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Person of the Year: The Distributor Salesperson
By C.J. Mittica and Dave Vagnoni

poy largeWhat one employee has the ability to single-handedly turn a company’s fortunes around? What type of person can stare defeat in the face and laugh? Who can be creative enough to look at a nearly-evaporated client budget and still figure out a way to get a piece of it?

The one person in every organization who can do all of these things: the salesperson. It’s the special man or woman who is in the field every day, speaking to clients, battling the economic elements on an hourly basis and stabilizing revenues at companies across the country.

There’s an old saying that nothing can happen in business until an item is sold. It’s never been more true than it is right now. At an unprecedented time in the history of the ad specialty industry, we’ve chosen 2009 to honor The Distributor Salesperson as the Counselor Person of the Year.

When we set out to identify the winner of this award each year, we look for people who are currently having a profound impact on the market. We try to find individuals who are approaching business in a unique way – and are succeeding with it. We seek out candidates who are affecting the way business is done in the industry, overcoming challenges and setting a course for the market to follow.

What better person is there right now to fit those criteria than the distributor salesperson?

Of course, finding just one standout sales rep in the industry is impossible. So we identified 10 specific characteristics that make up a great salesperson. From passion, tenacity and creativity to resiliency, sincerity and organization, these are the traits that top salespeople epitomize every day. And it takes all of these distinctive abilities to succeed today.

And, let’s not forget loyalty. With the intense recruiting battles waged in this market for the best distributor salespeople, you couldn’t possibly put a list of qualities together that relate to salespeople without touching on loyalty. After all, top salespeople are only going to help their current companies through an economic downturn if they remain at those distributor organizations.
We’ve identified one highly successful distributor salesperson who exemplifies each of these specific personality traits. On the following pages, we offer a profile of each; they’re part of a group of 10 distributor reps that if put together would surely create the top salesperson in the industry. It would definitely be a person worthy of our Person of the Year award. And, it’d be somebody who would undoubtedly have a lasting influence on the ad specialty market.


EbrahimiTenacity: Josh Ebrahemi, Jack Nadel International 

You probably have your ideas about what makes for a tenacious salesperson. Maybe it’s someone who will never take "no" for an answer. Or, it’s the kind of rep who sniffs out orders like a police bloodhound.

And then there’s Josh Ebrahemi. "I really don’t sell. I don’t push at all," says the partner at Jack Nadel International (asi/279600). "I just basically hang out. A lot of my clients are my good friends now."

Sounds about as tenacious as a lullaby, right? Yet if there is anything to be learned from this star salesman, it’s this: Tenacity isn’t a one-note tune. Going to bat for clients and being driven to succeed can be accomplished under a veneer of SoCal cool.

"Josh is laid-back, but he works hard," says Debbie Abergel, vice president of vendor relations at Jack Nadel. "It’s not easy. Success is not easy. He has a strategy and his strategy is he doesn’t push, he’s not hungry for the order."

It isn’t by accident that the 28-year-old has generated over $2 million in sales each of the last five years. Ebrahemi flourishes by crafting completely custom ideas for both the entertainment industry and younger demographics. Yet it’s his relish for personal relationships and dedication to complete honesty that fuels his achievements. "I’m 100% relationship-driven," says the resident of Redondo Beach, CA. "I’ve never lost a client. I get referrals every single day. I’m always around, totally accessible and my business is never dropped."

Abergel has witnessed the span of Ebrahemi’s six-year tenure at Jack Nadel, where he began as an intern with a passion for marketing but no knowledge of the ad specialty industry. She notes how he observed the most successful people at the company to help create his own unique style of selling. "He had goals at 22, which you don’t find in a lot of people," she says. "He knew exactly what he wanted to do."

