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by Pádraic Gilligan, Managing Partner, SoolNua

Over the past year or two my heavily laden book shelves have been augmented with great publications by family and friends. My niece Shauna Gilligan released her wonderful debut novel Happiness comes from nowhere while Paul Lyng, my late Mother’s youngest brother, added a third volume to his great series on local history. Earlier this month my UCD friend, Conor Kenny, published Sales Tales, an entertaining compilation of personal experiences of selling based on more than three decades in the trenches.

Bite Sized Morsels

Screen Shot 2014-05-30 at 12.43.13Conor’s Sales Tales are stories served up as tasty bite sized morsels, wrapped in that light, aphoristic style favoured by Seth Godin.  They’re wise parables of deceptive simplicity but devastating impact.  You could attend an expensive 5 day sales seminar and come away with less actionable insights than a simple 30 minute immersion in Conor’s book.

Conor is charmingly but decidedly old school.  There’s lots of talk throughout the book of the importance of Savile Row suits, shiny shoes, expensive pens and punctuality. I cringe with embarrassment when I consider my own default appearance whenever I meet with Conor – I’m torn jeans + MacBook + bicycle, he’s Louis Copeland suit + Mont Blanc pen + BMW. I’m a scruffy Richard Branson, he’s an immaculate Donald Trump. Yet despite our different styles, we share a common values system and a core belief in the primacy of people over profit. This belief permeates Conor’s book and underpins all of his stories.

Life’s way-finders

Screen Shot 2014-05-30 at 12.45.56You see it poignantly in Chapter 11 where Conor shares his experience of a brief period of unemployment. It’s a beautiful, sensitively written passage that includes the following insight:

Life’s defining moments are simple, incredibly simple. There’s no crash of thunder, oceans parting or bright white light. They are random moments when, deep down in your consciousness, you are ready to receive new wisdom.

These moments often come at times of hardship, suffering, difficulty when all seems lost. It’s often in moments like these that you’re most “ready” to receive the new wisdom. You might appear to have lost your MoJo but really you’ve only lost your ego and then something else takes over. Conor rightly values the dark moments as the ironic but indispensable way-finders along life’s complex journey.

What’s my sales tale?

Reading Conor’s book then prompted the question – what’s my sales tale? Do I too have tales to tell from my 20 years as a salesman, like Arthur Miller’s Willy Loman, “way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine”? First I couldn’t think of any and then, suddenly, they came back to me, like long lost friends from childhood. You thought they were gone but really they were only waiting for you to look for them.  Here’s one of them:

Lost in Translation

Screen Shot 2014-05-30 at 12.46.55Despite extensive travels in the EU and US, this was my first trip to Asia.  Suddenly I too was as tentative, uncertain and slow as those once-a-year travellers behind whom you sometimes end up in security lines at airports and against whom you frequently harbor murderous thoughts. As I wandered around Seoul, I felt permanently lost and stupid. I couldn’t read the signage. Maps were useless and even when I was provided with the English spelling of the place I wanted to go to, the Korean taxi drivers had no idea what I was saying.

Even in Europe or the US, eight confirmed sales calls would have been ambitious. In Seoul where traffic is slower than a convoy of tortoises, eight calls was really out of the question. However, as my day unfolded I realized that some of the calls were actually in the same building as agencies selling English language courses in Seoul tended to cluster. Three agents were actually in the same warren-like building.

Screen Shot 2014-05-30 at 12.48.30I completed call number seven at 5pm and asked how far away was my 5:15pm appointment. A sharp intake of breath and multiple checking of time on the part of my 4:30 host told me I was in deep trouble. The appointment was at least 45 mins away in this traffic. “Probably no point in going”, I thought as I descended the stairs. “But it’s been a good day – seven completed calls is as good as I’ve ever managed”. I hailed a taxi and, just as I was about to ask to be taken back to the hotel, I changed my mind and showed the address of the last appointment. Sharp intake of breath from the driver and more negative gesturing. By now I was resolute. I was turing up for the call even if there was no-one there when I arrived.

My final call was with a retail travel agent and when I arrived at 6:15 – a full hour late – the security grille had been pulled half way down. However, it wasn’t locked or secured. I climbed in underneath to be greeted warmly by Mr Oh (Oh is as common in Korean as Kelly or Murphy in Ireland). “Thanks so much for coming” he said. “I bet the traffic was horrendous?” You can imagine the rest of the sale tale. He had researched my company, had a specific order to give me and handed over a cash deposit. Over the years that followed Mr Oh became my number one Korean customer, accounting at one stage for over 15% of total revenue.

I know it’s hard to believe. I certainly wouldn’t believe this story if I hadn’t happened to me. But it is true and it did happen exactly as I described above. It’s a tale of persistence, of not giving up, of sticking with the plan to the end. It’s a tale of the rewards that come from effort.

You’ll find lots more like this in Conor Kenny’s excellent book but what about your own sales tales? Both Conor and I would love to hear them.

Pádraic Gilligan is Managing Partner at SoolNua, a boutique consultancy and digital marketing agency working for enterprises in the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events sector. He met Conor Kenny way back in the late 70s when both were students of Arts at UCD.


One thought on “Tales about Sales and Riding on a Smile and a Shoeshine

  1. Dan Tavrytzky says:

    Great story Padraic! Thanks for sharing…as always!

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