Reps : Britain’s hardest working professionals

Steven Ward 

A quiet day at the office, yesterday.
A quiet day at the office, yesterday.

This morning, on my gentle canter into work, I saw what we commonly refer to as a ‘rep’ in his smart LeasePlanned Mondeo-alike. Nothing unusual in that – our road network is full of such characters. Our Man on a Mission was on the ‘phone and he had his SatNav and Road Angel stuck to the heated windscreen – essential high mile tools I’m sure you’ll agree. 

Again, nothing unusual in all that – he was, after all, grafting for GB PLC. However, what really caught my attention was that  he seemed unable to steer this Mondog variant (Mazda 6 to you) in a smooth, straight line. Now this was unusual because these Pros can drive the alloys off most cars – if you think you’re ace in your holiday rent-a-Fiesta, you’re just an amateur compared to these mobile order-takers. 

The reason Rep was struggling to steer became obvious when I got up close: he was typing away on a laptop. GENIUS! 

Obviously, he was on his way to a morning sales meet and this guy was massaging his Excel stats to suit the required PowerPoint presentation. I know such driving would incur the wrath of those on a sweet 36 (Flexi) hour week and those same self-righteous people who never ever been booked for speeding, but you’ve got to hand it to these men and women. 

They cover at least a 1000 miles per week, they need to be an IT bod for their presentations, be a mathematical genius for their product margins, they’ve got to keep those stripy shirts crisp ‘n’ dry to impress the secretary and –crucially- they need to have their Super High InTensity sales patter off to a fine art – an art in itself, trust me. 

A thrusting young executive once told me that nothing in commerce moves until a sale is made and this is true. I was once offered a job in Repping for a manufacturer in security products to the Trade  but, when I looked at the UserChooser list, I turned on my heels.  There was no way I’d do a Basic + Excellent Commission for a 60 hour week in an Avensis – Gold BP fuel card or not. 

Actually, I now, in a way, feel responsible for the drop in UK productivity because, whether you begrudge these cold callers or not, they are keeping the lifeblood of the Private Sector pumping.  Just remember that as you selfishly hog the outside lane at a pathetic 90mph. Chances are the man in the latest Raybans close behind you is doing his invoicing and you’re obscuring his view ahead.  MOVE!

Keith Adams
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  1. “Keeping the lifeblood of the Private Sector pumping”? Well, if the Reps are selling British goods and services then yes. However, if, on the other hand, they’re touting foreign-produced products, whilst driving badly around the country in a Mazda 6, then they’re probably not, are they?

    Anyway, there’s a simple solution to that age old problem of having to drive and work on a PowerPoint presentation at the same time – work longer hours and do the two things separately. I, for example, worked more than 90 hours last week and had no occasion to drive like a visually-impaired moron with poor muscle co-ordination.

  2. There is no excuse for driving and doing anything like looking at a map, paperwork or reading – if your in charge of a motor car, then you should be physically able to control it. ‘Phone calls on handsfree, whilst distracting, do at least mean you can keep your hands on the wheel. How would this rep have dealt with an emergency stop situation?

  3. I saw a guy driving at 70mph, writing in his diary, with a mobile phone in his other hand and steering his car with his knee all at the same time the other day! True. I bet his excuse is that he has never had an accident before but I bet he’s caused a few.

    The problem with handsfree is I find the ear pieces hurts your ear after a while and, if I use the visor type system, then I end up talking to the visor rather than looking at the road.

    What I do now is to tell my customers that, if I don’t answer within five rings, they should just hang up and I will return their call as soon as. However, just lately, I’ve started to get people to email me instead and it works far better – the facts of the conversation are in black and white and far more detailed.

    All this can be done with a simple mobile phone when safe to do so – no ‘phone call is so important as to put others’ lives at risk.

    However, I am no angel – multi-tasking is the very reason apes climbed down from the trees at the dawn of mankind and evolved into the humans we are today.

  4. Well, being Johnny Six Points, three being mine and three I copped for my other half, I watch the speed limit very carefully. Ironically, only this morning on the M23, I witnessed a certain rep in his Merc C-Class stabbing away on his cackberry in the outside lane at speed.

    However, I too hate Blueteeth and my motor is fitted with a parrot kit which, for most of the time, makes me sound like a Cyberman according to one of my customers!

  5. People love to take the proverbial out of Sales Reps but, having spent ten years ‘on the road’, I can say that it is one of the toughest jobs out there. 1000 miles in a week? That would have been a pretty light one for me. I lived in Stafford and my territory was pretty much everything north of Birmingham so some weeks I’d go as far as Aberdeen or even Inverness. I once managed to do 94,000 miles in a year (in a Vectra diesel!)

