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Redployment to Sales

When I came home from work one day and told Connie that I was going to go into sales, she asked if we might starve. She knew that I don't have the typical salesman personality, and so did I, but that was partly why I wanted to do it. I wanted to see if I could succeed at it.

The Job Interview with "Shoe"

I applied for a sales position in Mansfield, Ohio as part of the redeployment program, and was offered the job the next day, including a raise. The branch manager was so excited to have someone who wanted to move to mansfield instead of away from Mansfield, he offered me the job immediately. I was also offered the opportunity to go to Mansfield on IBM's time and at IBM's expense and check it out. So I did.

I met with Mike Shoemaker, the local sales manager and he asked me lots of questions as if he was interviewing me. I was asking him questions about the job, and to him I guess I seemed a bit tentative about the job. He told me at the end of our meeting, "I want you to call me on Monday and tell me that you want the job." It was his way of saying that he wanted to know that I was positive about taking the job.

So, on Monday, I called him and told him I wanted the job. He said to let him work on it and see if they could make me an offer. I told him I already had and offer from this guy Jerry McKenna (the branch manager, Mike's boss) and he said, "Oh." He wasn't aware that Jerry had already offered me the job. He thought he was interviewing me!

Suiting Up

Of course in 1987 when I started in sales, we wore dark suits, a white shirt, a "sincere" tie and eight pound wing tip shoes. I always said that there was no dress code, but if you broke it they'd sure let you know soon enough.

Working in the plant, we seldom wore ties and never wore a suit. I spent my first month's pay on suits, but on that first day of work in sales, when I put on my suit, I felt like a salesman. I still can remember how that felt. I never resented wearing a suit after that. (I'd hate to go back to it now though)

Training at "Chernoble" Ridge

IBM's sales training was comprised of several weeks of self study in the branch office while you are working, and then you would go to a training center in Atlanta, Georgia (actually Chamblee, GA) for two or three weeks (no coming home on the weekends) for intense classroom and role playing training. Then you'd go back to the branch for more self study, then back to Atlanta for another two or three week class. That to most of year, and you attended three or four classes in Atlanta.

The first thing you did on the first day of class in Atlanta was take a test on the material you had been studying in the branch. If you failed the test, they sent you back to the branch (very, very bad).

The training in Atlanta was challenging in that you had to do mock sales calls and presentations and be graded on them, and they had just certain things they wanted you to say and a certain way you were to say them, but it was all supposed to sound very natural, not structured or recited. It was frustrating (it simply made most people so mad they could spit).

If you failed the training, and you were a new hire, you lost your job. If you were a redeployed employee, as were many at that time including me, and you failed, you would be sent back to the plant which would be very, very embarrassing. Now new hire employees might have expected to be treated this way, but most of the redeploys had been around IBM long enough that we surely didn't expect to be treated that way, and fairly much resented it. The living arrangements in Atlanta contributed to the negative experience as well.

We were staying in the Noble Ridge apartment complex which was actually across I275 in Dunwoody, GA. IBM owned or leased the entire complex and it was full of sales trainees, four people (at least) to an apartment. The apartments were of pretty cheap construction, all looked the same (gray clabber board as I recall) and had two bedrooms, so you had to share a room with someone (again, for someone from the plant, an affront)

One person per apartment would be assigned the "driver" and they would be given a Chevy Caprice from Enterprise Leasing. So each morning, there would be a stream of Chevy Caprices rolling out of Noble Ridge (affectionately known as Chernoble Ridge) with four people in dark suits in them. It looked like something out of a movie. Talk about feeling like a number rather than a person.

As I said, you weren't permitted to go home on the weekend and they always assigned some big project for the weekend so that people would be kept busy over the weekend - no time to party was the theory - again designed for the single new hires right out of college, but for seasoned employees, another affront.

