Much has changed at Xerox in 50 years, but our customer-centered orientation on simplicity has not.
By Sherry M. Adler, Xerox contributor
From collecting tomato boxes to earn pocket money as a boy, Michael Miller progressed to selling Xerox boxes. His career took him from the U.K. to Australia, where he now runs a sales team three days a week.
We sell much more than boxes of copiers today. But our approach is still centered on making business processes simpler for our customers who want to focus on what they do best.
We believe Miller’s interview is instructive for anyone who wants to sell anything to anyone.
Q. When did you come to work for Xerox?
Michael Miller. I joined Rank Xerox in London in 1964 as an admin clerk. What words can express my feelings when I first walked into the offices on Great Portland Street? I admit to having some apprehension about being part of a company whose name started and ended with X. I saw Xerox salespeople earned big commissions and a James Bond image ─ that is where I wanted to be. Little did I know I would be spreading the word about a phenomenon: the Plain Paper Copier.
Q. How did Xerox support careers in sales?
MM. Training, Training, Training, from ‘Professional Selling Skills’ packages to sessions with BBC’s star presenters (news reporters) on telephone techniques and skills. Scripted machine demonstrations were mandatory, as were National Sales Demonstration competitions. First prize was a new car. Finalists across the U.K. appeared in evening suits and white gloves at the Covent Garden Opera House presenting the 3600 Copier Duplicator. Speaking fluently like actors, we showed how amazingly easy and clean it was to use the 3600 (hence the white gloves), to replace printing ink Gestetners (a type of duplicating machine)and build sales volume.
Q. What was it like selling for Xerox in the ’60’s?
MM. That Rank Organisation (Man with the Gong) was Xerox’s partner, gave us credibility to get in front of people. ‘Good morning. My name is Michael Miller, Rank Organisation, Xerox division. Can you spare a moment? I have something exciting to talk about, which could change the way you do business.’ The products were the 914 that produced a startling 7 copies per minute and then the 813 Desktop.
The only contract was 30-days with one-month termination clause. Customers did not understand the implications of a copier that produced dry black marks on plain white paper without chemicals or carbon paper. The bottom line: Sell as many as you can each month; get paid your commission; ensure the machines do not come back because your commission would too. This probably was where the phrase “Customer Care” came from and why it is the hallmark of our mission statements today.
Q. Do you have a favorite Xerox story?
MM. One of my early territories was in the City of London. Selling to lawyers was challenging; offering 30-day rentals was easy. After taking the order, the hard part came. The office would be on the fourth floor and there was no way our machine would fit in that rickety lift or up those winding Dickensian staircases. Installations today, with just a bit of blue cable, pale in comparison. Our story would go: ‘We need to take out your window and crane in the machine from the street at 6 o’clock in the morning to avoid disrupting traffic. I will ensure everything runs smoothly and, given the ability to provide clients with high-quality copies from now on, this will be a positive step forward for you.’ These were good installs ─ they rarely came back.
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Q. What would you tell someone who is considering joining Xerox?
MM. Join! My two daughters did. Claire, my youngest, has been selling to colleges for 12 years; by building strong relationships and knowledge, she has consistently achieved her targets. Why wouldn’t anyone be proud to say, “I work for Xerox,” when asked? We’re the company that spent $12.5 million dollars in R&D on its first production copier, the 914 Copier, exceeding the company’s total earnings from 1950 through 1959!
Q. How do you advise Xerox employees in their 20s and 30s?
MM. Stay part of the team. Seek advice from your successful peers. Avoid negative people because they never will be happy. From a sales perspective, in light of the competitive marketplace, it helps to be liked. People buy from people. Never stop mulling over the options when selling or problem solving. When you think you have the answer, think some more: You have to earn the right to ask for the order.
Q. During your years at Xerox, what changes stand out?
MM. Introduction of color, transition from analogue to digital ─ I was there. I share these experiences with my team today. I enjoy their success and drive them mad with questions. In 2013, we discuss benefits of advanced scanning kits and one-pass, double-sided scans at 150 per minute. We present software solutions to control print usage, document management systems and color quality at speeds I thought never possible. One thing that has not changed is how you look after customers. Xerox offers many new products and services, but the constant is: satisfying customer needs.
*Updated November 7, 2017.