Bucking the Tide When the selling gets tough, these salespeople get selling

December 24, 1990|By Ellen L. James

It was a sunny Sunday afternoon in Dayton, in the swank central part of Howard County where the country estates of prosperous lawyers, doctors and business executives compete with the cows chewing their cud on century-old dairy farms.

For realty agent Elaine Northrup, it should have been the perfect day for an open house to sell the $503,000 custom-built white-frame Victorian on five acres with its wraparound porch, intricate architectural details, oversized family room, in-ground pool and dual garages. Yet, Ms. Northrup recalls thinking, "It was absolutely dead."

Even so, Ms. Northrup -- who believes strongly in the power of visualizing her goals -- was determined to find a buyer that day. Although the only ones to happen into the open house were two women who said they were basically sightseers without the income for the purchase, Ms. Northrup noticed how excited one became as she toured the house.

Quickly, Ms. Northrup put a deal in motion.

After convincing the woman to summon her husband for a tour and persuading him the purchase was possible, Ms. Northrup pushed aside seemingly insurmountable financing barriers. The couple's rancher in nearby Glenelg was sold to the man's parents and he got a jumbo mortgage he'd thought beyond his reach. Within just three weeks of the open house, the property went to settlement and the ecstatic couple moved in.

For some super salespeople such as Ms. Northrup, adverse market conditions become a strong motivator. Some are energized by the difficulties presented by a down market, sales experts insist.

"There's something in the left side of the brain that makes a good salesperson rise to a challenge. They're upbeat people and very competitive. They enjoy the idea of spotting a prospect, the chase and moving in for the sale. They thrive on both the presentation and the closing," says Patrick Martinelli, a marketing consultant and professor at Loyola College.

High-achieving salespeople can be found in many different industries.

They can sell stereo equipment when consumer spending is down sharply, like Paul DiComo, national sales manager at Polk Audio Inc., the Baltimore-based maker of home and auto stereo speakers.

They can sell upper-end health insurance coverage when many employers are cutting benefit costs, like Mary Ely, a senior account executive at Columbia-Freestate, a health maintenance organization with headquarters in Columbia.

And they can sell high-priced homes, like Ms. Northrup, even though 1990 has been judged one of the slowest real estate markets in a decade.

"If there's an adverse market out there, Elaine doesn't know it. That's because she creates success within her. It's her attitude. Nothing is impossible. If the client says 'No,' she'll say, 'Just tell me how,' " observes Deborah Latona, a sales associate at the Ellicott City office of Coldwell Banker, which Ms. Northrup uses as a base for her growing sales empire.

For 1990, Ms. Northrup has already achieved more than $17.5 million worth of settled sales -- up from $16 million last year. This is despite the fact that her specialty -- homes priced over $300,000 in Howard County and nearby parts of Carroll and Baltimore counties -- have been among the toughest properties to sell in the current market.

Adverse economic conditions have also driven Mr. DiComo, who says the retail market has been especially challenging this year because "Christmas just isn't happening." Despite a decline in consumer spending and the fact that Polk faces many rivals, the promotion-minded Mr. DiComo has been personally responsible for sales of $6.3 million during the first nine months of this year, up from $4.6 million for the like period last year.

"The bean counters say when business is bad you should cut back on promotional efforts. Our philosophy is that recessions aren't bad things. They're times when you grab more market share by being more aggressive. The pie may not be growing, but we're getting a bigger piece," Mr. DiComo says.

Meanwhile, at Columbia-Freestate, Mary Ely seems undaunted by the current, intense level of competition in the sale of health coverage to employers or the fact that her health maintenance organization is priced at the upper end of the spectrum. Ms. Ely, who tries to tailor her sales pitch to the needs of a company, has sold $2.5 million worth of medical insurance coverage this year, up from $2 million last year.

"I believe that what goes around comes around. If you can't help the account the first time around, there'll be a time when you can if you're true to them," says Ms. Ely, a former Sherwin-Williams Co. auditor who emphasizes service to clients.

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