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Q + A with Meryl Hooker, Sales Rockstar

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For a while now I've wanted to do an interview series of  our favorite and most inspiring artists and business people. I am so pleased to launch it with an interview I did with a most inspiring woman and sales rockstar , Meryl Hooker. I was first introduced to Meryl last year by way of my (super awesome) SF Bay area rep Ginger McCleskey. She told me about Meryl's blog Road Rage and said she was the coolest and that I should really check her out. Meryl is an east coast based sales rep for a lot of really fun brands such as Blue Q , Accoutrements and Anne Taintor, to name a few!  She is also really friendly, totally down to earth and really really generous and helpful. I had the surprise pleasure of hearing her give the keynote speech a few weeks ago at a very helpful event my new ( also awesome!) rep Lynn Mitchell put together at the LA Mart . Meryl's talk really got me thinking as she implored us to get off our asses and make the best of this time and this market- a message that I think everyone needs to hear! Our economy is a perfect opportunity to create something better, and it can start with gifts , and with you and me.

You're one of the most prominent and well-known sales reps in the country.  Did you always want to be a sales rockstar and what does it take to keep that up?

I wish I’d started out with such a goal or any goal, really. I just didn’t want to get a real job!   I worked as a rep for nearly six years before I got serious about it.  Once I realized I was really good at selling and that I could make a great living doing it, I started looking at ways to improve.  I studied a couple of sales gurus and productivity experts who really helped me fine-tune, not only my sales methods, but also the ways I worked.

It’s a never-ending process of improvement too.  I didn’t get good in a day. I have to keep practicing every day to keep my skills up and get better.

Alot of people are saying, "the business has changed."  In the time you've been in the business, how would you say it has changed?

First and foremost, the Internet has changed everything.  The product category that I got started in has migrated from a brick and mortar setting to being almost entirely online.  Retail buyers are smarter and savvier then ever.  They have access to information 24/7 and are less dependent on sales reps.  Retailers also have higher expectations of response time from reps and they’re expecting reps to have the answers to their questions now.  In that respect, repping is becoming more and more service-based instead of order taking based.  It will be interesting to see how many manufacturers continue to use reps as the Internet begins to chomp down on face-to-face interaction in favor of the immediate gratification and convenience of online ordering.

Recognizing a good sales rep and then knowing who to sign on with is like spotting The Loch Ness Monster to most new designers/entrepreneurs -- mysterious and rare.
From the sales rep perspective give us some insight on what makes a new line seem appealing to you and how do you judge if it's going to be a good bet for you as a sales rep?

First, I have to like it.  Second, it has to be funny.  I’m not classy, tasteful, sophisticated or high end and I don’t rep those types of products.  Then, I have a 10-account rule.  I have to be able to identify 10 active customers I could sell it to.  If I can’t, it’s not going to be a good fit for my customer base.  I’ve passed on some terrific lines that didn’t fit within my niche market. It doesn’t mean the lines aren’t good, it only means I wouldn’t be a good rep for them.

What do you think the greeting and gift market is going to look like in 5 years?

Wow.  If I had that answer, I’d be able to make a billion dollars selling it!  But here’s how I see the state of the union today.  The industry is approaching a pivotal crossroads.  The Internet isn’t going anywhere and it’s only going to get bigger.  The US Postal Service is in all kinds of trouble and most people under the age of 30 only sending greetings via Facebook and iPhone apps so the future of the industry is definitely up for grabs.

At the very least, I believe as long as people get married and die, there will always be a paper industry.  Brides still want fancy wedding invitations and even in a practically etiquette-less world, you really can’t convey sympathy via email.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to be successful in sales?

Oh, this is my favorite question!  First off, you’ve got to believe in what you’re selling and you’ve got to honestly believe your customers are better off from working with you.  Then, you’ve got to prove it. If you don’t, it won’t take long before your veil will become transparent.  One of my sales heroes told me early on that you’ve got to be friends with your customers.  People want to do business with their friends so dig in for the long haul.  The days of closing the deal and moving on are gone.  This gig is all about relationships so start getting friendly.  Make more friends and serve your customer’s needs first.  Take care of them, and you can bet they’ll take care of you.

Meryl Hooker is a manufacturers representative, writer, speaker, and all around sales rockstar. She is the writer of “Road Rage”, a blog about repping and selling and co-author of  Pushing The Envelope: The Small Greeting Card Manufacturer’s Guide to Working with Sales Reps (Center Aisle Press, May 2010). She lives in Washington, DC and can be reached via www.merylhookersales.com]]>

1 comment

  • Tracey: July 29, 2010

    Very inspiring interview…loved the part about how Meryl ended up being a sales rep just because she didn’t want to get a “real” job! It’s obvious, however, that Meryl has put an enormous amount of research and effort into her “un-real” job…congrats!

    Tracey

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