This edition of Everyday Sales Superheroes focuses on uncovering the secrets of successful salespeople from all walks of life. In a businesslandscap ...
The Competitive Spirit of Sales: Conversations with Roger Coutu
Written by: Sean McAlindin
Sean McAlindin, a business and arts writer, has a decade-long experience in music and culture journalism and recently ventured into business writing.
Edited by: Sallie Middlebrook
Sallie, holding a Ph.D. from Walden University, is an experienced writing coach and editor with a background in marketing. She has served roles in corporate communications and taught at institutions like the University of Florida.
Updated on November 17, 2023
The Competitive Spirit of Sales: Conversations with Roger Coutu
Welcome to the very first edition of Everyday Sales Superheroes!
This special series focuses on uncovering the secrets of successful salespeople from all walks of life. In a business landscape full of lifestyle gurus and self-declared experts, we want to hear from ordinary folks who have actual boots-on-the-ground sales experience that resonates with our readers.
In this conversation, and in many others to follow, there will be no posturing or hyperbole, just real-life talk with veteran sales professionals who are making a difference in the lives of their companies and their customers.
As you read our first installment of Everyday Sales Superheroes, keep in mind that we’re presenting these interviews so that you can learn from the mindsets and philosophies of everyday salespeople who are the best of the best at what they do.
Competition and Connection Form the Foundation To Success
For one veteran salesperson from southern New England, the essence of sales comes down to two things: competition and connection.
Roger Coutu was born in Hartford, Conn., in 1960. The year before his birth, in 1959, his parents started a company called Jeannine Fund Raising. Named after his mother, this family-run business enterprise helps schools throughout the region raise money through product sales.
Born into a family with sales in their blood, Roger grew up into a passionate athlete who played basketball at Trinity College. Then, the day after graduation, he stepped confidently into the family business. He used a degree in mathematics to optimize product ordering, pricing, and inventory management, and eventually took over the company when his parents retired.
After 38 years of owning and operating the family business, now married with children of his own, Roger sold the company, but continued to work there, part-time, as a salesman. Soon enough, his two lovely and energetic daughters noticed he was spending too much time hanging around the house and pressured him to pick up a new job. After four decades of working for himself and his family, Coutu accepted a position selling windows for Renewal by Andersen.
Making That Sale recently spoke with Roger Coutu as he was on his way to a sales presentation appointment in South Windsor, Conn. As we got started, it wasn’t long before his confidence, optimism, and life experience began to shine through the conversation.
Let’s see what Roger had to say about sales, business, and life.
How did you decide to become a salesperson?
I grew up in that business and I’ve always liked people, so it just seemed like a natural fit.
How has it been taking on a new sales role at this point in your career?
It’s a different kind of selling because in fundraising I built relationships with people over many years. Even to the point where, for one of my customers, I am the godfather of her son who’s 28 years old now.
With the windows, I go into someone’s home and I’m there for a couple hours and that’s about it. There’s not a lot of relationship building. So, it’s really kind of what they call a “one-call close situation.” So, it’s definitely different, which is refreshing.
Is selling windows easier than fundraising?
My role is easier now because in fundraising I was in charge of what products to sell, how many to order, making sure they get in the warehouse, getting them packaged, and getting them out. I had a lot of roles, a lot of hats to wear, so to speak.
Whereas with the windows, they make the appointments for me. I go in, I do a presentation. If it sells, I put in the order. If it doesn’t, I’m done. I’m kind of just a sales guy.
What was your favorite thing about the fundraising business?
The most enjoyable thing was I would go to the school and we’d run a fundraiser. The next year I would go back to the school and there would be a playground. I knew the major reason they could afford that playground, even though it might take one or two or three years. Those types of things were funded by the work we did with the fundraisers.
It made the educational experience better. The funnest part was when I would go to the school. They’d put 500 or 600 kids in the gym and give me a microphone and I would get them excited about getting involved.
You were kind of training little salespeople and giving them their first taste of sales. How did the kids react?
