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Can You Manage?

You're the salesperson and the boss. First thing to do? Get organized!
June 1, 1998

A few years ago, a sales manager at an Atlanta industrial distributor was relating the difficulties of dealing with his top salesperson, who was late to meetings, rarely completed call reports on time, ignored most sales promotions and was a general pain in the neck. In fact, it had become so bad that the two parted ways, with the salesperson deciding to represent a competitor's product line while working from home.

The salesperson admitted that, in his opinion, meetings, call reports and the like stood in the way of getting orders. If he was doing those things, he wasn't performing the one task he should be: selling. Six months of working from home, however, made him realize there was something to his old sales manager's methods. Working on his own, he could no longer count on assistants and customer service people to keep track of all the information he needed to know. The salesperson also admitted even someone as good as he occasionally needs a pep talk. In other words, he could use a sales manager.

The first step to being your own sales manager is to become better organized. When working for someone else, you probably didn't have an organization problem when it came to your own accounts. You knew whom to call on and when, right down to the name of every personal assistant you came in contact with at a company. Now, however, you'll have to keep more detailed written records.

Take, for example, call reports. Most salespeople consider them an annoyance at best. Now they take on added importance. Note all the calls you make, the sooner after the call the better. The notes don't have to be elaborate--just a simple summation of whom you saw, when you saw them, the results and the questions raised.

Also, devise a rating system based on the amount of business clients do with you. And note how much time you spend with each client and when to call them back.

The key is to look at the call report as an aid. Filling one out will make you re-examine your sales strategies. You may find you're spending too much time with customers who don't warrant it, at the expense of servicing bigger customers or looking for new ones.

You should also keep a time log to give you a rough idea of how you're spending your day. Compare it with your daily schedule to see how closely you're sticking to it. You may find you've made fewer sales calls than you planned or spent too much time on activities unrelated to sales.

Neither of these reports should be overly detailed. Just include essential information that will help you sell more efficiently.

Other tips for being your own sales manager include the following:

*Learn to motivate yourself. You no longer have a sales manager to talk you through a slump. Instead, you're it. Whether you're motivated by a fear of failure, a longing for a better quality of life or more money, use it. Don't lose track of what made you take the leap to being a homebased business owner. If you're going through a rough period, call on some sure accounts, talk to friends, commiserate. Just do something.

Bill Kelley is a business writer in Arcadia, California.

Fast Pitch

Hundreds of articles have been written on what to put in a pitch letter. This isn't one of them. Instead, it's a reminder of what not to include:

Program Notes

Contact management software can help you keep your call reports up to speed. Here are a few popular programs:

Home (Not) Alone

By Julia Miller

So-called creative types are often thought to be the least able to efficiently market their services. That's exactly why a group of New Jersey professionals started the Self-Employed Writers and Artists Network (SWAN).

SWAN members include writers, illustrators, designers, photographers and multimedia professionals. Membership in SWAN means learning how to market your services, negotiate fees, prepare contracts, manage taxes, follow legislation, buy new computer equipment and capitalize on the latest printing techniques. Meeting formats range from panel discussions to demonstrations of new technology.

"Being part of a group has really helped reinforce my marketing tactics," says Robert A. Parker, a freelance business writer who's been a member of SWAN for six years. Parker, who writes for a range of national magazines, has won several regional writing awards from the International Association of Business Communicators. Distributing mailers that mention these awards to both existing and potential clients has helped him grow his business.

As a SWAN member, you're listed in a sourcebook that includes your address, phone and fax numbers, e-mail address, Web site and your description of your skills. The sourcebook is sent to 3,000 corporations, agencies, design studios and small businesses that buy creative work. You'll also receive SWAN's newsletter, Cygneture.

Over the past 12 years, SWAN has grown to nearly 150 members. Potential members must submit their portfolios in person. For more information, call (201) 967-1313 or visit the SWAN Web site at

Slime Doesn't Pay

The key to effective self-promotion is being an honorable salesperson. Sound like an oxymoron? Lawrence M. Kohn, president of Kohn Communications in Los Angeles and co-author with Joel Saltzman of Selling With Honor (Berkeley Books), lays out several strategies for "selling yourself without selling your soul." Selling With Honor emphasizes the ways in which people can both communicate value and build long-term relationships with clients:

E-mail Etiquette

There's little doubt that within the next few years many businesses will be targeting customers through e-mail. Here are some pointers to keep in mind before starting an e-mail marketing campaign:

Contact Sources

Kohn Communications, P.O. Box 67563, Los Angeles, CA 90067, (310) 652-1442

Robert A. Parker,