Celtic Illumination, part 246, On the dotted line.
The old hands in the air force knew that if you ‘looked busy’ no one would bother you. Standing or wandering about, with a clipboard and some sheets of paper really did allow you to do whatever you wanted. It was the ultimate in ‘sleight of hand.’ I was taking this prestidigitation to an extreme. The Station Commanders daily brief was at eight o clock every morning in flight planning. He, the Station Commander, and most of the operational Wing Commanders, would get together and produce their actual statistics and projected statistics for combat availability. Someone would have to collate all this information and then send off a double top secret signal to command. I would probably be breaking the official secrets act if I told you who had to do this every morning before nine o clock, but someone like that would probably have the most loveliest legs in Ireland.
Using the clipboard technique I uncovered an ancient duty for flight planning where whoever was in charge of flight planning had to visit the squadrons, on a regular basis, and make sure all their charts and documents were up to date. Then there were the Q Sheds, which was another secondary duty I didn’t give up, as being an inventory holder allowed me a lot of scope, especially getting stuff for the Shotley drama group. So I would often have to visit them and make sure they hadn’t been stolen. And don’t forget the Station Commanders briefing room in station headquarters, where I would have to put together and coordinate slide shows which took an awful amount of time.
Basically once the stations senior management team had ‘left the building’ so to speak, the day was my own and I could do what I wanted, which was mainly get into Ipswich and learn as much about sales as I possibly could. I promise you, most days I was in Ipswich before lunch time. The basic training at Bournemouth was a sort of general introduction to the actual products that Abbey life sold. It was simple and straight forward, although not everyone thought so. The South African ex-army policeman type didn’t think so, for first thing on the second morning he had been asked to leave the course. One factor for his dismissal was spending the night in the police cells but the second factor was the vicar with the mascara.
What we were not aware of is that he was on the course too. Now I promise you, my focus was on getting some sales experience which would help me take up my position with Tim Hirschman and get back home to Ireland. I had been quick and willing enough to judge all my fellow air traffickers so why wasn’t I applying the same criteria to these sales people? It was a bit of a surprise arriving in the training suite to see the vicar sitting in reception. I wasn’t worried in the slightest as I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong. Graham, as you may have expected, had told everyone else on the course that he had sorted the problem out. I was asked to go to the general manager’s office for ‘a chat’ and was pleasantly surprised to find that the guy was an ex air force squadron leader so we spoke the same language and the whole thing was forgotten about.
Unfortunately, and it’s something I have learned to live with, especially when you are cursed with having the loveliest legs in Ireland, Graham wasn’t the only one seeking my attention for the remainder of the week. Back in Ipswich I was to be taught the ‘art’ of selling. I was quite amused with the terminology they were using and couldn’t understand what could be so hard about selling stuff. There was a small group of about four or five of us and we were sitting around a circular desk. We were each given a telephone, a telephone book, a sheet of paper and a pen. Jack, the branch manager was in charge of the training.
“Right,” says Jack. “Open the telephone book at a random page.” We all did. “Place your finger anywhere on one of the pages.” We did. “Now, telephone that number and get an appointment to go visit them.” I know I froze, I don’t know about the others, but we all had our finger on a number and we all knew how to use a telephone but I promise you, no one was dialling. Jack then took one telephone and using the receiver smashed the thing to pieces. “It’s only a bit of plastic!” he was shouting. “What is there to be afraid of?” It was interesting because I don’t think I was afraid, I was thinking more along the lines of what do I say? That was my introduction to cold calling. I didn’t mind it and believe it or not the whole process had a mathematical formulae attached to it. Any sales person telephoning you is working to a set of figures.
I can’t remember the exact figures, but it was something along the lines of if you cold call twenty people you will get five appointments from which you will get either one or two sales. And another aspect of the job that I found interesting was that you considered your earnings arse about face. You could actually, and by the way were encouraged to, calculate how much you wanted to earn in that year and you could then break that down into how many telephone calls you would have to make each day to achieve that figure. There were other ways of attracting people or encouraging them to invite you round for a cup of tea and a chat.
I came in one day to see the guys screwing freshly printed letters into balls then flatten them out, put them into envelopes and put them in the post. The letters were a form of cold calling but began with the line. In order to save you time and effort we have pre crumpled this letter for you. Another was to send out the second page of a letter, which would begin, so you can see from the information I have provided that this scheme will be extremely profitable for you. With this in mind I shall telephone within the next day or two to arrange a convenient time for us to meet and discuss this matter. The whole branch went to Cambridge one day for a presentation from a bunch of motivational speakers and experts.
One fellow stood up and said that most people were stupid, rather than chase them, using whatever method you chose; he had the people chase him. Interesting, I know. He said that rather than spend half a day a week cold calling people and getting abuse, he opened a small office in his local town and said that it would cost two hundred pounds to see him, oh and book early for he was booked up. He had a queue of people down the street waiting to see him. It certainly was an interesting approach; I do remember that we were all on a high, bubbling with ideas, when we left Cambridge. Jack actually made the coach stop at a small country pub which he took over. He was behind the bar serving drinks and I don’t think he had ever been in the pub before. Money seemed to be no object and most people were emulating the Harry Enfield character of Load’s of Money, pulling out wads of cash and revelling in the Thatcher credo of self, self, self.
Jack taught me a great deal about sales and how to handle different situations. On one Rank Xerox sales course some poor sod was brought out and was told that he had to sell Jack one JCB digger. We had listened to all the spiel, watched all the videos, graphs and statistics. Jack sat by the desk at the front, the guy came in. “Hello,” said Jack. “Do you sell JCB’s?” “Yes,” said the guy. “Good,” says Jack. “I want two.” The guy didn’t know what to do. He had expected abuse or some argument and he only wanted to sell one JCB. It was a lesson on being able to think on your feet. But the most succinct approach was how to deal with people who just didn’t want to buy. You may have been there; the salesman had been with you for two hours. You’re bored silly and just want them to leave. Jack told us how to handle that.
As you moved through the meeting you should have filled out all the details on the form. You’ve asked time and time again if they would like to proceed, but they keep coming up with excuse after excuse, maybe next month, let us think about it, I’ll check some other companies. Jack said, “Turn the form around, offer them a pen, and say ‘If you’ll just sign here, I’ll get this set up for you.” According to Jack they would explode with rage, but as they began shouting at you, they would tell you exactly why they didn’t want to commit to the sale which you would now address, turn around, complete the sale and come home a happy boy.