Ebrahemi succeeds by staying true to himself – his personable nature, his positive outlook, his belief that everything will work out. Of course, he then makes sure it works out for his clients. "They want to feel that they have somebody they’re working with who’s on top of it," he says. "I tell my clients, ‘When you’re working with me, you don’t have to worry about what’s going on with promotional stuff. Close your eyes. I’m going to make sure it’s done perfectly.’ " – CJM

ReynoldsSincerity: Kay Reynolds, The Vernon Company 

Kay Reynolds had no idea what she was getting into when she joined the ad specialty industry 21 years ago. It’s no coincidence, then, that she makes sure her clients won’t be equally surprised. "I’m very honest with my clients," says The Vernon Company (asi/351700) promotions specialist. "I let them know if their choice is a good choice or not a good choice. I’m always giving them the pros and the cons of a product. I educate them so they know why something is better and why something is not as good."

In an era when smarm and irony have become synonyms for cool, a healthy dose of sincerity goes a long way with customers. The proof is in Reynolds, who started with a single $300 account and worked her way into becoming a consistent million-dollar producer. Coupling enthusiasm for her job with a drive to succeed, she’s quick to identify potential clients as more than just a mark.

"I treat both the customers and the clients with respect," says Reynolds, who specializes in utilities and the egg industry. "I give them credit for the job they have to do, and try to put myself in their position so that what I’m asking and what I’m doing is not unrealistic."

Her support staff paints the Eden Prairie, MN, resident as a person who wants things done right, but won’t bully people just to get her way. "She doesn’t ever give anybody a hard time, really, about anything," says Joan Hoelscher, a sales support coordinator at Vernon who works closely with Reynolds. "Some salespeople, they are kind of ornery sometimes. She doesn’t do that, but she definitely wants things resolved."

Reynolds’ happy clients have stuck by her side because honesty is the best policy. It’s that necessary quality that keeps bringing clients back after they’ve found unsatisfactory experiences elsewhere. "Once they’ve been burned by somebody else," Reynolds says, "they learn to appreciate you for your dependability and your sincerity." – CJM


PintozziPassion: Lisa Pintozzi, Summit Marketing 

Few can claim a story as unique as that of Lisa Pintozzi.

Long before she embraced a career in sales at Summit Marketing (asi/339116), she explored the world as a classical archaeologist, living in areas with primitive tribes and no modern comforts. "When I was 15, I spent a summer abroad in Spain and Italy," Pintozzi says. "After seeing the Roman Forum, I wanted to be an archaeologist."

While her childhood dreams would later be realized, they were jarringly interrupted following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Forced to leave a long-term archaeological project in the Middle East, Pintozzi suddenly was scrambling to find a job. What she found back in the U.S. was a livelihood and a new passion.

"She’s brilliant and process-oriented, with an extremely upbeat personality," says Janelle Nevins, senior vice president of Summit. "She first worked as the assistant to our president. Then, when there was an opening on our Coke team, she applied and we hired her right away."

In short time, Pintozzi began to flourish. What she lacked in industry knowledge and experience, she more than replaced with passion and drive. "It was an incredible opportunity," Pintozzi says. "I was fortunate to have a mentor in Janelle, but I was also given the leeway to grow on my own."

Excelling in several projects, Pintozzi takes particular pride in a Coca-Cola service awards program she devoted great energy to developing. "We pitched a program that changed the focus from the award to the recognition," Pintozzi says.

Instead of an honoree simply receiving an awards catalog in the mail, the Summit team designed a different approach. A recipient would receive recognition from a manager on a specific day, like an employee anniversary, and be presented with a personalized card. The card would be assigned an identification code and password, allowing a recipient to access a Web site and select merchandise as gifts. Besides the cards, honorees would be given CDs with five celebratory songs, reflective of Coca-Cola’s corporate culture. "We got the highest accolades for the program," Pintozzi says.

Through her efforts, Pintozzi helped win an account that had been held by another firm for 29 years. Still, she’s far from satisfied. "What I love about my job is that there’s something new every day," Pintozzi says. "To me, there’s a thrill in education. I get to learn what I can do to help my clients and colleagues. If you embrace what you’re doing, that results in passion." – DV


HoyleResilience: John Hoyle, Geiger 

John Hoyle knows something about recessions: He’s been through four of them. So by now, the industry veteran has learned not to panic.

