Where I Learn Sales Lessons From One of the Best, Vern GetmanMy first job out of college was at a subsidiary of the company that had acquired my Dad’s company. It was a lighting fixture manufacturer based in New Jersey.
I was hired as an Inside Sales rep. We had an office environment in the front and a factory in the back. My job was to work with outside rep organizations who called on electrical distributors that carried our line of products. One of these guys was Vern Getman who covered upstate NY from Albany to Buffalo. He had been in the business forever and, in the parlance of today, was absolutely crushing it!
And it was an organization consisting of only him and his wife. He routinely outsold other rep organizations with far larger numbers of reps and, on paper, richer territories. He was a legend around the company. One of the rites of passage for every Inside Sales guy was to spend a week with Vern. So, after getting my bearings and learning the biz a bit, it was time for me to take my turn.
My Week with VernThe way this worked was that I drove up to Vern’s house on a Sunday evening. Vern and his wife hosted each of us on a pull-out couch in their home. A bit unusual, but I didn’t have enough experience at the time to see it this way. Of course, this was all part of Vern’s plan to better size me up. I just thought they were being super nice and hospitable.
We get up on Monday morning to start the week at 4:30am. Mrs. Getman has prepared breakfast and packed a huge cooler full of sandwiches and drinks for the week. Seriously. We pile into Vern’s car - an absolutely huge late-60’s Mercury - and set off for our first call.
Oh, by the way, ol’ Vern has a unique style - he has a “high-and-tight” standard Army-issue flattop haircut and a uniform. Black suit, white shirt, and a red clip-on bow tie. I kid you not. In fact, he has a box of bow tie’s in the trunk. One gets dirty, he tosses it and gets a new one. He orders by the gross. He hasn’t worn anything different for work in nearly forty years. His biz card has a little caricature of him and his red bow tie. His card says, “Getman Sales, just ask the guy in the red bow tie.”
Every stop we make it’s the same thing. We walk in and everyone greets him with a smile and a big “Vern!” He knows everybody’s name. If there’s a new employee who he doesn’t know, he makes a point of stopping and chatting them, learning their name, asking about their life and congratulating them on their new job and giving them a nice word of encouragement. And he gives them his card and a bow tie. Even if they’re female and have zero intention of wearing Vern’s fashion statement. They only cost him thirty cents each but, as he says, the memory of getting one’s first Getman bow tie is priceless.
Remember that we’re calling on electrical distributors. They sell stuff to electricians and building contractors. They’re wearing Carhartt work pants / overalls and flannel shirts and stuff. And there’s Vern in his black suit, holding court and roaming through the stockroom looking for low inventory and checking on how much of the competitor’s stuff the supply counter is selling, and so on.
Basically, he comes up with the order and brings it to the owner or manager to sign. He NEVER gets resistance or a question about his judgment of what the guy orders. He ask only about the local business climate, housing starts, and so on. He talks about new stuff coming from the factory but only if asked by the customer. Or as a seemingly off-hand remark as part of shooting the shit about how biz is going for the customer.
The orders he gets are strong, but they’re not padded....which he could easily do. He knows that’s not only wrong and a violation of the serious trust he’s built up over the years, but it’s also not in his best interest long-term. He simply checks every possible SKU, not just the high-margin stuff or fast-moving inventory. And he’s ALWAYS asking how he can help in any way. This goes on for a solid week. First calls at some supply house at 6:30AM or so, last call twelve hours later. Same routine.
At the end of the week he’s got scores of order sheets and he knows that he got everything there was to get, he solidified his reputation, and left the customer happy. And I’m exhausted and I’m 22 and he’s forty years older than me! Amazing!
- Doing what Vern does, has nothing to do with what most people think of as sales.
- Vern would hand them the sheet for the customer to sign....Vern was deeply embedded in the customer’s business, he was a trusted partner - he was more help to the business than the other guys....they outsourced the buying to Vern...he was more helpful and more valuable to the business than the others.
- The industry is in denial about the empowerment of the buyer and the disenfranchisement of the salesperson.
- What would Vern do today?