided, for whatever reason, employment diversity.  They could have avoided it because of their small size, or because they purposely have not hired Black sales professionals.  They may have other Blacks and minorities working for the company.  It does not matter what the reason might be, embrace that opportunity to work for and to change those organizations.  Show your stuff!

Your only requirement is to do be best that you can be at what you do.  By being the best, you increase your opportunities for success, as well as destroy ridiculous and erroneous racial perceptions.  Your success will be rewarded with a high compensation rate, but also in the pride you have in being the first!

Be the Best!  Your comments are appreciated. Contact me at

First Deliver Solutions – Then Sell!

Even the number one business in its field has problems in need of solutions.  The best of breed businesses and industry leaders struggle to find solutions so that they can stay on top.

As a sales professional, implicitly what your customer pays you to deliver solutions.  Many times those solutions are underpinned by your own product or service, and sometimes it is the packaging and perception that gives them value.


If you are the sales professional for a firm, and you are ignorant about hat they need, you cannot produce solutions.  You have to ask.  You must gather from them enough information to “make a difference.”  Know how to make your product and services convenient for them.  It is called “ease of doing business.”  If you give the customers an easy way to interface with you, you will make a difference.

Diagnose The Issues

The only way to know what would provide ease of business is to listen and probe deeply and frequently.  Communication is at the root of this diagnosis, and action is the result.

  • Investigate - Seize every opportunity to ask your customer what are their greatest opportunities and threats from a business standpoint.  As companies determine these in their SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis you can focus on what your organization can do.
  • Strengthen Your Knowledge - Know your company’s industry, and have a strong knowledge of the customer’s industry.  Know how you can use your current product offerings packaged differently to satisfy needs.
  • Record – Keep a good record of customer’s problems, and take time to group problems of like-customers together.  If you do this well you can pick where to spend your time trying to develop superior solutions.
  • Research – Spend time researching the best way to solve problems, once you have determined what can efficiently be solved.  Use your competitor’s ideas, your imagination, and yourexpertise as you research how to solve.

Stand and Deliver

Once you have determined what can be solved efficiently and have researched the solutions that can be used, you have an excellent opportunity to be a “star” if you deliver it correctly.

I am going to give a practical example of how this works:

An office products sales professional recognizes that his list of clients includes a large number of non-profits.  Much of his customer list had similar needs, and similar restrictions from the standpoint of finances.  Non-profits are similar, although not the same.  Knowing this market segment, he began to structure a program that had some unique offerings.

Realizing that many of these non-profits buy many of the same products, he began the process of packaging them.  He came up with unique “offerings” that were mainly packaging that satisfied a need regarding the products purchased, and the way they were consumed.

He then lobbied for unique credit terms (trade terms) that he could offer, knowing that they would need to stretch out payments for a longer period based on them being funded by governmental agencies and donations.  Once he got them, he made that a part of his “Non-Prof-Pak”.

He then worked to do that which you can only do if you know the buying habits of your customers.  He worked to do a separate mailing to his customers (“Non-Prof-Pak) with the most frequently purchased products in it.  This was based on his research of what products were being purchased by all of them.  His mailing amounted to a specialized catalog of items that were most used by non-profits including some items that his organization did not carry; yet he knew they needed.  He arranged for those items to come from a “friendly” competitor that allowed those items in the mailing.  It was “win-win”.

The result was that his customers did not have to search for their most common items.  Someone who “specialized” in non-profits sent them to them!  We know that it was the way it was packaged, and received.  They did not have to hunt through a long catalog; someone had marketed directly to them.

This sales professional picked up business from this sector, and attained a certain stature in the business community.  This individual has retired since then, and there are not catalogs for the most part with on-line marketing, yet the example is solid.  Packaging is important, marketing is important, and specialization is important.

Product and Promotion

That is a question only you can answer.  There is a possibility that you can identify a group of customers who have a similar need and operating pattern.  Examples are storefront merchants, Black churches and religious organizations, truckers, printers, publishers, and a host of other semi-homogeneous groups.  You want groups with more in common, than differences.

Structure them with an eye toward what solutions they need, then deliver it.  Your research is important, so do it correctly.  You can figure out what makes them the same, and market to them with the application of some of the steps above.

Remember the 5Ps of Marketing:

  • People
  • Place
  • Product
  • Promotion
  • Price

In this effort, you are concentrating on the product, or perceived product and promotion.  Your packaging of the product promotion makes all of the difference in the world in this case.

You can only do what your organization lets you do; yet there is some latitude here.  Remember some of the discussions in Black Sales Journal 12/20 – Your Customer Needs an Expert- Let it be You.  We are not talking about you being a sophisticated expert here, yet your ability to package and promote will be the ultimate asset.

By doing this you can provide an ease of doing business that others might have missed.  You can orchestrate the designing of product packages that hit the mark.  We all have seen it, known what it is, and still purchased because it had “perceived” value.

I think you can provide more solutions than you think.  You might be surprised.

Your comments are appreciated. You can reach me at