How Being Unstoppable Took Me From Warehouse Clerk to Enterprise Tech Sales without “connections”.
I dropped out of college after 1.5 years (a zillion years ago, before the internet) because I had no money/family support and also did not know what to do with my life. I took a temp job as a warehouseman for a company that distributed word processors in the U.S. After working for a bit, I began to find I was interested in technology. So I decided that I would become a successful sales type in the business while unloading trucks at the time!
Pretty ridiculous, right? I remember the day I made that decision. I was about to begin unloading the third truck in a row alone that day, 20,000 lbs of printers. It was 3:30, I’d been going since 8 in the morning with only a 30 minute lunchbreak and a couple of 10 min breaks. It was 95 degrees. I had sweat through my shirt so many times already that I had that gamey smell you get when you sweat and dry off many times in a row.
I took a break as the next container was wheeled up to the loading dock. A smoker back then, I took a long drag on my cigarette and had a moment of clarity. I saw all the workers around me, working class guys who were good people but lived on the edge of poverty and financial disaster always. A blown transmission could push them into bankruptcy. I was making 6.50 an hour (started a 4.50 an hour as a temp) and asked myself, “Is this it? Is this going to be my life?”
And the answer came rushing up from the bottom of my gut — “NO!!!!” And so I began my climb “up the ladder”. I resumed school at night, taking some logistics/distribution management courses to show my superiors that I took the warehouse job seriously. I came early, I stayed late, I asked for extra work, I worked all the overtime I was offered. There was one point where I worked 110 hours in one week — do the math folks, those were 15 hour days of on my feet, manual work. Arrive at 7 am, leave at 11 pm or later.
My ambition was noted and when the receiving clerk job opened up due to an employee leaving I jumped at it and was given the job even though I had less experience than anyone in the warehouse. Fyi, receiving is the most complex, mentally challenging job in a warehouse as all the incoming goods need to be properly identified and accounted for. It kicks off payments to vendors, and accuracy is crucial to forecast ship dates for customer orders. I not only threw myself into the job, I created an independent study project with junior college I was attending to get credit for re-organizing the receiving area and process according to best practices in the field. This was before RFID. I also got them to put a terminal for the ERP system in receiving to eliminate a costly data entry step in the process. This was noted.
I realized that in order to move up, I would need to get noticed by people who ran important internal departments by making notable contributions and improvements in the work — not just by showing up. In the warehouse we were always getting requests from customer service to expedite orders and I became the go-to person in a pinch. You see, I had handled the receiving area so well that I had extra time and would pitch in back in the shipping dept.
When a customer service job opened up, I lobbied hard for it. I remember being interviewed by the manager, an experienced woman who initially didn’t want to hire some warehouseman for the job. She was very skeptical. But I made my case emphatically. I knew the systems and processes of the distribution center inside and out. I could expedite orders and deal with returns better than anyone because I could actually do the entire process. I promised to stay late and learn the computer systems they used on my own time.
I was given my shot. I remember shopping for office clothes. I remember the mostly good natured ribbing from my fellow warehousemen, as the divide between office workers and them was pretty wide. I was so proud and even got a small raise. Now I’d be making 8 dollars an hour, but got less overtime so I’d actually be earning less on a monthly basis.
I attacked the job furiously. I discovered that the entire Returned Merchandise Authorization system was a mess and realized it needed to be better automated. I had done as I promised and learned to use the word processors we sold as well, and realized via it’s scripting and merging and sorting features that I could create a new reporting process which automated the tabulation of it all and could provide the distribution management team with a key report they currently didn’t have. By doing so I was noted by all the managers and VP of Distribution.
From there I moved into the order processing & collections dept and then to the asset management dept. All the way I built strong relationships with the field sales offices and the people in them. I constantly did favors for them wrt orders. I also maintained good relationships with the distribution team and would even go help them with month-end, working out in the distribution center on weekends here and there.
I made it known that I wanted to become a sales rep and one day, the New York city office guys were in town for a team sales meeting. I had pressed their branch admin to make an introduction to the sales manager for me — and after all I had done for him he couldn’t say no. I went out and spent 500 dollars on a good suit, shirt and tie and showed up and pressed him hard on why I would make a great sales person. I had also dived deep into motivation and sales books like Zig Ziglar’s See You at The Top and others, and used what I learned by reading. I’d had a retail sales job while in school — I just used everything I had to show him I was sales material. He was not sure either but loved my ambition, and the suit.
And then they had an idea. You see, I was known to be this mini-rock star by that point on all the admin systems of the company to the field office admins and the NYC administration was a mess. They had the worst receivables in the company and orders, commissions and everything else was a mess. They’d hired some accountant to deal with it but he simply had no clue as to how the systems worked. So they asked me if I would move to NYC to be their admin for 6 months to fix all their problems in exchange for shot as a sales rep?
I said “YES!!!!”. There was no relocation money and the pay was still low, 26k a year but now I had my shot. And guess what? After 6 months they renegged on their offer. I found another sales job, selling mortgages — not what I wanted but I figured sales experience would help me and did not want to be an admin so I came in and gave my notice. I called their bluff — and it worked. I agreed to continue to help out in admin but they would put me in sales immediately.
Another raise, a ton of training and again, I threw myself at it. And then came my first dose of corporate business reality. We were a U.S. subsidiary of a Euro firm and were losing money. We were shut down 3 months after moving into sales. I sold one deal, got some great training, but was crushed. But guess what happened then? The manager I worked for loved me because of my hustle so he gave me a great reference and agreed to say I was in sales for 6 months (a little white lie, I know) but then I got my real shot in enterprise tech sales and the rest is history.
What’s the lesson to be taken from this? I got ahead based on accomplishment, not “my network”. Not via school alumni connections but rather by going above and beyond what was called for and constantly doing great work. I built relationships in the company based on the work, not going out for drinks. I focused on being the best employee and worker I could be, and being creative above and beyond that. I also pressed really hard for what I wanted and fought for it. I was unstoppable and accordingly, I was not stoppped. I did all the above in 2.5 years, while going to night school.
Ask yourself this: Are you unstoppable? If not, you will be stopped. I subsequently went on to work in startups after learning my craft and now consult to early phase enterprise tech startups who want to be unstoppable too! Check me out at www.salescoachforstartups.com