How to Handle Politics in the Office

Playing politics at the office is a great way to get a promotion… or a pink slip. It depends on how well you play the game. Today we’re not focusing on playing office politics, we’re focusing on politics in the office. 

Office Politics

Don’t do it! Really, for the sake of your career and office harmony, stay away political discussions.

Politics is going to come up in your office. You spend a significant portion of your life with your colleagues and it’s only natural that people want to share and hear opinions. However, politics just doesn’t make for great office conversation. It tends to be a divisive and emotional issue.

From a career advancement perspective, you run the risk of alienating the colleague who decides if you get that big promotion next quarter. To quote Michael Jordan: “Republicans buy sneakers, too”.

 So, what’s the best way to handle politics in the office? Avoid the discussion!

 If you absolutely must discuss it, please, follow the best practices below.

  • Focus on your common ground
  • Understand the consequences
  • Be open-minded and curious
  • Respect and recognize everyone’s right to their opinion

By respecting your co-workers’ opinions and avoiding potentially heated discussions,  you will make the most of your right to vote! 

Job Offer Negotiation for Employees

Job Offer Negotiation for Employees

As search consultants, we’re involved with a high number of salary negotiations. While the job candidate and hiring company are always changing, there are several rules (maybe guidelines is a better term) that must remain steadfast if both parties are to get what they want.

These are 13 salary negotiation rules that, if followed, can lead to a bigger paycheck and a better relationship with your new firm.

Job Offer Negotiation for Employees

  1. Do your homework. Understand the goals of the hiring firm. What are the results that drive profitability for them? Why are they hiring for this position to begin with? What do they hope to accomplish? Understand the role of hiring manager. What’s his or her motivation? He or she needs to fill the position, but on what metrics or outcomes is he or she judged? Realize that you’re negotiating with another person, not a corporate They have bosses, goals, and incentives just like everyone else. The better you understand the position and needs of the other people involved in the negotiation the better you’ll be able to predict their responses.
  1. Be likable. Hiring managers are only going to fight for you if they like you. The more they like you the more likely it is that the other side will work to get you a better offer.
  1. Know your worth. What’s the average salary for employees in similar positions? What does this average look like nationally and locally? What do you bring to the table that can save/make the firm money? Know the results you can deliver and quantify it.
  1. Based on your homework and presentation, state your price. Start high and be prepared to support your stance.
  1. Make your case. Beyond simply liking you, employers have to believe that you’re worth the offer you want. You can’t simply state that you what 15% more than the offer. You don’t get anything for free in a negotiation. You have to justify your demand. This is best done in the form of a story. Tell them about the exceptional results you delivered in your last position or your plans to boost sales in your region within the first 90 days on the job.
  1. Let them know they can get you. The greatest fear of every hiring manager is that they are going to put their neck on the line to get an improved offer for a candidate and the candidate will look at the offer and turn it down. If you intend to negotiate for a better package, make it clear that you’re serious about working for this employer.
  1. “What is your salary history?” This question and other difficult ones are coming. You need to be prepared. Your goal with these questions is to be honest while still looking like an attractive candidate and, since you are negotiating, giving up as little bargaining power as possible. Plan your responses to these in advance. Winging it won’t do you any favors.
  1. Outline your skills and experience. Every professional has a unique blend of skills and experience; you need to identify what makes you different. Even more than that, you have to sell the hiring manager on how you will have a direct, positive impact on the key metrics that drive profitability. Keep it succinct and logical. Plan this out ahead.
  1. Understand the firm’s limitations. Some firms have salary caps or other controls in place that just cannot be changed through negotiation. Find out where there is flexibility and negotiating room. When you understand the limitation of the firm, you’ll be much more effective at presenting options that create a win-win scenario.
  1. Don’t negotiate just because you feel you have to. If something is critical to your happiness and security, negotiate for it. Don’t be petty about the small stuff.
  1. Consider the whole deal. Salary is a big part of any job offer. It’s probably the biggest part. However, there are other things to consider. Don’t get so focused on money that you miss the opportunity to improve on benefits, travel schedule, flexibility, work from home, and insurance. These are often overlooked, but make up a significant part of your job satisfaction.
  1. Prepare yourself ahead of time to politely thank the interviewer and walk away, to request time to consider the offer, and if you get what you want, by all means say “Yes!”.
  1. Keep things in perspective. You might negotiate wonderfully and get everything you want, but still end up in a bad situation. In the end, the negotiation is just the beginning of your tenure with a new firm. Landing a job that you love is more important than any negotiation. These rules can help you get the offer that you deserve, but should only come into play when you find that opportunity that will lead to the long and fruitful career you desire.
6 Traits of Highly Profitable Distributors

6 Traits of Highly Profitable Distributors

Throughout the promotional product industry, there are highly profitable distributors that are rock solid year after year.  These companies consistently buck downward economic trends and outperform other firms.

