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The Day I Learned About Salesmanship -- and Deadbeats

The Day I Learned About Salesmanship — and Deadbeats
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Jud’s New England Journal February 2008

Welcome to the February 2008 edition of Jud’s New England Journal, the rather curious monthly musings of Judson Hale, editor-in-chief of Yankee Magazine, published since 1935 in Dublin, New Hampshire.

The Day I Learned About Salesmanship — and Deadbeats

It happened quite a few years ago. But the lessons still apply …

Much of my early education at Yankee Magazine resulted from us all being in one room. There were no private offices. As a result, everyone knew what everyone else was doing and saying.

“Yes, they put the ad rates up again,” I overheard our advertising manager, the late Mrs. Annabelle Dupree, say on the telephone one morning. “No, I don’t know why. They just did.” Mrs. Dupree was a no-nonsense, hardworking New Hampshire native who considered her position at Yankee to be a good lifetime job but certainly not a “career.” Careers were for city people, or maybe artists or actors. “They,” not she, made important decisions such as determining the advertising rates, and she was perfectly content to put it in those terms when talking on the telephone to our customers.

In this case, I felt duty-bound to call the customer back. “It’s not really that our rates have gone up,” I said, attempting to smooth what I felt must surely be the ruffled feathers of a heretofore steady advertiser. “What Mrs. Dupree meant is that our circulation has gone up, and so every advertiser, like yourself, will by buying more apples in the barrel, but at the same rate per apple.”

“How’s that?” said the advertiser, who ran a small furniture company in North Conway, New Hampshire. “I’m selling furniture, not apples.”

“Right,” I said, feeling myself sinking into some obscure morass. “I use apples as an example. You see, our rates are based on a certain cost per thousand subscribers, so …”

“Wait a minute,” the man interrupted. “Will I have to pay more for my advertisement?”

“Well, yes,” I admitted, “but …”

“Well, that’s what your Mrs. Dupree told me 10 minutes ago. I understood her!”

After he’d hung up the phone, Mrs. Dupree called across the room for me not to worry, that the man had already extended his contract six months — at the higher rate. I had a new respect for Mrs. Dupree’s “no frills” sales technique: Just say it straight and plain.

A few days later, a customer stopped by the office to pay an advertising bill that was three months overdue. While he stood next to her desk, Mrs. Dupree searched for several minutes through her file drawers for his records. Suddenly she brightened and reached for a large manila folder on the shelf behind her. “I remember now,” she said in her matter-of-fact tone of voice. “You’re here in my file of deadbeats.”

Across the room, I cringed. Surely she’d gone too far. But not at all. As he wrote out a check for the amount he owed, the man apologized, and on his way down the stairs to the outside door, he called back that he’d try to live the rest of his life in such a way as to avoid being included in “anyone’s file of deadbeats.” Mrs. Dupree didn’t reply. She was already busy with something else.

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The Day I Learned About Salesmanship -- and Deadbeats

Updated Friday, February 1st, 2008

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