Keith at Chernoble

On my second trip to Chernoble, I was there a day or two and I got a call from Andy Stoy, our SE manager. He says, "Mark I need you to do favor for me." I figured he wanted me to buy something for him or something like that. Then he explained that a colleague, Keith was in his second week at Chernoble and that he called and wanted to quit and come home. He said, "You know if he comes home, he'll loose his job." Now Keith was a really good guy. He and I got along really great and he was an excellent technician too. I sure didn't want to see Keith loose his job, but I sure didn't need to be spending time getting involved in this. I had my own worries. Andy explained that he had called and left a message for Keith's class manager, but that he wanted me to go over and talk to Keith and get him to stay. He said, "Don't let Keith come home." Right, sure Andy.

So I go and find Keith's apartment, knock on the door and when this guy comes to the door, I ask if Keith is there. He says, "Yeh, he's in the bedroom," and points to a door. I go open the door and the room is dark. Then I realize Keith is sitting on the floor on the other side of the bed crying. Oh man, I never bargained for this. Now I don't think a bit less of Keith for this, and I hope you don't either. This training was very, very stressful (explained a little bit above) and Keith had had enough. But I talked with him for a while and he was feeling a little better. I left and not long after I left, his class manager showed up and encouraged him and he made it through the whole training program.

The Picture at Chernoble

When I came back from my last visit at "Chernoble," I went to work on Monday and was feeling pretty good about having completed my sales training and it was good to be back in Mansfield and back to work at the office - an all round good start for a Monday morning. Then "Shoe" called me into his office and asked me what went on at training. This seemed like a rather weird question since he certainly had a pretty good idea and since it was all over, it didn't really matter anyway. I started to answer him, giving him some description of the classes, and he stopped me and said, "No, I mean like in your apartment." Now I was really puzzled. I sat there looking at him, with a puzzled look I guess, and then he explained that the class manager called him and said that my roommates and I had wrecked the apartment. I said they must have something screwed up. We didn't do anything to the apartment, and Mike said, well she says you did, and she wants to have you fired. Now I was stunned.

I assured him that we did not damage anything in the apartment. Mike knew me pretty well by that time and he had already told the manager in Atlanta that he didn't think I'd do such a thing. I asked him what damage specifically they were saying was done. He said that we had drawn on the pictures. I said that there was one picture of a seascape that someone had drawn a naked woman on the beach with a black marker. He said that they were sure it was us who had done it, otherwise we would have reported it. I said, "Heck Mike, this is Chernoble Ridge. We never thought a thing about it." It was sort of like someone saying you defaced the city dump by dropping a candy wrapper.

After a couple of days, I guess everyone's story agreed and they finally let it drop.

See an update on Noble Ridge form November 2019

Almost Leaving

After I had been in sales for a little more than a year, I was really discouraged with it. I probably would have sited different things as the problem but in retrospect, I think the real problem was having to deal with failure so much. I engineering, you are successful on project the vast majority of the time (or you darned well better be), but in sales, even the best salesman "fails" more then half the time. In computer sales, if you are closing a third of the deals you work on, you are doing very well. So, learning to deal with that "failure" was difficult.

So I went to the library to look for some books on production control. I learned a good bit about production control and had contacts at several manufacturing companies, so I thought I'd see about getting a job in production control. But at the library, I found a bunch of books about sales. I had not even imagined that people had written books about selling and sales techniques, but there they were. I found one by a guy called Zig Ziglar, called "Secrets of Closing the Sale," read that, and ordered a free tape that was offered in the book. I found out that ol' Zig is even better speaking than he is in his books. I bought the tape set of "Secrets of Closing the Sale," started listening to them and it changed my perspective entirely on selling. I know really enjoy selling.

Collecting MRP points for PS/2s

In the 80s, IBM was experiencing a challenge from companies that offered medium sized computer systems, DEC, and Wang for example. In order to incent the sales force to focus on these medium sized (and medium priced) machines, they came up with MRP (mid-range performance) points. We got a quota for MRPs each year. Different mid-sized systems counted different MRP points.

