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Selling At the Top
by William J. Birnes and Gary Markman

The 100 Best Companies to Sell For in America

The first book ever to offer an informed, inside look at the one hundred best companies to sell for in American today.

For the prospective sales representative, for the manager or field representative seeking a new and better job in sales, and for top executives and their staff, Birnes and Markman have examined the profit centers of major American businesses and selected the five best companies to sell for in each of twenty basic industries. The companies have been rated on the basis of

Also provided here are overviews of the twenty basic industries as well as information on current trends within individual companies which may act in favor or against its sales force, such as mergers, divestitures, and profit incentives.

The authors have based their ratings on extensive research, conducting hundreds of interviews with field representatives, company and sales management and support personnel, and customers. They have gathered facts and statistics from industry studies, trade journals, company brochures, magazines and newspapers, and government studies.

As well as providing accurate and up-to-date economic analyses through tables, charts, and diagrams, the authors have captured the enthusiasm of those interviewed and created a book rich in personal stories and anecdotes. Selling at the Top is an invaluable guide for salespeople at all levels of experience who want to know if the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.


by Jerry Della Femina

Selling is the bedrock of American industry. Good products have failed in the marketplace and products of lesser quality have succeeded due to the ability–or lack of same–of the sales force.

Highly qualified people have been rejected as candidates for jobs because they couldn’t sell themselves effectively, and candidates with lesser qualifications have been hired because they could. Products are sold. Services are sold. People are sold. But what is selling all about? Is there a single, universal way to sell? Can soda be sold the same way that beer can be sold? Can cars be sold the same way that F-111 fighters can be sold? Are there universal principles of selling that apply across the board? Do principles of selling change through the years or are there immutable truths?

I got my start in advertising by selling myself: my abilities, my enthusiasm, my dedication. But I’ve said that if today I were to interview Jerry Della Femina when he was first starting out, I wouldn’t hire him. Why not? Selling–both in and out of the advertising industry–has become highly specialized. The science of demographics has been refined to an art.

Technology has impacted on advertising as well as on every other industry. If you want to sell–products, services, yourself–you’ve got to keep current. You’ve got to know what’s happening today. It’s been said that you don’t really sell; you find out what people want and what they need. And then they’ll come to you for it But the key is to find out what people want and need.

One of the bedrock principles of my agency is that we talk to people–the people who are buying the products and services our clients are selling. We talk to our clients about their business. I insist that my people learn our clients’ business well enough to go work for the client. It’s hard work, and you’ve gotta be creative–and original.

Creativity is the key ingredient in all selling–not only in advertising. Stale doesn’t sell bread and it won’t sell any thing else either. It’s been said that in advertising all your creativity is gone by the time you’re thirty five. I say that creativity–independent thought and original ideas–can be eternal. As eternal as the spirit of the men and women who are willing to dedicate themselves to being the best that they can be, and who are willing to get up every morning and do their jobs with the same bright enthusiasm that they had their very first day.

Creativity is not a gift. You won’t find it under your Christmas tree. You can’t buy it Creativity is effort … and sweat. Creativity comes from the willingness to fail and to pull yourself up and try again. Creativity comes from the willingness to hear a thousand no’s and to keep striving for that one yes. Creativity is guts.

President Della Femina, Travisano & Partners

From Chapter One:

The research for Selling at the Top has focused on the most important aspects of how we rated the individual companies: salary and commission, company support for representatives in the field, and the trends within the individual company which will affect the sales representatives favorably or unfavorably. The purely financial aspects of selling, such as salaries, commissions, and direct bonuses and cash incentives, are easily added up and averaged and thus can be used as common denominators. But other areas, such as the support a sales representative on the road receives from the home office or the direct access he or she has to the service manager or engineer to answer a client’s technical questions, can’t be reduced to simple numbers. For these, we have relied on what salespeople have told us about their companies.

