You don’t need to be like Herb Tarlek to manage sales (and your business) effectively

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Next year’s Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) conference will be in Cincinnati. Alas, I won’t be able to conduct an interview about media sales practices with Herb Tarlek since he and his radio station WKRP were mythical creations for a television comedy series originally broadcast in 1978-82.

Tarlek represented the awful stereotypical and relatively ineffective salesperson you probably recognize as the individual you wouldn’t ever want to encounter in real life, and this was reflected in the radio station’s extraordinarily low ratings (dead last in the market).

His dress and mannerisms reflect the stereotype.

Herb is best known for his atrocious taste in clothes. He always wears a white belt and white shoes; most of his suits are made of polyester and are covered in loud plaid patterns. He claims to get his suits in a golf pro shop in Kentucky; no one else makes his kind of clothes anymore due to anti-pollution laws. While Herb’s co-workers mock his fashion sense (“Somewhere there’s a Volkswagen without seat covers”), Herb claims that his suits put his clients at ease, conveying the message “trust me, sign my deal! I know what I’m doing.” He is proven right in the episode “Changes”, when he switches over to a tasteful wardrobe; his lowbrow clients don’t trust someone with such a highbrow wardrobe, and Herb quickly returns to his old way of dressing. (Wikipedia).

Obviously, Tarlek’s approaches are fantasy than real, but many of us have the perceptions of the sleazy salesperson/manager in our minds, and these behaviours live on today in the used car market.

Thankfully, they are rare within the AEC community, except in some segments of the residential market, where door-to-door canvassers and “in home sales reps” sometimes go over the line in pushiness and questionable sales practices. But I’m sure the stereotypes linger in decision-makers minds, with the wish to deal with knowledgeable technical experts who truly understand their challenges, rather than someone with an in-the-box “solution” he (and I’ll gender specific this behaviour to be more male than female) wishes to push on them.

The key to effective business development, the pundits often say, is through relationships and genuine understanding and client support, and this is more than buying social contact through golf games and ethically more dubious expensive free fishing trips and client vacation offers. In this context, follow-up communications and relationships and after-sales support often carry far greater weight than bringing in the initial order.

We can certainly laugh at Herb Tarlek, however, we don’t need to be like him.

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