In about 1988, IBM was selling the PS/2 model 70. This was our first 386 processor based PC - a very powerful and expensive PC for that time. It was given 1/2 of an MRP point.

Mike telling the customer to get on the helicopter.

I was making a sales call at Guardian Glass in Upper Sandusky. My manager, Mike Shoemaker was with me. The data processing manager was completely sold on the idea of getting a S/38. There were a couple of DP folks in from the corporate office in Detroit who had flown it that day on the company helicopter. One of the corporate guys was saying, "Oh we could do this job with a PC network." We didn't sell PC networks and wanted to sell the S/38 so we were getting more and more frustrated. Mike asked the guy, "Where did you come from?" The guy said, "Detroit." Mike said, "Well how did you get here?" The guy said, "We flew in on the helicopter." Of course Mike already knew that, and then he said, "Well why don't you go get on the helicopter?" I about died.

On the way home, I told Mike I couldn't believe he said that to the guy. He said, "What did I say?" He had been so frustrated he didn't even know what he had said to the guy.

We did eventually get the order.

Mike Firing Frank Scoles

Each year in January, each branch office had a kick-off meeting. This was when the accomplishments of the previous year were recounted and the plans for the next year were laid out. The management always tried to make a production out of it to inspire everyone. Of course at the same time there were budget constraints to live up to.

In about 1989 the IBM office got the job of producing the kick-off meeting. We were a part of the Columbus-Suburban branch office so all the people from Columbus (probably three or four other departments) came up to Mansfield and we had the kick-off meeting in the Renaissance Theater. At the time Frank Scoles was very much involved with Ontario Schools (he may have been on the school board at that time as he did a short stint on the board as an appointed replacement). Frank got the idea to have the Ontario grade school choir sing a couple of songs at the kick-off meeting including the IBM Company Song.

Mike Shoemaker, the sales manager in Mansfield was in charge of the whole thing and he decided to have the Cub Scout den that the led do the opening ceremony of presenting the flag and leading the pledge of allegiance, that combined with Frank's Ontario School Choir bit gave it a real family town aspect which everyone in Mansfield was proud of.

Well, as these things often go, by noon time the program was about 45 minutes behind schedule and Mike wanted to scrub the Ontario School Choir. They were already there, waiting in the wings when Mike made the decision to scratch them and told Frank to tell them. Frank refused. He said he couldn't do that to them after they learned the IBM Song just for the program and spent school money to bus the kids over to the program. Mike got really mad and told Frank he was fired. Frank told him he didn't care, he wasn't going to scratch the kids.

They went on, and we eventually got the show somewhat back on schedule and everything turned out alright and Frank got rehired.

Shoe & Algebra

I was working on a deal with Whirlpool Corporation to replace their processor. I had done some financial analysis to show them how they could save money by buying a new processor rather than running their existing machine. I don't remember the details of the proposal or the calculations, but I remember going into Shoe's office and telling him I had come up with an analysis that showed them it was cheaper to buy a new machine. He was interested and wanted to know the details.

So I got out a piece of paper and laid out the facts and then put them into and algebraic equation and then solved the equation. When I was all done, Shoe looked at me very sternly and said, "Don't you ever do that again."

I guess I had a puzzled look on my face and he broke into a grin and said, "Where in the hell did you learn to do that?" I told him it was just simple algebra that I had learned in high school. He said, "Well that's embarrassing. Don't ever do that again," with a big grin on his face.

The Cookie Monster.

I once had a processor sale pending with the phone company (my only account at the time and the largest in the Mansfield office). It was all approved from a technical standpoint and we were just waiting on the financial guy to approve it. It got to be the very end of the quarter and it hadn't been approved. I didn't know what to do. I asked Frank, a very experienced SE who had been calling on the phone company a long time, what we could do. He said, Randy likes those Chinese cookies from the bakery down the street, let's get a bag of those and go see him. I thought, "Oh man, Randy's going to see right through that," but I also had not better ideas and Frank pretty much knew what he was doing, so off we went. We took the bag of cookies to Randy and told him we needed that process purchase approved. The next day I had the order!

