Part of my experience working at the newspaper in Los Angeles was helping with the sales department. I was drafted to assist in building up the classified section of the Spanish language monthly they published, trying to establish quality job offerings rather than the usual bar tending or janitorial positions.
I was excited to be part of a paper that wanted to improve the quality of life of readers and members of the community. But I didn’t speak much Spanish and I wasn’t a sales person. So, that was tricky.
I was given a script to use when communicating to various businesses, and I was trying to sell a free ad. Yes, a free ad. They wanted to make businesses aware that their publication was available and could bring results. So we started by offering a few months of free classified ads. Then, if they chose, they could continue advertising at a nominal fee.
Suffice it to say that in Los Angeles, people are very skeptical of anything that’s considered free. It was not an easy thing to sell, but I did manage to get a handful of businesses on board. And even one or two who bought ads after the trial period.
The biggest thing I learned from that experience is that I do NOT like cold calling. It is quite uncomfortable. I already disliked talking on the phone; this just increased my anxiety even more. I felt like I stumbled quite a bit in trying to figure out what to say. And without visual cues of a face-to-face conversation, I had even less to go on with evaluating my impact.
Since this assignment became a big part of my volunteer work for several months, it also became a highlight on my resume. So I included this when I began looking for a new job once I was back in South Carolina.
I wasn’t sure what kind of position to pursue, but I posted my resume on a few job sites. Soon after, I was contacted by a director of sales at a nearby newspaper. Thankfully he wasn’t looking for a sales representative but a sales assistant, someone to help with keeping tracking of ads being created and making sure they ran in the paper when they were supposed to. The paperwork side of things for the sales team. I made sure to ask if he expected me to sell ads, and he didn’t. Good. I had no desire to do more cold calling.
Initial challenges on the job
I was hired to be the sales assistant for the “new business” sales team. As the name indicates, these individuals are responsible for bringing in new clients. There were three other sales teams with the paper: two divided up the coverage area based on geography and then the other was a national sales team (JC Penny, T-Mobile, etc).
I remember my first day on the job consisted of being introduced to all the various departments at the paper. My supervisor pointed out the people I would be working with in each stage: inputting ad orders into the computer system, working with graphic designers in the ad creation, and how to make sure everything is in and accounted for to make deadlines.
So that was helpful and overwhelming. Seeing everything at once. The problem, though, is that she showed me everything out of order. Let’s say the process could be broken down into 7 steps. I saw step 6, then 3, then 5, then 2, etc. I had a hard time trying to piece things together and make sense of what I was expected to do. There was a procedure to follow here, and I didn’t get to see it properly.
And before the day was over, she let me know that in two weeks we would have about two or three news sales representatives starting on our team. She wanted me to be ready to give a PowerPoint presentation explaining my role in the office and how I would work with them.
That didn’t sit very well with me. Complete information overload.
Over the next few days I shadowed one of the other sales assistants and slowly the process began to make sense. But it didn’t take long to realize that everyone was overwhelmed and overworked. That deadlines came fast and expectations were high. There was a lot of pressure and a lot of details to keep in mind.
It was especially challenging to nudge graphic designers about finishing an ad mock up for a potential client when they had plenty of other ads to finish for approaching deadlines.
My supervisor also told me that I was in charge of keeping up with a dry erase board documenting the progress of my sales team. But not just tracking monthly goals and sales. I was also expected to come up with a monthly theme for the board and decorate it. I’m not a visually artistic person.
I believe my first theme was “RAKING IN THE SALES” because it was fall. I cut out orange, red and yellow paper leaves. And on the leaves I wrote the names of all the different publications and products that were available to sell. It seemed completely lame to me, but it was something. And I don’t think there was much positive feedback from my boss.
I kept trying to digest all the information I could about what I was expected to do and the procedure to follow. I put together my PowerPoint presentation. I had made a few of those in college, so I was familiar with that process.
I erred on the side of too many details. I made sure to walk the sales reps step-by-step through the process: You made a sale, now what?; where forms and ad orders should be stored in our section of the office; each layer of approval along the way. I explained exactly what was their responsibility and what was mine.
Afterward, I did receive some praise from my boss — finally. She commented that I clearly have learned the way this job works and that she learned a lot from the presentation.
Perhaps it’s wishful thinking that your supervisor should know what your job entails.