6 Traits of Highly Profitable Distributors

What secrets drive their outstanding performance?  Actually, there’s no secret at all.

Ownership Matters

  • Many profitable distributors are owned by successful former sales reps  
  • A focus on sales carries throughout the organization and creates an environment of success
  • The owner’s industry sales success gives him or her instant credibility with the sales team

Value of Customer Service

  • Management and sales efforts must be focused on providing outstanding customer service and value

Out in The Field

  • Owners and management look for chances to assist in providing leads, making joint sales calls, and closing deals for the benefit of the sales team

Not Afraid to Make Money

  • Top companies thrive on making margin when a great value benefits their clients and sales reps alike


  • They don’t keep secrets from their team
  • Too many owners blow years of credibility trying to grab a small piece of extra revenue 

Clients Come First

  • The focus of every department is supporting the work of the sales team and over-delivering for clients

Is your business highly profitable? If not, what are you going to do in the short, medium, and long-term to change that?

Mark Graham

PromoPath with Mark Graham

Welcome to the fifth installment of what will be an ongoing series of blog posts. Our aim is to explore and learn from the various career paths of promotional product industry leaders.

Our guest interviewee is Mark Graham. Mark is a true superstar entrepreneur in the promotional product industry and was part of the driving force in creating three unique organizations that are changing the way our business works.

Mark Graham

PromoPlacement: First things first, how did you wind up in the promotional product industry?

Mark Graham: I finished university in 1996 and started my career in the corporate banking sector. After 3 or 4 months working on Bay Street (Canada’s equivalent to Wall Street), I realized that I really, really hated it.

I’ve had an entrepreneurial streak my entire life and thought that it could be the way out of my job. Turns out a friend of mine was selling branded t-shirts. It wasn’t a formal business by any means at that time, but there was something there. We partnered up and ran the business together. That business became RIGHTSLEEVE in 2000 when my partner left for law school.


PromoPlacement: What were the early days of RIGHTSLEEVE like? Did you ever doubt that it would work?

Mark Graham: Every day for the first two years, I was in desperation mode. I felt like I didn’t really know what I was doing. Most of peers had attractive corporate jobs, and I was running a t-shirt business out of my parent’s house. It wasn’t the sexiest business.

I had no network that could mentor me. I had to learn by doing. It was a really tough time.


PromoPlacement: You spent 18 months as the President of the Toronto chapter of Entrepreneurs’ Organization. What does the promo business need to do to spur more entrepreneurship and innovation?

Mark Graham: That’s an interesting question. I’m a huge advocate for the entrepreneurial journey, and I consider myself an entrepreneur first and a promotional product professional second. I never set out to sell t-shirts. I set out to build a business and make a difference.

As an industry, I think we need to create an environment where it’s OK to take risks. Where it’s possible to learn what running your own business is really like. Move the focus of our business from pushing products to solving marketing problems for our customers. If we can foster the mentality that we are problem solvers, we can move up the chain in the eyes of our customers. But here’s the important thing, you have to develop a skill set as an organization that solves business problems, as opposed to being an organization that simply processes orders.

This is how our industry can grow from $20 billion to $50 billion. I think that we can, but not with the current outlook.

If you start a business and your only goal is to sell coffee mugs to companies, my feeling is that you aren’t truly an entrepreneur. You’re a distributor selling someone else’s product. It can be very lucrative and there’s nothing wrong with it, but you aren’t creating much value beyond the margin spread.


PromoPlacement: You helped to found both PromoKitchen and commonsku in January 2011. How crazy was the lead up to both of these launches? What was your initial vision for these two organizations?

Mark Graham: Well, both organizations are near and dear to my heart. PromoKitchen was born out of a time when I was very involved in the PPAI education circuit. I connected with others on this circuit. PromoKitchen was born out of this trend of younger, tech-savvy, promotional product professionals embracing video, blogging, and social media. We thought that we should create something to bring the industry together.

It became an independent resource to help younger people who are getting started in the industry and to share really interesting content. That’s where the idea for education and mentorship came from. Today, PromoKitchen is the leading independent non-profit within the promo industry. It’s made up of a fantastic group of people and is open to everyone. It’s been a real joy to be a part of.

commonsku came out of internal challenges we were having at RIGHTSLEEVE. In 2004 / 2005 we were growing and running into problems with our technology and processes. We looked at what was available on the market and didn’t find what we needed. Then came the question: “How hard can it be to write our own software?” Famous last words. Turns out it was very hard.

