Often, I think we bakers are the only people in the business world who chase after new customers and return phone calls. How many times do we have to phone if we are thinking of buying a new piece of equipment? The average query will result in at least five to 10 calls before serious negotiations commence.

Virtually never does anyone phone back, as they promised, and never do they call us to say there will be a delay, which is usually the case. Why can I not get into one of these businesses where the customer has to chase me to give me their money. Instead, a customer phones us up with an enquiry regarding, say, a buffet and we are back to them within hours, if not minutes.

The only reason I can think of as to why we have to work so hard to make a living is that we are always trying to claw our way out of the poverty trap, while all these other companies have made so much money, they don’t have to bother. We’re back to my favourite theme - fear makes you work harder - and, believe me, we are always scared of losing trade.

the halfway men

We are considering employing a salesman for chocolate, but the great fear I have is that his orders will be small and his expenses high, as it is with most salesmen. In my view, many salesmen are halfway men: they only try half as hard as they should, so they hold down a halfway job on a halfway salary by only doing half the work they are capable of.

Selling is a very difficult and hard job, yet each and every baker thinks he or she can apply for a salesman’s job with no experience of selling. Were the job being advertised for a dentist or architect, their view would be, "I am not qualified." Yet they all think they could sell. Well, there is a technique in selling - how to open, how to close, when to talk and when to keep quiet.

price knowledge

Plus, salesmen should have a complete knowledge of their product and price. How often have I seen a rep fumbling through his price lists, when asked for a price? That’s hardly a confidence builder and makes me question whether the reason he cannot even remember the price is because he sells so few.

When you ask the most basic question on the specifications and the reply is, "I’ll look it up or come back to you", all I can think is, "Thank God you don’t work for me, if you can’t even take the trouble to learn about your own product."

Salesmen are always boasting to each other. I remember one salesman telling me he had sold a million paper bags to one customer. So I said, "That’s nothing. My brother runs a gent’s outfitters. The other day, a woman came in for a new suit to bury her husband in and he sold her a pair of extra trousers, in case the first pair wore badly."

Mind you, he had to fire his 20-year-old female assistant who, when a customer asked what she would suggest for a rich man of 60, replied, "How about a girl of 20?" n