Fraser AIS’s Melissa Confalone Taps into Past Experience to Lead Sales Team
When Melissa Confalone got her start in the office technology industry in 1992, fax machines were considered high tech. While technology in our industry and Confalone’s career have certainly sped ahead, she is still using what she learned in those early days of her career on the road in her current role as vice president of Sales at Fraser Advanced Information Systems (AIS) in West Reading, Pennsylvania.
Candidly, Confalone admitted she fell into working in the industry. After graduating from college with a marketing degree in the early 1990s, she went with a friend for an interview with Keystone Business Products, a Lanier dealer. She had no idea what the company did. She just went for the job and was hired on the spot to sell plain paper faxes. For three years, she immersed herself, selling faxes and copiers.
“It was really the place that taught me—regardless of being male or female—it’s all about getting in front of people in this business,” said Confalone, who credits her manager for some of her success. “He didn’t sit and coach me through everything. He rode in my car four out of five days a week. In customers’ offices, I listened to what he told them. He taught me the basis of working hard in this business.”
More importantly, she was incented to perform thanks to a solid compensation structure that allowed her to feel successful not only from a professional perspective, but also from a financial one.
“I felt I was winning early,” said Confalone. She had planned to apply to law school, but abandoned those plans to stay with Keystone. As she ticked off month after month of meeting and exceeding her sales goals, Confalone said winning business—and the money that came with it—became addictive.
Soon, Fraser AIS was knocking at Confalone’s door. Going toe to toe with Fraser in the field, she knew the company well. Fraser had bigger accounts and more locations. Confalone believed she would have more opportunity, especially working in the Philadelphia area, the fifth-largest market in the U.S.
Again, Confalone hit the ground with all her energy, garnering Fraser’s Rookie of the Year award in her first year with the company. And again, Confalone credits the support she received from the company’s home office in West Reading. She was soon promoted to a major account representative position, followed by a promotion to branch sales manager.
“If they left me on my own to succeed, I’m not sure it would have happened,” said Confalone. “But, they were committed to me and they supported me.”
After seven years with Fraser, she left to work with IKON, where she took advantage of more formal training and acclimated to a larger business structure. There, she learned a different side of the business, including business planning, sales development, and management and coaching skills.
“Working for IKON gave me a completely different perspective,” said Confalone. “A company’s job isn’t to offer you every single thing. You have to learn different aspects of what makes you successful.”
In a true testament to the importance of networking and maintaining positive relationships within our small, insular industry, Confalone stayed in contact with Fraser AIS and after a casual lunch with former colleagues, she began exploring a return to the company’s fold.
After three and half years with IKON, Confalone returned to Fraser as a branch manager in Bethlehem in 2002. She continued to take on more responsibilities, eventually managing all of sales as a general sales manager before being promoted to her current role as vice president of Sales, where she oversees the MFP side of the business and the MNS/IT services segment.
“I would not be where I am today with not only the support I received but also the encouragement from Bill Fraser [CEO, Fraser AIS] and Jim Pierce [VP of Operations, Fraser AIS],” said Confalone. “Back when I was Rookie of the Year in a branch location 18 years ago and they barely knew me, I got daily support from them on deals, pricing, whatever they felt I needed. Whatever I needed or didn’t need, they gave it to me.”
Building a Team for Success
As vice president of Sales, Confalone is obviously responsible for the hardware number every month. But, she is also charged with making sure the company recruits and hires salespeople effectively. With her team of seven sales managers and about 35 sales reps in place, she insures they have the tools they need to succeed, similar to how she was effectively supported in her first roles within the industry at both Keystone and Fraser.
“My biggest role is to develop my people,” said Confalone. “My goal is to develop my seven managers the way they can then develop their sales reps. I know that if we have a strong management team, then we’re going to be great. I know I can’t affect every single sale that’s out there during the day, but I can help develop our people to do the right thing.”
In line with most dealerships, Confalone views recruitment as one of her biggest challenges. She cites two different components that create complexity for sales roles within our industry.
“When we put someone into a new business assignment, there are two parts of the job,” said Confalone. “You don’t have to be a good closer if you can’t cold-call and dig up an appointment. Negotiating and cold-calling are two very different skills.”
As she looks to build her team, Confalone is looking for candidates that effectively communicate. “If they can come in and meet with me and have general, strong, open business communication with me, that’s extremely important.”
Some sales experience is also a must. “It doesn’t even have to be in our industry, but they have to understand what it’s like to dance with customers.”
Recruiting from an Even Playing Field
In a male-dominated industry, Confalone built her success by maintaining her focus and consistently meeting and exceeding her professional goals. However, she is quick to point out that being a female rep made her a minority in the industry. In the last two years, she has noticed a shift.
“Our applicant pool was male-dominated,” said Confalone. “We switched up and started using different recruiters such as Indeed to get a different pool of applicants in. As a result, I have seen many more female applicants in the past year. I now have more female members on my team than I ever have had, including four new females in the past year alone.”
Confalone emphasized that these women more than met the criteria she looks for.
“People buy from individuals who communicate well, who can relate to their business needs, and who can come up with sound solutions to solve their business issues,” said Confalone. “They also buy from people that they have something in common with. It doesn’t matter if you’re a male or female. I’ve always felt those qualities are in everybody. If you can have that kind of conversation with a potential client, you will win the business – man or a woman.”
Confalone offers the same advice to every new sales rep the same thing. In the first few months, she says they’re going to feel like they’re flying high. They’ll be out on the road and it’s exciting. They’re learning and training. But around months three to eight, it can become a drag, thinking about making 40 cold calls a day and not selling a thing.
“You have to have the persistence to see what’s after the other end, and I tell them it’s going to be about a year,” said Confalone. “This business is difficult. You can be successful, but it takes persistence and drive. As the saying goes, money doesn’t just fall off trees.”
Stoking the Fire for Tenured Reps
One challenge for Fraser AIS and Confalone is meeting the varied needs of their more tenured reps. According to Confalone, her company is fortunate to have a strong team of senior reps, who sell a lot of hardware. However, they still participate in the same training the newer reps are offered.
“Over the years, they [the tenured reps] have seen a decrease in profit and their revenue in the deals [they close]. [Today], they need more deals to make the same amount of money. However, we’ve provided them with technology solutions that if they can grasp onto them, they do realize they will help them get more deals and make more money.”
For Confalone, she wants to get these senior reps as much technology training as they need to make as much money as they did five years ago.
“At the end of the day, they’re forced into these situations where they could be working with a large client and only bringing up copiers and the client brings it [technology solutions] up,” said Confalone. “If somebody else—a different dealer or manufacturer—brings it up, then the client is going to start asking about print tracking, badge swiping, follow-me printing. You can’t really hide from it, so we give them the resources to go in there first and win the deal.”