Monday, December 15, 2008

10 Tips from a Former Traveling Sales Rep

Ah, a guest column. These are always fun. Fun for me, the blogger, because I get to slack off in my duties. Fun for you, the reader, because my shtick is getting stale and y'all have been craving something ungrateful bastards. Anyway, today's column was written by former traveling sales rep and current bookseller AutumnBottom. (That's her LiveJournal name, anyway. Witness Protection rules prohibit us from divulging her true identity.) If you like what you read here, make sure to check out her LJ. She's funny as f*ck and a brand new mom. Oh, and she's got cool hair, too. The trifecta!

Autumn's caveat: I was only a sales rep for 1.5 years with one smallish publisher, so I can't say for sure if this list would apply to a seasoned veteran of Random House or Simon & Schuster. Besides, I wasn't a particularly successful rep having had a bit too much empathy to push hard for the big sales. But anyway....

- Sales Numbers-
As reps, we're the low-man on the sales chain totem pole which means that we report to sales managers who, in turn, report to points higher on. I was constantly struggling with trying to please my bosses whose sales mantra was "Don't take no for an answer," and trying to maintain my trusting relationships with my bookstores. I guess what I'm trying to say is when your rep is trying to convince you to take a display with 20 copies of a $50 book and seems to keep circling back around to it after you thought you'd moved on, it's because of the pressure from "on high" and not because your rep is an asshole.

Ask your rep for sample copies. Always. It never hurts to ask and, more often than not, they can get it for you. And, as was often the case with me, remind your rep about your request after a couple of weeks if you still haven't seen your freebie. It's totally not that we don't like you. It's just that we're busy people and things sometimes slip through the cracks.

Being a traveling sales rep is a lonely, lonely experience. It only took one week of business travel for the luster to wear off. Sitting in a restaurant by yourself is fun on occasion but when you do it for two to three weeks out of every month.... I was eternally grateful for the few buyers that I became friends with and could count on socializing outside of a business context with when away from home. If you like your rep, and you're willing, invite them out for a beer after work. They'll love you for it and be even more willing to go the extra mile for you.

-High Heels and Weak Arms-
I am all of 4 feet 11 inches tall. For my job I carted around a suitcase filled with 60 lbs of art and architecture books. By the time I finished hauling it out of the trunk of my rental car, dragging it through the gravel of the parking lot, and bouncing over the sidewalk into a store, the last thing I wanted to do was carry it up three flights to the buying office. If you are a brawny buyer and your rep happens to be wearing high heels or shops in the petite department please, please, please, offer to carry their suitcase.

-Free Lunches-
One of the major perks of being a buyer is having your rep take you out to lunch. There is nothing like free food in the middle of your day! However, if you've only bought three books out of the catalogue, for the love of Pete, don't order the lobster in truffle sauce. I'm not saying you need to satisfy yourself with the bar nuts, but try to order according to...well...your order.

Oh, come now. You didn't think I was going to give you all of Autumn's awesomeness in one fell swoop, did you? And rob myself of a second day of slacking off? Not a chance. If you want to read The Final Five Tips from a Former Traveling Sales Rep, your punk asses are gonna have to come back here tomorrow. Until then, you can visit Autumn here.

Added on 12/16: Link to part 2