Our passion and, in some part, our naiveté saw us through. Fast forward to 2010, we saw that we had something very interesting. We wrote a business plan and decided to market it to the promo industry. The whole idea was how can we offer a world-class, easy to use, beautifully designed, software for the modern distributor. We’ve really been humbled by the response to commonsku. It’s really struck a cord with a certain segment of the industry.


PromoPlacement: What’s been the most satisfying moment of your promotional product career?

Mark Graham: There’s two that come to mind. The highest high that I’ve gotten with RIGHTSLEEVE actually happened at PPAI Expo this year. Seth Godin was keynoting. I’ve known him for some time and have had the chance to do a couple of podcasts with him. He gave an amazing speech. He mentioned a few companies that have pushed the envelop and weren’t afraid to challenge industry conventions. He mentioned RIGHTSLEEVE as one of these companies. I had no idea it was coming. It was a enormous surprise that a hero of mine had recognized my business. It was great for all the people who helped build our company.

Our second skucon this year in Las Vegas was really a high for me. It was extraordinary to be in the presence of all of these great people who we have the privilege to serve through our platform. We got to see our original vision come to life. That this little idea we had is actually making an impact with these amazing people was really wonderful.


PromoPlacement: Your wife, Catherine Graham, is a well know industry leader as the CEO of commonsku and President of RIGHTSLEEVE. What is it like working so closely with your spouse?

Mark Graham: It is a wonderful experience. We’ve been able to make it work through a clear separation of our roles. She handles things that I’m not particularly good at or fond of and the inverse is true with me. When it works, it’s all about respecting those divisions. However, those divisions are porous and we do collaborate a lot.

When it doesn’t work so great is when neither of us know the answer to something or one of us is giving an uninformed opinion of the other’s job. I’m usually the one committing that offense, but it never works out well. Outside of that we really make it work and are able to do a lot of things together while still growing individually. Mutual respect is critical.

Working together also gives us the flexibility to spend as much time as we can with our three young kids.  Working together isn’t a possibility for some couples, but for Catherine and I it makes everything work a little bit better. We have a shared interest and a common vision. It makes everything exciting.


PromoPlacement: You mentioned Seth Godin’s participation at the PPAI Expo this year and it seems that he’s had more exposure to the promotional product industry over the last few years (largely due to PromoKitchen). Is there anything from Seth that has particularly resonated with you?

Mark Graham: I think that his best book, and perhaps the best business book of all time, is Purple Cow. It’s written in a very light way, but it’s extremely powerful. It’s Seth’s take on how to be remarkable in business. It hit me like a ton of bricks when I read it. It was May of 2006, and I was a time in my life when the business was doing OK, but after reading that I looked at everything in different light.

This single biggest idea of his that sticks with me is from his keynote at Expo: don’t be afraid of risk. “The inventor of the ship is also the inventor of the shipwreck.” Failure is part of the journey, but it should never hold you back from anything.

“Have you ever been fired-”

“Have You Ever Been Fired?”

“Have you ever been fired?”

“Have you ever been fired?”

Being fired is the worst. However, it’s also very common. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that an average of 55,318 people were laid off or fired each day. The total for the year was 20,191,070.

It happens. If it has happened to you it’s likely that you’re going to be asked about it. Your best bet is to be prepared. Follow these tips and you can turn a difficult question into a springboard to a new job.



When hiring managers ask about an employment gap they are asking because they want to know:

  1.  Are you a risky hire?
  2.  Can you handle a tough question / adversity?
  3.  How do you handle pressure?
  4.  Are you honest?



  • Realize that this question is not an attack on you or your skills.
  • Being honest and forthcoming says a lot about your character.
  • Take responsibility for your role in the situation.
  • Frame your response in terms of what you’ve learned—not what happened.
  • Explain what you learned from the situation, and how you’ve improved since then.
  • Don’t speak negatively of your former employer, ever!
  • Avoid going in to detail about how it happened, your emotions, how it affected your family, etc. All the hiring manager wants is a simple answer to a simple question.
  • Keep it brief! Rambling will only get you in trouble.
  • After you answer, turn the conversation back toward the new position and how your abilities match what is needed.
  • Keep it positive and focus on how it makes you a better candidate today.