What we learned from our interviews with the individual representatives allowed us to develop our across-the-board common denominators. Our first is compensation: a hybrid figure that consists of straight salary and bonus/commission. The compensation figure varied from industry to industry because there is no separation of salary from bonus/ commission in some industries. Consequently, only total compensationÑ the hybrid figuresÑwere available. In other industries: auto sales, for example, different companies treat salary in different ways. One dealership pays its sales personnel a small salary but supplements their income with an advance against future commissions. Other dealerships provide their salespeople with company cars, gasoline, and a large expense account. Still others provide their salespeople with sales incentives such as bonus points and commission escalators, but pay them no salary at all and charge them rental demonstration cars from the dealership. Our industry comparisons had to account for such differences between companies and between industries. Consequently, the figures are listed in two forms.

For each industry, a median figure is listed that reflects the salary plus bonus/commission of a prototypical sales representative. In some industries such as medical supplies and pharmaceuticals, the prototypical sales representative has been with his or her company for two years. Thus, the median figure reflects the total compensation of a sales person after two years on the job. In the medical equipment industry, a sales person who has been in the industry for two years earns a median compensation of $32,100, and the median commission rate is 2 percent. How a company fares against this “standard” determines its place in the industry rankings. If a company’s combined salary and bonus/commission compensation package is more than 10 percent above the median, the company receives a 5. If it is more than 10 percent below, the company receives a 1. The other rankings fall between the two.

It is important to note that the company rankings are only relative to one another within the same industry and cannot be used to compare companies in different industries. For example, in the most obvious instance, Company “A” in pharmaceuticals may have a compensation ranking of 3, while Company “B” in retailing may have a compensation ranking of 5. But because of the differences in the industry medians between the pharmaceutical and retailing industries, Company A’s compensation, reflected in dollar figures, may actually be higher. In a less obvious instance, it would be inappropriate to compare AT&T, one of the major companies in the mainframe computer and office automation industry, with Compaq or Apple, even though the two companies compete within the small business office environment. AT&T’s primary market at this time is focused on the large corporate networked office environment, while both Compaq and Apple are selling desktop personal computers that either stand alone and run commercially packaged software or are lassoed into very elementary multi-terminal configurations. Neither computer company at this time is selling a product based on the strength of a resident network that links different terminals within a large multiuser environment. Therefore, AT£,T and Compaq are in different industries according to our survey rankings, although both sell computers that run the same software. Industries, and therefore companies within different industries, can be compared by looking at the industry median and using the rankings as they apply to the industry median.

In our survey, sales representatives cited the following as important factors in the area of company support classroom training, field training, internship on the job, technical informational support, direct product sup” port, clerical and administrative support within the company offices, and the use of a company car. We used these as the basic support factors in determining the best companies to sell for. Because the support factors are necessarily objective, the companies are not ranked against one another directly, but are measured against the objective standard as if it were a benchmark. In other words, our respondents were asked how many of these support factors are provided by their companies. It is possible that every company within a given industry might receive a rank of “O” simply because it is not standard practice in that industry for the company to provide almost all of the support. This doesn’t mean that the company is not a good company to work for; it on y means that this level of support, albeit low, is the industry standard.

The rankings are on a scale of from O to 5, with O indicating the zero-support condition, in which the company provides absolutely no support whatsoever. This would apply to independent commission representatives who must function as independent distributors supplying their own marketing and product support.

Praise from Library Journal

Salesmanship has become a highly specialized profession. Those contemplating a career in sales must be thoroughly familiar with the service or product of a given company; they also, of course, will wish to select a company that will promote advancement in the profession.

Selling at the Top is a guide to companies judged by the authors as the “100 best” according to ratings in the areas of salary and commission, company support for representatives in the field, and the trends within the individual company which will affect the sales representatives favorably or unfavorably. The industries covered range from automobiles and aerospace to microcomputers and book publishing.

Case studies based on interviews with salespeople are included. An excellent source of company information for those seeking employment. Highly recommended. 🌳

Lucy Heckman, St. John's University Library, Jamaica, N.Y.

Copyright 1985 Reed Business Information, Inc.

☞ Product details and how to purchase:
  • Hardcover: 338 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; (October 1985)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060154241
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060154240
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
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