Does Apple's sales force suck?

I will disclose a secret which I have shared with no one, except my beloved wife, for over thirty years.

Og Mandino, The Greatest Salesman in the World

The most valuable result of all education is to make you do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not. It is the first lesson that ought to be learned. And however early a manis training begins, it is probably the last lesson that he learns thoroughly.

Thomas Huxley (emphasis mine)

Well, it depends on your definition of "is."

Bill Clinton

There are some moments in your life when you begin to view "old" things with new eyes. Itis called an epiphany, as you all well know. Hereis one of my epiphanic moments.

This past Sunday, I was working at the computer store where I spend the occasional weekend as a part-time "Mac guy." Before we begin each day, we have a storewide sales meeting. That day was no different. I was standing there, minding my own business, listening to an Intel rep inform us about upcoming sales-training opportunities. Innocent enough, right? As it sometimes happens during this type of meeting, some comment was dropped that either disparages the Mac or makes pejorative fun of it. Today was one of those days. At that moment, all eyes turned towards me.

One of my coworkers calls my name to get my attention, expecting me to begin foaming at the mouth and ranting about how great the Mac is and how much "Intel sucks."

I ignore him, continuing to look at the Intel rep with respectful, undivided attention.

I donit want to talk to you today about my grace under fire, my unabashedly Rosa-Parks-like dignity in the face of OS bigotry. What I thought might interest you is what I found to be the refreshingly professional, enthusiastic, high-caliber quality of the Intel rep. Now, I donit know if he is merely some guy Intel hired out through Marketsource. If he is, Intel should hire this guy to work for them directly. He was that good, IMO.

Hereis the epiphany: I realized at that moment how important it is for a computer manufacturer (any company, for that matter) to hire and retain the best and brightest sales people. I am one of those who likes to complain about how Appleis ads leave me wishing for more. I am one of those who talks about what Apple should or shouldnit do with its product strategy, pricing structure, retail plans and overall direction. What was made emphatically clear to me while watching that Intel rep was that it is really important to have sales people who can create a favorable impression of your company and your product.

I have kept quiet about some things, because I never wanted to raise too much hell, but now that Iim an Apple shareholder, I feel that I have more than a right to comment and criticize.

My latest gripe isnit about things that I know are true. Itis more about things that I expect, fear and dread. Sometimes I fear and wonder if Appleis sales force is up to par with its competitorsi sales people, represented by the Intel rep that I met. There is nothing I enjoy more that watching a professional at work, especial if that person is articulate, confident, personable and knows his product. Knowing firsthand the low quality of talent in retail sales, I am compelled to ponder this publicly, and I will.

Since I know beforehand that all of my gripes may very well be unfounded and ungrounded, I will express them in the "subjunctive mood" (thatis in the form of "I wish" for you non-English-grammar-philes). Even if they are unfounded, I still want to express these "wishes" nevertheless, because they may call attention to some aspect of Appleis sales channel that needs to be fixed. I should note that when I use "sales force" here, I refer to the retail channel only. Corporate sales and education sales are different animals. I believe that retail sales should be catered to as well as the corporate and education sales markets are undoubtedly treated:

I wish that Apple would get rid of Marketsource and employ retail sales reps who work directly for Apple. Using Marketsource to service Appleis retail partners is akin to asking a total stranger to house sit for you while youire gone for several months. No one takes care of your stuff like you will. I think this is an important part of the Apple sales channel that needs to be kept "in the family." Sure, the Marketsource guys are nice and all, but theyire part-timers. Apple is control freakish, so this puzzles me to no end, because this arrangement doesnit lend itself to the control obsessiveness for which we know and love Apple. There is lots of control that isnit maintained with a staff of part-timers. If theyire not careful, cracks could form and someone like me would mess around and slip through, getting hired. Heaven forfend.

I wish that Appleis retail sales people would make more money. I donit know how much the Marketsource people make, but I doubt if itis enough to make me consider giving up my corporate digs to go and "live the dream." Iim sure there are many other qualified Mac users out there who feel the same way. If there is any question or crisis in the quality of people employed, to find out the root causes, just follow the money -- or, in this case, the paychecks. Historically, retail sales people get screwed in the pay department, so Iim sure Iim not off base about this assumption. Also, I am sure that this gripe will fall on deaf ears. And so, the cycle continues.

I wish that Apple would throw a lot of (more) money at its retail partners. I donit see Apple reps much in my area. Meanwhile, the Intel guys are ubiquitous. Where is the oft-described "US$4 billion in the bank" that Apple has? Maybe itis all going to CompUSA? I donit know. More needs to be spent on Apple logoid trinkets for the sales people -- we like trinkets. Ditto for the Apple-sponsored events like sales trainings, drawings, etc. Microsoft and Intel already have me signed for several drawings and giveaways. Iim getting a free copy of Windows XP next week during training. Intel is giving away Pentium IIIs and other stuff. My desk drawers runneth over with Intel and Microsoft paraphernalia.

I wish that Apple would find ways to make its retail employees ubiquitous. Just having an Apple employee in the store increases sales. This is been proven again and again to be true. Iive noticed on the days that companies like Canon, Epson and HP have "official" representation in the store, their respective sales enjoy a nice spiked increase. Apple could do the same. Besides, this falls under the control-freakish incentive, also it will keep the fanatical Mac users away from the stores, attempting to "evangelize" the Mac.

There are more that I could add, and Iim sure that there are others that you could come up with yourself.

In my experience, good sales people are hard to find, and even harder to retain. Iim sure that one of Appleis biggest challenges is to fill its various sales positions. Maybe My fondest hope is that company Thinks Different in the way it executes its sales force and has an exemplary group of people who are as compelling and as inspiring as its product line. I believe that ideas like mine are a good start

Rodney O. Lain is a regular columnist for The Mac Observer, with his "iBrotha" column, as well as the occasional editorial. He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.