After working for the same company for 5 years- I reached a point in 2011, where I was not feeling challenged anymore, & with the recent changes in Top Management – the future looked bleak. I had a decision to make – I could either continue where I am -feeling bored, unchallenged & unmotivated or Take on a new challenge.
In the Fall of 2011, I was approached by Canon Canada for a new opportunity for the role of copier salesman in a given territory. I went through the interview process, and I accepted the job offer.
Apart of me felt that I was making a big mistake. I heard a voice saying “Why would you want to leave a job where you have established yourself for 5 years and start from scratch again?”.
I thought to myself – I needed a new challenge, needed to learn new skills, expand my horizons. And after a tug-of-war between two parts of my brain; I decided to take the job.
I did not get a lot of support from my company (at that time), but the words of one of the Managers (Victor) gave me a huge confidence boost. He said “Congrats Nissar, if you can sell copiers you can sell anything. You will learn a lot”.
Those words excited me – I had no idea how to be a copier salesman (I didn’t know one thing how copiers worked) but I was ready. Victor’s encouragement gave me the clue I needed to quit and start over as a copier salesman.
I worked at Canon for a year – in that 1 year, I learned more about Business, Selling, Marketing than four years of University, or reading tons of books. It was in fact the most important apprenticeship type of training I ever received. Here’s what I learned
1. Just Because You Are Afraid, Does Not Mean You Shouldn’t Do It
Every single business day, my job was to knock on doors of local businesses that might be a potential customer, and convince them to meet with me; and if they liked what I had to offer – they would buy from me. Sounds easy, right? It wasn’t easy.
I grew up a shy introverted Indian kid. So talking to strangers itself was hard- imagine now trying to convince strangers to buy. Every single day that I went to my territory I was scared. There was a chance that the prospect might not be interested or might even kick me out of the office. (One day I was actually kicked out of the office; Once even had a dog chase me out).No matter how much affirmation, visualization, mind tricks I did – each day calling on the first prospect was always hard. I later learned that most of my fellow colleagues had the same predicament. The cure was simple -Just Do It!! We were trained that the fear will never go away, but you just have to do it.
Over time my anxiety reduced, my confidence went up and working as a copier salesman became relatively easier. The fear and anxiety were there every day – but the lesson “Feel the Fear and do it Anyway” still stuck with me even today.
2. Activity!! Activity!! Activity!!
In all our weekly sales meetings our Sales Manager Remo repeated the same mantra “This business is simple, all you need to do is to manage your activity – put in the effort, do the work and the results will come”.
If you are in Sales, I am sure you have heard about this mantra “It is a numbers game”. I believe that mantra applies to anything in life. Quantity always precedes quality. Do more of anything, and over time your skills will improve, and so will your results. I was listening to an audio program once and I learned a valuable lesson. Success is directly related to your level of Skill, and your skill is directly related to your level of Action.
Action —–> Skill —-> Success
In order to get massive success, you need to increase your skill level quicker, and this can be done by taking Massive Action.
Massive Action —–> High-level of Skills —–> Massive Success.
I embraced the above idea, I decided to go all-in – Embrace Action to the Fullest – working longer hours, working during lunch hour and over the next few months I became very competent & eventually very successful at that job.
3. Simplicity is King
Our Manager also repeated “This is very simple, all you need to do is to knock on 35 doors a day, hand them your business card and you will get customers calling you when there is a need” “But if you don’t take that simple action, no one will call you and won’t sell anything”.
Initially, I thought to myself, it can’t be that simple “What about the 13 steps Sales Process and the 103 Closing Techniques?”.
I realized that none of the techniques mattered as long as I focused on the fundamentals. Success in any endeavor is simple (not easy)- it is predictable, someone else has already created a recipe. All you need is to use the recipe – but the process might be hard but the end result is always predictable. Getting in shape, getting a promotion, winning a key customer – everything is achievable. All you need to do is to figure out the end-results, find out the recipe & follow the recipe.
4. You Can Never Learn Everything in the Classroom
When I accepted the job offer, I was excited to hear that there was a 5-week boot-camp. This actually gave me confidence in the decision about joining the company. But after 5 weeks of training, I actually felt more stupid, my confidence was low and I felt like I made a huge mistake.
I was petrified-“How do I remember all these things?” I asked myself. My manager gave me assurance that was normal and everyone feels that way. After any training program, you will always feel overwhelmed, but the best experience you will receive is in the real world. I did as suggested – went to my territory and started prospecting.
I failed miserably in the beginning and over time my skills improved, my knowledge improved, my confidence improved and within a few months, I was one of the Top Sales reps in the country.
The best way to learn anything is to simply dive in. Get to work, start applying what you learned – you will gain relevant experience. Heuristic learning in the best way to learn.
5. People Do Business with People
Canon has a reputation for making top-notch products – lenses, cameras, copiers, etc. And every year they win numerous awards. But that does not always mean people are flocking to buy the products.
This is the same with every organization – if all that mattered was the best product, then there would not be salespeople, marketers, customer service reps, quality assurance teams, etc. This is something I learned – it is up to us – salespeople, marketers, professionals to make sure our potential customers benefit from our products. And it is our job to reach out to them, educate them, and persuade them to use our products.
Even though we live in a hyper-connected world – people still make the products, people sell the products, people buy the products and people use the products. Working for Canon, and selling copiers was definitely a fruitful experience for me. In one year, I learned more street-smart business skills than from 4 years in school. I have been able to create a strong foundation in Sales Career as a result.
Companies like Xerox, Canon still continue to provide the best training programs and have been able to shape the careers of numerous individuals. In fact, Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks started off selling copiers at Xerox. Similarly, Bill McDermott, the CEO of SAP also started off selling copiers at Xerox.
If you are a new graduate and you are considering a career in sales or in the business world – I recommend starting out as a copier salesman. The skills you will learn will forge a strong foundation in your future career. “If you can learn to sell copiers you can sell anything”.