The First AS/400

In 1988, IBM announced the AS/400. It was a replacement of the System/38 which was mid-range computer that was pretty successful.

In the late Spring or early Summer, these two guys walked into the IBM office and said they wanted to buy a computer for a business they were starting. They wanted someone to come and meet with them and help them figure out what they needed. Now to have someone walk in off the street and want to buy a system was virtually unheard of. In fact this was the only time I've ever heard of it happening. So some questions were asked and as best as could be determined they seemed to be legit. So I got the assignment to go over to Galion the next week and meet with them.

There were two or maybe three of us who went to the meeting. The meeting was held in this old house that was next door to bank. The bank owned the house and made available to these guys for just such meetings as they were getting their business started. The house looked almost spooky and this was such and unusual thing to have happen that my mind was going a million miles an hour. Maybe they are mafia.. It just seemed surreal.

But we met with them and learned that they were going to buy the old North Electric facility and go into business making power supplies for the telecommunications industry. They expected to be in business in a month. So we talked with them to understand what they needed and

I sold an upgrade to their AS/400 to RR Donnelly in Willard. That was the biggest sale I'd had to that time. I think the biggest sale I made while I was a client rep.

Selling the 9370

IBM announced the 9370 processor in 1986. It was kind of a flop as a general purpose mid range machine, at least in our territory. I think we sold lots of them for special purpose machines like store systems controllers or replacements for some old 8100 machines, but as far as in the general territory, they weren't selling.

So there was a bunch of pressure put on us to sell the 9370s. There were contests, and programs. Staff people came down from Detroit (our area offices) and held training and planning seminars. The problem wasn't that we didn't know what we were doing or that we weren't trying. Everyone would have loved to sell some of these machines, but they just weren't that great of an offering.

In 1992 IBM announced some program that got customers interested in the 9370. I don't remember if it was a price decrease or new models or what, but we had meetings with the potential customers to tell them about the new deals.

In 1991 and 1992 I was assigned United Telephone as one my accounts. In 1992, they bought a 9370. They needed it for some particular project. I didn't feel like I sold it as much as happened to be there when they bought it. I did have to work to a little to get the order. That story is described in the Cookie Monster story.

I had also been talking with HPM about replacing their 4341 with a 9370. It made total sense for them but Harold wouldn't buy it from me. Joe Mull was the SE on the account and Harold trust Joe explicitly. Most all of Joe's customers did. So I told Joe that he needed to go get the order, that Harold trusted him and would buy it from him, but he wouldn't buy it from me. So Joe went and got the order, just like I wrote the script.

Then one day, Bill Danuloff at Gorman Rupp called me said he wanted to buy a 9370. I almost fell off my chair. I had been proposing it for several years, but Bill wasn't moving. Now all of a sudden he calls me wanting to buy. And buy he did.

So in that year, I sold three 9370 processors. I think it was the most that had ever been sold in a general territory in our area. I did make some money that year.

But Joe and I had a lot more work to do for the HPM deal. When the machine was delivered Joe helped them move over tho the new machine over a weekend. The next week, their batch cycles weren't getting done as fast as they had with the old machine. The new machine was supposed to be almost 30% faster, but the batch jobs were taking something like 20% longer to run.

So Joe went to work to find out what was wrong. After quite a lot of work he discovered that the 9370 wouldn't handle this one type of emulation as efficiently as the old 4341. A long story made short, IBM gave HPM an upgrade to the machine worth $18,000. It was the right thing to do and I was proud to work at a company that would do that. There was one manager who wanted me to lie to the customer and when I challenged him - I specifically asked him if he was telling me to lie to the customer - he backed off.

Due to the major reorganization in 1990, I changed jobs and began working out of my home. In theprocess, I was actually without a job for 3 months.