"The one thing I’ve noticed throughout all of them is that none of them were my fault," remarks the Geiger (asi/202900) salesperson. "Maybe that’s oversimplifying things. But I’ve always known that I’ve had an ability to be a good salesperson and succeed. I’ve had to focus and do what I do best."

And for any salesperson in these tough times, that means finding clients and orders where they haven’t before. Hoyle, 68, knows from personal experience. The recession of 1991 particularly battered the southeast region of Massachusetts where he worked, and devastated his town of New Bedford. "We lost 18 major manufacturing firms with 12,000 jobs, and every one of them was a client of mine," Hoyle says.

But even after losing three-quarters of a million dollars in sales, he didn’t give in. "Whenever certain markets cease to be profitable, I’ve always looked for new markets," Hoyle says.

The fundamentals matter to Hoyle. With a decent chunk of his business (20%) currently tied up in the financial industry, Hoyle used the lean times of the last six months to increase his direct mail and marketing efforts – "more self-promotion than I’ve ever done," he says.

Hoyle continues to rely on forging deep relationships with his clients – paying "visits" instead of "appointments," gathering whatever personal information he can. "When it gets time to talk business, we don’t discuss price, we don’t discuss product, we get right to the meat of what their challenges are and how we can help them," he says. "It’s easier dealing with a friend than it is with a stranger."

Because as all good resilient salespeople know, friends tend not to leave when tough times take over. – CJM


HartleyEmpathy: Chris Hartley, iPROMOTEu 

For a quasi-Halloween party at a networking event a few years ago, Chris Hartley found herself in the unusual position of needing an idea. She wondered what costume would be a good fit for her. That’s when a coworker made a particularly helpful and spot-on suggestion. "I was told that I should wear a tiara," Hartley recalls. Since that party where she literally wielded a wand, Hartley has been dubbed "the queen of the quick turnaround." It’s a status that she now embraces.

"There’s a large percentage of fly-by-night operations and a high turnover of people in this business," says Hartley, owner of MCM Productions an affiliate iPROMOTEu (asi/232119). "I try to find solutions. I’m not out to make the ‘deal of the day.’"

Known for having empathy for her client’s predicaments, Hartley accepts challenging orders that others would either pass up or fail to deliver on. In one case, a client called Hartley on a Friday and wanted a handful of T-shirts for a trade show in Prague. The problem? The client needed the shirts to be customized, packaged and delivered in less than one week. Unfazed, Hartley got on the phone and got to work. "In 30 minutes the deal was put together," she says. "The shirts were there by Wednesday night."

In another case, a customer needed branded hats for a New York Stock Exchange photo op. This time, Hartley faced a deadline that was only a couple of days away. But again, she came through.

Clients can tell Hartley cares. Amy Buntel, marketing coordinator for Massachusetts-based KIVA Systems, has enlisted Hartley’s help for dozens of projects over the last decade. "You call Chris and it happens," Buntel says. "She’s not like some people that you find yourself chasing down."

Creating a perfect product match, Hartley recommended KIVA market its rapidly-growing brand with squeeze bots. The idea has been a promotional hit. "People even take the bots on vacation and then send us pictures," Buntel says, almost in disbelief.

Hartley remains serious about her goal to constantly improve her connection to clients. Offering a newsletter, a business blog and a bevy of educational resources, Hartley refuses to give up her crown. "I love what I’m doing," she says. – DV


DoyleCreativity: Patrick Doyle, Proforma 

When Honda Canada wanted a stylish way to recognize top dealerships, its executives were referred to a distributor known for out-of-the-box ideas. Unsurprisingly, that distributor, Patrick Doyle, quickly delivered a plan. But ironically, he did it with an idea contained completely within a box. "It was a to-do and well received," says Doyle, owner of Proforma Synergy (asi/300094). "It was a different way to celebrate."

Rather than cake-cutting ceremonies at selected dealerships, Doyle suggested chocolate-breaking ceremonies. He developed large party boxes shaped like the front of a dealership and stuffed them with balloons, ribbons, plaques, trophies and two-pound chocolate bars. Celebrating dealers used brass hammers to smash the bars into pieces for employees.

