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Responsibilities in a Complex Professional Sales Job

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A lot of times you learn as the need arises. I get a call, and I try to figure it out. If I can't come up with a good way of doing it, I go talk to my boss about it. He says, "Oh, well, you know ten years ago we ran into a similar problem, and here is the way we did it," and he knows some unique way of doing it that I would probably never figure out. You learn a lot of the things that way.

I'm in a hospital medical sales division. We started with a three-week formal training program, one week of which was strictly classroom presentations on company product selling skills, and two weeks an intensive program located in a hospital. There we spent half of each day in the operating room observing surgery to learn the technical terminology and the technical skills that we needed to sell the products to operating rooms. The other 50 percent of the time during that two-week period we spent discussing the product and how to use it in order to become more technically competent in our specific product.

After that there were approximately twelve to eighteen weeks in a field training program. Here our manager and some senior sales representatives or an area field specialist worked with us to continue building on the original training. So, in total, it was approximately a nineteen-week training program before we were considered fully capable of going out and selling in the industry totally on our own.

The way I got into sales was that I got thrown into it from the middle of nowhere. I came down here, and the next week I was out making calls. I knew a little bit about the product line, and of course I had an engineering background, so I could relate to engineering people. But I was just thrown into the middle of it. It has taken a while to really understand sales.

Q - What are your responsibilities?

A - I represent my company to a large bank, everything from their largest mainframe computers to their smallest remote terminal. I even handle typewriters and ribbons. Now obviously I don't do that all by myself. I have a whole raft of people who are specialists in each of those areas that I call upon. My role then becomes keeping to some kind of consistent plan. I make sure my marketing strategy is consistent with the customer's long-range business strategy and systems strategy. Of course my job is making sure, as in any marketing situation, that the customer stays satisfied.

We provide engineering service to users, because they may not know exactly how to calculate how much heat they need, how to size up the heater they need for a particular application, or just how to do it. We can provide them with complete information on the heat load and how to apply it right from scratch. Sometimes there is a lot of mathematical calculations. Sometimes it is obvious what to use. It depends on the problem.

A broker is a person who acts as a middleman between buyer and seller. In the case of the scrap business, the broker takes a fragmented and very diverse industry and makes sense out of it; brings some order to it and, in turn, funnels a commodity (various grades of scrap) to a variety of different mills and foundries. Also the broker finances transactions as a banker in some ways. He markets various grades of scrap for the scrap processor and in the case of a steel mill or foundry, he locates the different commodities that will meet their needs. It is a multifaceted function.

I'm supposed to present the inventory and the ownership and be the medium. If both people want to make a deal, a third party is very important. People don't want to play their last ace or show what they have in their back pockets. They're both trying to get good deals themselves. I've got to be the mediator and recognize that from both parties. I've got to be able to offer directions and steer them in the right way.

In this particular division, sales representatives generally have 80 to 100 hospitals in their territory after receiving their training. It is a rather open-ended situation. Sales representatives get relatively mini mum guidance from the management. They are given the guidelines and helped to achieve, but they are not told how to do it. The sales representatives determine what hospitals they want to call on and in what priority. They determine where their opportunities are, and from time to time a member of the management team will work with them to lend them a little experience and expertise in making those decisions.

As a conduit of market information, a broker can say to a processor or a scrap dealer that this is a good time to sell, that he or she should sell more because the market is going to drop. So the broker is one of the main sources of information about the market for a scrap processor. The same thing is true with a steel mill. Brokers can help a steel mill buy intelligently because they have the best knowledge of what the market is likely to do-whether it is going to go up or down, whether there is going to be a shortage or abundance of scrap. So they serve a very vital function to both the suppliers and consumers.

The homework for the inventory is out in the field. You drive around and check all the other real estate brokers and the computers to find out what's out there. You look for signs and for possible buildings that might fit their needs. To be honest with you, this city may seem to you as an outsider to be a very, very large city. But in what I do, office and office warehouses, there are probably less than 400 or 500 buildings in the city. I know where they are, and I keep track of what's coming on stream, so it's really not that difficult. For example, one group said they wanted something in a particular area, and I knew I could immediately come up with ten or eleven properties.
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