    Fortunately, I was repping before laptops and PowerPoint presentations, although I had to be pretty nifty with my electronic calculator to work out prices when the punter said something like “so what if I buy 2000 then?” No mobiles either – I always had properly screwed in car phones!

    The biggest problem we used to face was getting purchase orders faxed through. You see, in the ‘olden days’, lots of companies would not accept email orders – it had to be a purchase order (which was a legal document, whatever that means). Sometimes you could get it faxed from whichever office you were at but, usually, you’d end up trying to get it sent from a motorway services or a Travelodge. Actually, on the last day of a financial quarter, you’d often have to queue up for a fax machne behind several other reps, all champing at the bit to get their sales ‘booked’ in time!

    Did I drive like a moron? I always tried not to, but I have to be honest the problem was usually just too many meetings booked into a day which meant that, if I wanted time to stop for a cup of tea, I couldn’t exactly afford to ‘hang about’. It’s no coincidence that Cavaliers and Vectras always seemed to be geared to cruise best at around 90mph.

    That said, I do remember several colleages having accidents when they basically fell asleep at the wheel, inevitably trying to come home after a very long day on the road – you can only take so many Travelodge stays in one week!

    Normally getting a new car around once a year, sometimes more often, I got to drive all sorts. I’ve got fond memories of the original Renault Laguna, which was a really nice motorway car, and also of a Rover 620 SDi which seemed very fast at the time (nice seats, too). However, by the late 1990s, my company had turned to an ‘all Vauxhall’ policy and, as a result, I got to drive some very dull cars. By the end of my time there they got rid of the one year replacement policy too so my last Vectra (an early MK2) managed 190,000 miles in just under three years. I would love to know how much that one made at auction!

    Looking back, I’m glad I did it because the money was good and it always felt like an adventure. I’m in an office now so my wife sees me before 8.00pm at night, but I often wish I was blasting down the motorway with a bit of cheesy rock playing. Mind you, if you do it day in day out, it quickly turns you into a zombie.

    Incidentally, in case you are wondering, these days I’m the old geezer driving down the slow lane at 65mph in my Merc C-Class! I leave speed to people who have got to rush somewhere!

  6. A Great piece, Steven, made me smile a bit today!

    I often wonder what the Blues ‘n’ Twos are doing when these drivers are doing all sorts of illegal acts. Indeed, only this morning, a local Carpet Fitter decided to cut a corner into a junction (cut it any more it would have bled) while holding the latest smart-phone to his lug. I will see that, and other madness, at least three or four times a day.

    I always chuckle when I read crime reports in a newspaper and the phrase “Police are urgently seeking witnesses who were in the area at the time”, as there is a good chance there WERE witnesses who were in the area at the time seeking the Police with even MORE urgency!

  7. What’s going on with the truck that’s swerving into my lane? Oh, he’s sending a text!

  8. Well, as somebody who has been in Purchasing since 1980, the Internet has turned traditional Sales Reps into an endangered species – if a supplier hasn’t got a website that adequately shows the products/services and Google Streetview shows some dodgy premises then there’s no point even trying to make an appointment.

    Incidentally, it has always struck me as odd that there are no magazines aimed at Sales Reps – car manufacturers, hotels, marketing agencies, etc. would fall over themselves to buy advertising to target that market and they have plenty of time to read them.

  9. @Chris C
    There used to be Fleet Car and there is Fleet News for the gaffers who run the big fleets, but I guess you have found a niche!

  10. A super article, Mr Ward – I loved every sentence. Keep writing, you’ve got talent and you’ll go places.

  11. Thanks for all the responses to this blog-of-the-day piece – especially from those of you who’ve plied the highways for a living. Last time my observations received compliments like this, I was in court. Before anyone asks, no, it wasn’t for a motoring offence. I mean, as if…

  12. Steven Ward you and your “genius” are dead from the neck up and, if that “genius” had lost control, you might both have been dead from the neck down too. It is almost possible to admire such determination to receive a Darwin Award. Go for it my son!

  13. Why is anybody who might be in a company car deemed to be a Sales Rep? This is a 1970s/80s job that, by and large, was replaced by a website 10 – 15 years ago. Your man in the Mazda 6 was probably an Accountant, a Project Manager, an Engineer or one of the dozens of other professionals who have to travel to earn a crust and, quite likely, has a “business” car such as a Ford Mondeo or Mazda 6 to do it in.

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