Craig McEwan started his career straight out of high school in 1986 with Imagineering Micro Distributors on a cadetship to learn the IT distribution trade. He started in the warehouse and within six months became warehouse supervisor. From there he moved into a purchasing role and within a couple of years had moved to customer services. By the late 1980s he was a telemarketing representative with his own set of accounts and budget. From there he moved to MEC distributors as an account manager until returning to Tech Pacific in 1994 (Tech Pacific and Imagineering merged in 1991) as a product manager.
In 2008 he was promoted into the Ingram Micro NZ Leadership Team and in 2010 was appointed national sales manager, corporate sales. Today he oversees 29 Ingram associates and 40 percent of Ingram Micro NZ's revenue budget.
What would you say to someone who says you must have thick skin to be in sales?
I disagree that you must have thick skin to be in sales. However it certainly helps if you have thick skin in the long run with any rejections that you get along the way. It also helps with those tough customers. I believe I have fairly thick skin.
Is there an accepted level of time it takes to be good at sales?
The time it takes to be good at sales varies dramatically as does the acceptable timeframe. Natural sales people are born with the ability to sell ice to eskimos (excuse the pun) from a very young age. They don’t necessarily have the polished finish of the sales person who has been through the myriad of sales courses out there but an uncanny natural ability to create trusting fruitful relationships with their customers in a very short amount of time.
What’s best: learned or natural talent?
There are the learned traits of a sales professional who has been through the “school of sales”. These people generally know the theory behind sales and you get some excellent sales professionals come through. However, when I employ my sales people I look for people with a good mix of both. You can’t beat raw talent.
How long does it take you to assess how you should approach your sales pitch?
In every discussion with a customer I have an agenda and a desired outcome. I continually assess and change my pitch during the meeting depending on the direction of the meeting.
How did you get past the point of struggling to make a sale to where you are today?
In IT distribution the key to making it as a sales person is to build as many strong relationships as possible. Your customers will stick with you through thick and thin. That’s what I set out to do from the start. I built relationships with customers in the 1980s that are still rock solid today. I also showed that I was committed to the cause and proved I could think outside the square, assisting my peers and other parts of the business where I could add value. One day a sales management role came up which I applied for and the rest is history.
Describe your best day at the office?
Out on a boat fishing with a bunch of customers. Rain, hail or shine. It’s a great networking and relationship building tool and helps to break down the barriers.
When did you realise you wanted to be a salesperson?
I realised fairly early on that I wanted to be in sales. My father was a salesman when I was at school and I wanted to follow in his footsteps.
How do you balance time spent between product knowledge training with generating leads or opportunities?
Product knowledge is key. Without it you don’t know what the indicators are that you need to look for in customer meetings to dig out new opportunities. I encourage all of my sales people to do regular weekly product knowledge sessions with our product managers and vendors. However this is not at the expense of customer lead generation meetings.