It took a year-long break from a 20-year career in sales to make Jill Pavlak realize that selling really is what she wants to be doing. "It's almost a calling," she said. She came back to her job at Creative Graphics, a printing, ad specialties and mailing services company, with a renewed sense of commitment.
"I'm addicted to customer service," she said. "I can't turn it off. I'll answer an email at 10 o'clock at night. It's not the sale -- it's the relationship. There are things I do that don't make a dime, but I'm building goodwill."
Pavlak's friends tell her she could "sell chocolate ice cream cones to ladies in white gloves." She acknowledged that, "I feel like I could sell anything," as long as she respects the company she's working for and is part of a cohesive and supportive team.
While there are still some salespeople who are "doing it old school" -- calling on regular customers in person every six weeks or so -- Pavlak has adapted to the new world of LinkedIn and Facebook for connecting with the customer. "I have customers whose faces I've never seen," she said. Lately, to her surprise, she has found that texting is becoming some customers' preferred method of communication.
Today's market is "so competitive, the value-add is expected," Pavlak said. "You have to turn things around with ridiculous speed, and there's no room for error."
One change that Pavlak can't adapt to: "Lots of folks base their decisions on price. That's what kills me. People go online and shop for price. They don't understand the value of keeping it local. I make connections all the time. That's what I'm good at. The Internet won't get you referrals. Some customers get that; some don't care."
What are some of the challenges of your job?
My office is my car. There's nobody to build myself up but me. I have to be professional with customers, listening and building relationships. I'm not back at the shop that often, so I'm not really part of the team there. You have to be okay with that. There's a lot of self-talk: "Whether you think you can or think you can't, you're right." I can't be overly confident, because that will seem arrogant. But I can't be needy, either. You're not going to sell every customer. I choose to have dementia after every appointment.
What are some of the benefits?
There's flexibility. I couldn't stand to be stuck in an office. I can take my mom to the doctor in the afternoon -- although then I'm also answering emails at night. If a customer invites me to play golf or go on a boat cruise, it's "work" -- but it's awfully fun.
How does the compensation work?
I receive a draw plus commission, which means I receive a paycheck every 2 weeks and a commission check every month ... if I have commissions coming my way, that is. Thank God, that is usually the case. When you are new to a company, they may offer you a salary for three, six, or 12 months without a commission, so you can build up your sales.
What are some secrets of success in sales?
I set goals. "If you don't know where you're going, you'll never get there." I reward myself for meeting goals by taking a customer out for lunch or dinner. I have interests outside of work. My identity doesn't ride on whether I do or don't make a sale. There's always tomorrow.
Poll: What would you choose as a way for you (or your husband) to deal with a midlife crisis?