They would totally be into it. It was like a little bit of a pep rally. They would be really excited. You know, our last name is Coutu, but my father (whose first language was French) pronounced it “Coo-choo.” So they used to call him Mr. “Choo Choo” and I became Mr “Choo Choo” Junior.
There I would be places we used to go like a Hartford Whalers hockey game where 35-year-old women would come up to us and go, “You’re Mr. Choo Choo, aren’t you?” She was either a PTA mother, or remembered us from when she was in the fifth grade. It was kind of fun that they remembered us.
What are the biggest lessons you learned throughout your sales career?
It’s like riding a bicycle. If you stop pedaling it, you fall over, so you have to work all the time. You have to keep it going, keep it going, keep it going.
Another thing about sales is it’s a lot like sports. And I like that because when I was young I played a lot of sports and I loved to compete. I always competed with myself.
Even now, selling the windows, I can look on the website and I can see how much I sold in July of last year. To sell more this July is always my goal. I always look at the month from the year before and try to beat that goal.
But the bottom line on selling in both of my careers is I set myself up with a product that, if I sell that product to someone, their life gets better. They have better windows. They have a more energy efficient home. They’re more comfortable in the home. Or I’m helping them get a playscape.
Either way, I’m bettering their situation. It’s not like I’m trying to sell them something that’s not gonna help them out and I’m just trying to make a dollar. I’m actually helping people which makes me feel good.
That’s a common misconception about salespeople – that they’re always trying to rip you off and sell you something you don’t need. That’s almost always not the case. What you’re selling has real value, doesn’t it?
When I interviewed for window jobs, that’s why I chose Anderson. I interviewed customers of all the different window companies. I actually called their customers and I asked them, and none of them were really happy, except the Anderson ones were always really happy with the product.
So that’s why I went to work for them. I had other opportunities. But I picked Anderson because when the people were done and the windows were installed, they were really happy, and that’s what I wanted.
Selling isn’t always easy. It takes a lot of courage and persistence. How do you develop the confidence to go out there every day, pitch to strangers, and show up with the right energy to do your job?
I look at every house I walk into, and sales presentation, as an opportunity to help somebody. It’s also an opportunity to compete.
But one thing in sales is if you can’t handle “no” – people say, “Listen, it’s a nice thing, but I can’t afford it. I don’t want them, or I don’t want to run a fundraiser.” If you can’t handle the word, “no,” you can’t be in sales because you’re going to hear it a lot.
Do you ever get discouraged? Or are you always confident that you’re always going to turn the corner with the next sale?
If I get 10 “nos” in a row, it just means I’m one step closer to my next “yes.” I’ve always been a relatively confident person.
What tips would you give to someone that’s thinking about getting into a sales career?
Don’t get too high and don’t get too low. If you make a ton of money one month, don’t look at it as, “Oh, I’m the greatest thing in the world.” And if you get a bunch of “nos,” don’t think you’re the worst thing in the world. You just don’t wanna get too high or too low.
And then what I tell every young person if you make $100,000 a year, live like you make 70 and invest the rest.
Do you have any sort of universal sales philosophy that you think about regularly to keep focused?
In both careers, I’m in a situation where if the prospect says, “Yes,” their life is going to get better. So I just focus on that. I focus on trying to help people.
What’s your favorite thing about being a salesperson?
Probably the competition. Yes, you’re competing to get a customer, but I always compete with myself. I miss that because when I was young, in my twenties and thirties and even into my forties, I played an enormous amount of sports. It was always in competition and I loved that, and now I’m too old to do that kind of stuff. So, at this point in my life, I just like the competition.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your career?
Family. The career of being a salesperson has allowed me to support my family and my two daughters in a good fashion. They have a lot in life because of the fruits of being a salesperson.
Is there anything else you would like to add to this conversation?
Money is important. Anybody who says money is not important is wrong. And if you can handle the downs in sales, you can make good money at it and you can live a good life. I’d rather have a lot of money than not have a lot of money. Besides that, I find it to be really fun. I have a good time doing it.
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This special series focuses on uncovering the secrets of successful salespeople from all walks of life. In a business landscape full of lifestylegur ...