July 30, 2019 – Joseph Feibel
It’s safe to assume that a recession is coming. Most people will not prepare for this, but I hope by now you are thinking about what you can do to either protect your job or find a better job if you should get fired.
If you are in sales, you are paid on commission. You are less likely to get fired, but you are more likely to suffer a drop of income than salaried employees who do not get fired. That’s why you won’t get fired. The company knows what you are worth because it has a commission structure that has been set up to justify putting you on the payroll. Your main threat will be a fall in purchases and therefore income, but since that is going to be facing every company across the board, it would be foolish for your employer to replace you, only to give a new, untrained person your sales territory. There is no way that he will have the same ability to sell that you have now.
Therefore, I am writing this for those of you who are on salary. What can you do to protect your job?
LIAISON WITH MARKETING
If your company is large enough to have a marketing department, walk over to the department and ask for copies of its marketing materials. When I say marketing, I also mean sales. Large companies may have two departments. None of your coworkers has ever done this. This will impress the head of marketing.
Take the marketing materials home and review them carefully. Identify anything that calls attention to the value added by your department. There may be nothing there. If there isn’t, this is an opportunity.
Sit down with a piece of paper or in front of a computer screen and write a script that you would use to make a presentation to a prospective buyer regarding the benefits that have been provided by your department in making the product or service cheaper, more predictable, less troublesome, and so forth. Make the conceptual link between what you do for a living and what the prospective buyer has in mind for the product or service involved.
Once you have the script, or maybe several, go back to the person in charge of marketing and volunteer to attend the next regional trade show in which your company is going to have an exhibition booth. Tell him that you’re willing to do this for the price of a hotel room and transportation costs. You can be there as a technical representative who can back up the salesperson who will be manning the booth. He can refer a prospective buyer to you if he thinks that this is likely to increase the likelihood of a purchase.
No one has ever made this offer to the head of marketing. He may not know what to do with you. It may be that the expense of flying you to the meeting and paying for a motel room is so high that it won’t pay him to do it. Ask him to think about it. Tell him that you would like to see the salesman in action because you would like to use this information to improve the marketing materials for the product. Hand him your typed sales presentations regarding the benefits that your department adds to the product or service. He may not have thought of these benefits.
Marketers are always interested in finding new ways to move the product cheaply. Even if he does not think paying for you to attend this trade show is worth it, he will at least remember you volunteered to do this. You can even say you would be willing to pay for your own transportation if the trade show is within a three-hour drive. He will be more likely to take a chance on you.
If you fly or drive to the show with the salesman, ask strategic questions about how the product is sold. Ask questions about the marketing materials. This will not be suspicious. You are on the team as a pinch-hitter. Again, nobody ever does this who is outside of the marketing or sales department. When you begin to talk about what he does for a living, he will not stop talking. That is because nobody really pays any attention to his job. He never gets to explain to anybody exactly what he does for a living. He will give you a lot of information. Take careful notes.
At the trade show, walk around and pick up sales materials from other booths. Take that material home to see what your competitors are offering. The salesman may not do this. He is busy at the booth. But you should do it. You are accumulating an inventory of materials that are suitable for marketing. In the direct-response marketing business, these are called swipe files. They are well named.
If all you do is sit behind the salesman and listen to him when he talks to people, that will be beneficial. Take notes. If he sends somebody over to you in order for you to explain what the benefits are that your department produces, you will begin to learn something about sales. You will begin to learn how to listen for what people want from the product. You will begin to be able to make connections between what they are asking and what the company you work for is able to deliver.
The sales representative may hesitate to let you talk to anyone. That is because technicians have a tendency to kill sales. They keep talking about technical features, so the listener’s eyes glaze over. This reduces sales. But if you focus on benefits, and you mention technical features only in so far as these will help prove your case regarding the benefits, then you will learn the basics of sales. The sales representative will tell the director of marketing how you did. Unless you were a complete flop, he will give a good report. You have now identified yourself as a benefit to the marketing department.
If you volunteer your time to go to a trade show, or at least all-day Saturday if your boss won’t let you off on Friday, you are going to create a working relationship with the marketing department. If you turn out to have a gift for sales, then if the company ever cuts back on operations, and there are cuts in your department’s budget, you will have an edge when the recession hits. The head of marketing may go to your boss and tell him that it would be helpful for the marketing department if you are not fired. If you are fired, maybe the head of marketing will let you come over to his department, and you will then become a salesman. You will have to scramble because you do not have a lot of experience, and you will not have your own territory. But if you can write copy, or if you can be an effective backup person at trade shows, the head of marketing may figure you are worth the money.
The main thing is this: he probably will intercede with your boss or the head of your department to persuade the person not to fire you. You have made yourself available free of charge. You’re offering him something for nothing. Everybody likes something for nothing. The price is right.
Your knowledge of marketing will make you a more efficient employee in your present department. If you can go to your boss and show that you have persuaded the head of marketing to emphasize some benefit that your department brings to the table in the production process, then it’s a benefit for your boss to keep you on the payroll. You are making his department look better. You are making his department look more beneficial to the people who really matter, namely, the marketing staff. They are the ones who keep money coming in the door.
As long as you can meet your deadlines in your department, your boss should not care what you do on the weekends. Even if you have to take Friday off once in a while, it is no big loss if he knows he can trust you not to miss a deadline. It is not as though you’re taking a day off from work. You are simply acting indirectly as a spokesman for your department in the department that matters most. That is a benefit for your boss. If this is not clear to him, gently persuade him otherwise. If you persuade him, you will now have two people in the company who have an incentive not to put you on the list of disposable employees.