Sales Lessons from My Mother

The Thonet Bentwood Rocking Chair has been in production for 150 years. It is a design classic.
The Thonet Bentwood Rocking Chair has been in production for 150 years. It is a design classic.

My mom had a varied business career from which her sons took lessons about hard work, business ethics, and perseverance.  After earning a Master’s in Design, she worked for the state of Connecticut designing educational facilities for the severely mentally challenged (at the time, mentally retarded was the proper term before the R word became an epithet).  After a few years, she entered capital equipment sales, first for Thonet, a famous furniture manufacturer, and later for Amedco, a hospital equipment company.  She was proud of the companies she worked for and it was pretty cool that we owned a Thonet bentwood rocker, a 19th century design classic.  She later managed sales, marketing, and HR at my parent’s clinical research company.  At all three companies, she excelled.

My mother was working her sales territory in the early seventies when companies were reluctant to hire saleswomen.  She was equally comfortable working with purchasing departments, nurses, doctors and engineers.  She would be out on the loading dock when the truck arrived with the equipment, toolbox in hand, assisting with the delivery.

She also went to every bid opening, using it as another opportunity to meet with government purchasing departments and research competitive bidding.  One time, her analysis of a low bid led her to realize the firm was passing off reconditioned equipment as new.  While she initially lost that bid, she protested that the competitor did not conform to the requirements of the RFP and wrestled the contract away from them.  That is perseverance and a judicious use of competitive intelligence.

She also made sure that my brothers and I had a chance to assist with her nursing home deliveries.  She’d hire us to help unload the equipment and push it on dollies to each of the rooms of a new nursing home.  It was good, honest work and gave us an opportunity to witness her sales victories.  We earned $10 an hour, and she expected us to work just as hard as the rest of the crew during the installation.

My mom also had a strong ethical perspective.  For her, sales was about developing relationships, meeting your promises, and never bad mouthing your competitors. When she began selling hospital beds, her territory was poorly developed.  It was basically controlled by the #1 company in the space and it took her years to build up her pipeline and develop the relationships to wrest away sales from the incumbent.  This meant she often delivered samples or sold a few birthing beds (a specialty product) years before the next capital investment cycle.  Birthing beds were her Trojan Horse.

Happy Mother’s Day

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