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Business 101

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by Ellen Rohr

A 13-year-old's feet are disproportionately large for his body. Thirty-five percent of a kid's body weight is in his feet. I can't believe how fast my son's feet grow ... and how many pairs of basketball shoes I've bought in the last couple of years.

I hit the post-Christmas sales at the mall and stopped by one of the hip sneaker joints to pick out a pair of out-of-work-NBA-player-endorsed shoes. My son tried on a few pairs, and he selected an air-pulsating model with hydraulic jump enhancers.

Now the bad news about buying new basketball shoes is that you really shouldn't wear them home from the store. You are supposed to save the shoes for the gym floor only, because brand-new shoes have great traction ... for about 30 minutes. Then they get dirty. Dirty shoes slip and slide on the court and make the game a lot more difficult. So, even when you buy new sneakers, you end up wearing your old shoes home.

My son was lacing up his old shoes when our teen-aged salesclerk politely asked, "Want me to clean your old shoes?"

"Sure," my son replied, The salesman, silently, foamed some stuff onto the shoes and wiped it off. The shoes looked pretty good. Too bad they were too small for his growing-at-the-speed-of-light feet.

"Wow, that's pretty neat," I said.

"Well," he said, "if you use this stuff on the bottoms of your new shoes, they will stay grippy a lot longer."

My son and I looked at each other. This stuff could help keep the grip on your shoes?! Awesome. We bought a can.

As we were paying, I commented to our salesperson, "Thanks for telling us about the shoe cleaner. And good for you for making the add-on sale."

You see, I love business, and I love sales. And this fellow had just done a terrific job of satisfying the customers me and my son and making the additional sale. He did well, and I appreciated him for it.

Well, you would've thought I'd slapped him. He recoiled, looked around, embarrassed, and said, "Sorry about the add-on. My manager makes us show you the cleaner. He wants us to be really pushy about making more sales."

"But, you weren't pushy! You did great! I wouldn't have known about the product if you hadn't shown me.

"It's OK, really," I continued, hoping to erase that pitiful look on his face. "Add-on sales are great. We get what we want, the store makes more money and you probably make a bit more on your commission check. It's a win-win-win situation."

His jaw dropped and his eyes widened. "I don't work on commission." I couldn't have insulted him more. I might as well have called him a liar and a cheat.

Later, at lunch, I told this story to a few girlfriends. "What's up with this aversion to commission?"

"Well, salespeople paid on commission tend to be really obnoxious. They push too hard."

"Do you ever buy from a too-pushy salesperson?"

All around the table it was agreed: Nope. Nobody likes, or buys from, a too-pushy salesperson.

So, it's a bad sales approach that we don't like. If nobody buys from a rotten salesperson, I'd venture that salesperson will either improve his sales skills, or go into another line of work. Because a pushy, commission-only salesperson isn't making any money. The pushy guy doesn't get the sale.

The nice, caring, helpful salesperson gets the sale. In my book the salespeople that do a better job of satisfying customers and making more sales should get paid more than the slacker who hangs out behind the counter making personal phone calls.

When we pay people the same thing regardless of their productivity, we reward poor performance, and fail to recognize and reward stellar performance.

It's communism. And it's not right.

That kid in the shoe store has the makings of a great salesperson. What if he could see the connection between a job well done and more money in his paycheck? What if he gets the fever and learns to love commerce and good business? What if he sees that he can make his dreams come true by helping more people?

Think about what we're teaching our newest members of the work force when we tell them that commission is a dirty word.

(Ellen Rohr's mission is to help folks make a living doing what they love. Her new book is called "Where Did the Money Go?" a Beginner's Guide to Basic Business Scorekeeping. She can be contacted by e-mail at

or by phone at 753-3998.)

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