Mary Ann Mitchell worked in data processing for Hughes Aircraft Co. in the years just before the office computing revolution took hold. She started a computer supply company in her home while still working full time but found she had to transform herself into a salesperson to make the business successful. Mitchell, who serves as chairperson of the National Black Business Council, was honored recently as the National 8(a) Graduate of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration. She was interviewed by freelance writer Karen E. Klein.
When I started out, I was an introverted person and I really didn't like other people very much. Just mentioning sales to me gave me a chill. I thought I could never go talk to anybody and ask them to buy something from me.
I was going to take my skills in corporate computing and go out and make money with them. Well, it doesn't happen that way. No matter how skilled you are, or how experienced you are, you still have to transform yourself into a salesperson if your company is going to be successful.
At first it was hard and the rejection was horrible. Many days I would leave a client's office and walk back to my car and absolutely cry. Finally one day I was up at the Navy Yard at Port Hueneme and I was so discouraged I thought I couldn't take it anymore. I told myself I wouldn't let people make me feel like that. "No" was going to be a turn-on for me, followed up by, "Can I call you back next week, or next month?"
From that moment on, I just refused to let the rejection get to me. Somehow I discovered I had this hidden talent for sales and marketing that I'd never seen in myself before.
The key was identifying the needs of my customers. I never went in with a cold sales pitch; I went in and talked to them about them and what they needed. We got to really know each other, and then they would ask me about my business and decide maybe they could use our services or call up a friend and recommend us to them.
Many companies forget how very important marketing and selling are because they're so busy concentrating on other things, like cash flow or the internal workings of their company. I tell people starting out that one of the first things they should do is set up a great sales team. Go out and find the best people in the world to sell your company and its products or services.
I tried to do it all myself for years, but I found we were not growing at the rate I wanted to grow. About four years ago, I found a director of sales and marketing and we set up an eight-person sales team. Now we have one of the best reputations in the industry and people call us asking to do business with us. Good salespeople enable you to do better fulfillment, better delivery, better customer support.
If your business can provide a lesson to other entrepreneurs, contact Karen E. Klein at the Los Angeles Times, 1333 S. Mayflower Ave., Suite 100, Monrovia, CA 91016 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your name, address and telephone number.
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At a Glance
* Company: Computer Consulting Operations Specialists Inc.
* Owner: Mary Ann Mitchell
* Nature of business: Computer enterprise networking solutions
* Location: 600 Corporate Pointe, Suite 1010, Culver City 90230
* Web site: http://www .ccops.com
* E-mail: email@example.com
* Founded: 1985
* Employees: 220
* Annual revenue: $25 million