"You get to the point where you want no more pens, no more memory sticks," says Genevieve Collins, Honda Canada’s supervisor of customer satisfaction. "Patrick is quick to think of things that people wouldn’t normally think of. He knows a lot about the business and products." Honored in 2007 as Proforma’s Innovator of the Year, Doyle admits that his best ideas don’t always come from his head. "Sometimes I get ideas from my kids and my drinking buddies, especially after six or seven beers," Doyle jokes. "I think if you really listen, an idea will come from the customer most of the time."

Doyle also feels that having the right attitude is key to creative success. "You have to believe in yourself," he says. "The best salespeople understand who they are and what they offer."

Not only is Doyle creative in developing ideas for current clients, he’s equally resourceful in his pursuit of prospective clients. A true Canadian, one of Doyle’s many passions is hockey. So when his daughter decided she wanted to take up the sport, Doyle did what any good parent and businessman would do. He went to the rink to cheer on his daughter – and make some sales as well. "Just from talking to moms and dads," he says, "I picked up close to $25,000 in business."

Even with the talent to invent and the charm to close, Doyle brushes aside accolades and titles … unless he can fashion his own, of course. He prefers CCO – chief creativity officer. – DV


gossettConsultative: Paula Gossett, Brown & Bigelow 

A former emergency room nurse in New York City, Paula Gossett has mastered the knack to anticipate and adapt. So in a year when many industry salespeople have watched their pharmaceutical accounts get cut, Gossett resolved to sidestep the chopping block. "You have to give a client what they need, not necessarily traditional items," says Gossettt, senior promotional consultant for Brown & Bigelow (asi/148500). "You have to find solutions and help clients reach their goals."

Pairing her consultancy skills with a can-do attitude, Gossett recently helped put together a starter kit for a hemorrhoid cream produced by a pharmaceutical company. She didn’t pitch pens, notepads or even charts. Instead, she pitched practicality, supplying personal hygiene wipes contained in an imprinted foil wrapper. "It’s an unusual item," Gossett says. "You have to think out-of-the-box and sometimes do oddball things."

With clients in a variety of time zones, Gossett sometimes has to work oddball hours, as well. She commits about 10 hours a day to her office and then continues her job from her home. "I have to be available because I have clients on both sides of the world," she says.

Having worked in the ad specialty industry for 24 years, Gossett has also learned the necessity of being proactive. Whether she’s supporting a client at a national sales meeting, crafting gifts for executives in Grand Cayman or winning over prospects during a trip to Hawaii, Gossett emphasizes customer needs. "What motivates me is their feedback and knowing that they’re pleased," she says.

In keeping with her listen-first philosophy, Gossett never pushes the latest fad when visiting a potential client. "I bring self-promo items and a pad," she says. "That’s all I bring. I’m there to ask questions. Also, I never forget the gatekeeper. They get some gum for their candy bowl."

For years, her colleagues have watched Gossett with admiration. "People trust her and believe her," says Gary Tuchler, a regional vice president for Brown & Bigelow. "She always works to resolve a problem. She’s dedicated to the industry and stays knowledgeable about the business."

Gossett’s combination of knowledge and understanding has sparked many deals, including one with PAX-TV. When the network wanted to market its start-up date, Gossett suggested multipurpose clocks that could be used to count down to the occasion. The network trusted Gossett’s advice so completely that the deal was struck without PAX-TV even seeing the product in person. The deal confirmed Gossett’s winning strategy: "The product should be the last part of the process," she says. – DV


wilsonCharismatic: Keith Wilson, Promo Shop 

Anyone who knows Keith Wilson will tell you he’s not a typical salesperson. But Wilson will go even further. He’ll tell you he’s not a person at all. "I am the Promogenie," he says.

Wilson’s wildly unusual and unabashed personality has won him accounts, attention and affirmation that his style certainly stands out. So does his business card. "It has a picture of me on the left with an afro and on the right with no hair," says Wilson, who shaved his head in 2003. "I say that I grant wishes every day."

His business card is matched in distinctiveness by his one-of-a-kind vocabulary. "I want to become friends with people first and later do business," says Wilson, an account executive for Promo Shop (asi/300446). "You go to a vendor to just get a quote. I want to be a ‘friendor.’"

Wilson’s boss, Memo Kahan, was at first taken aback by his employee’s unconventional approach. Today, he’s one of Wilson’s biggest fans. "He certainly has a louder voice than most," says Kahan, president of Promo Shop. "He captivates his audience in a meaningful way. It’s not a show."

The unique niche Wilson has created in the industry has him wanting the charismatic Promogenie to live on forever. "The day I stop selling promotional products," he says, "is the day my heart stops." – DV


laroseOrganized: Scott LaRose, Gateway CDI 

Every day is a perfect day for Scott LaRose, an account executive at Gateway CDI (asi/202515). Or, to be technically correct, a Perfect Day – the name given to the regimented schedule the Counselor Top 40 firm adopted in March to increase salesperson productivity. But while some salespeople were reluctant to buy in, the 32-year-old LaRose did not need much convincing. "The boss always asks me, ‘Are you following the Perfect Day?’ And I say, ‘Yeah, but to be honest with you, I’ve always done that,’" he says.

Slavish adherence to organization seemingly undermines the very qualities that forge top salespeople – a group that values its independence and freewheeling ability to get the job done. LaRose didn’t follow the same path. The St. Louis, MO, resident got his start at Gateway a decade ago in customer service and worked his way into sales. "Because of that operational background, I have a little bit of a different approach as a salesperson," says LaRose, who has been a salesperson for about five years. "Most people in sales, I would say, are probably at the very least 70% entrepreneurial and 30% structure. I would put myself more in a 50-50 category."

Gateway has already seen results from the Perfect Day, which imposes set blocks of time to write up orders and follow up with clients. Most important, it puts a premium on prospecting new business as the first thing that gets done every morning, even though some salespeople enjoy it as much as a kid forced to eat his veggies. "I tell my folks, ‘I’d rather have you prospecting than filing a sales order,’" says Conrad Franey, chief marketing officer for Gateway. "And that seems counterintuitive to all of them. Process a sales order today, you eat today. You prospect today, you’re going to eat for the rest of your life. It’s not the most pleasant thing to do."

The implementation of the Perfect Day has helped to hone the principles that LaRose holds so dear. The account executive, who wrote $900,000 in business last year, notes that being organized can eliminate the distractions of other tasks by concentrating on the one at hand. "You really have to set a schedule to be successful in sales, I believe," he says. "Because if you’re focusing too much on one area, and if you feel one area is more important than another, that’s when you start losing track of what you need to do." – CJM


StileLoyalty: Joe Stile, Halo/Lee Wayne 

The advertising specialty industry changed and his company changed, but Joe Stile never did. After 45 years in the business, the national account executive at Halo/Lee Wayne (asi/356000) remains loyal to the customers he’s had since the beginning. He remains loyal to the calendars that made him a number one producer for 39 years straight. And he remains loyal to the company that has served him well – even though, through acquisitions and mergers, it has been three companies over the span of his career.

"I believe the loyalty and friendships I’ve built, you can’t put a price on them," says Stile, who started in the industry at barely drinking age and is now 66 years old.

With a dedicated base of customers, the native Brooklyn resident could have struck out on his own long ago. But Stile feared trying to replace the exclusive, inside line of calendars he sold his clients for decades. And he enjoyed the backing of companies that would allow him to do his thing instead of paying for his own office space, staff and more.

That loyalty and sense of being indebted is a rare commodity these days, notes Dale Limes, senior vice president of sales for Halo/Lee Wayne. "As technology has evolved, I think the younger group is being enticed and coerced to move around a little bit more," he says. "For the old-time veterans, I think there’s a great deal of loyalty, and Joe would certainly be in that group."

Eschewing the sometimes-impersonal guise of technology, he is relentless in greeting clients face-to-face. The "Calendar King" is famous for getting clients to order at the same time every year. "Being that I’m a dedicated guy, and I’m enthusiastic, and basically I’m in very good health," he says, "I still get out there every day to renew my business and look for development of new business." – CJM
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