Thousands of people are fired each day for a myriad of issues. It has no bearing on your long-term career prospects, your ability to land a good job, or the skill set that you possess. Don’t beat yourself up or adopt the mind-set of nobody will hire you because you’ve been fired. How you deal with questions about your firing will depend a lot on how you have resolved the issue with yourself.

6 Traits of Top Performing Sales Reps

6 Traits of Top Performing Sales Reps

6 Traits of Top Performing Sales Reps

We all know a few sales rep who are able to grow their business year after year despite any obstacle. They bring in the big clients and profitable programs. 

What leads to their consistently strong performance? All that separates them are these 6 traits.

Customer Service

  • Top performers are intensely focused on customer service.  Service is not a trendy catch phrase for this group, it is a way of life. Their extreme dedication to service creates passive referrals from their clients and sets the tone for proactive referral requests.

Order Size

  • Peak performers average order size is often two to three times the industry standard. No, they don’t load clients up with products.  They do look for great values which allow clients to consolidate purchases for multiple locations.

Margin Matters

  • This group is not afraid to make margin as a result strong client relationships, providing value in every purchase, and intense customer focus. Often top performers exceed industry average margins by 3-5%

Quality Counts

  • Peak performers don’t cut corners!  They don’t substitute inferior products to make more money. They follow every step needed to deliver quality merchandise from perfect graphics, to precise virtual and production proofs, to on time delivery.

They Are Problem Solvers

  • Top promo reps never assess blame.  First, if problems arise, they retrieve defective merchandise from the client as quickly as possible. Second, they move to supply the right product.  Only later do they sort out the details of what missteps where taken in the delivery channel.

Work Smart

  • Peak performers are an elite group in the promo industry because they work harder to satisfy clients than the rest of the pack.  The result is customer loyalty, referrals, larger orders and higher margins than their peers.
Promo Interview Questions

Promotional Products Job Interview Questions: CSR Edition

Promo Interview Questions

Most promotional product job interviews are a challenging experience for everyone involved.

The candidate is nervous and on edge. Most candidate’s greatest fear about a job interview is that they’ll be open, honest, their best self will shine through, and they still won’t get the job. To hedge against this, most study up on inauthentic, rehearsed answers that they think the hiring manager will want to hear.

Often the interviewer is less than prepared and would rather be doing something else. The biggest mistake most hiring managers make is taking a candidate’s answer at face value. That’s not to say that they are lying, but talk is cheap.

Canned Responses and A Wasted Hour

Here are 5 very common traditional interview questions that you’ve probably asked or been asked.

  • What are your greatest strengths or weaknesses?
  • What did you enjoy most/least about your last position?
  • Describe the best boss you’ve ever had.
  • Where do you want to be in 5 years?
  • How would your coworkers or supervisor describe you?

9 out of 10 times these questions get you absolutely nowhere. You’ll learn nothing new about your candidate and be no closer to discovering what they would be like as a co-worker. Candidates have prepared and rehearsed these answers to death. The canned answers are designed to make the candidate look great and tell the interviewer what they want to hear. As a result, the interviewer and the candidate part ways knowing very little new, honest information about each other.

How can you be expected to make the very expensive of decision of hiring a new employee with such murky information?

Behavior-Based Interviewing

The solution to this predicament is behavior-based questions. These questions are built on the philosophy that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

Traditional interview question: “How do you handle stress?”

Behavior-based interviewing question: “Tell me about a time you had to perform a task or project under a lot of stress?”

20 Terrific Interview Questions for CSRs

  1. “Describe a time you exceeded the expectations of a client?”
  2. “Sometimes sales reps will drag their feet in taking action on something or be out of the office and unreachable. Tell me about a time you that quick action was needed on something and you took it upon yourself to lead the effort.”
  3. “Describe a situation where you had to collect information by asking many people a lot of questions.”
  4. “Give me an example of the kinds of issues you have talked to your sales rep about rather than handling them yourself.”
  5. “Tell me about the most difficult customer with whom you have had to deal?”
  6. “Tell me what tool you would use and how would use it to source 144 US made hot pink widgets priced below $6.00.”
  7. “Describe a time where your patience in gathering information paid off.”
  8. “Tell me about your most challenging sourcing project and how you overcame the obstacles.”
  9. “Tell me about a time when you had too many things to do and you were required to prioritize your tasks?”
  10. “Tell me about a time you needed to get cooperation from a vendor for you to be successful on a task or project.”
  11. “Describe a time when you were able to become personal friends with a customer.”
  12. “Tell me about a time when you caught an error that others had missed.”
  13. “Describe a time you were not able to deliver a product to a client on time.”
  14. “Give me an example of a time you identified a potential problem and resolved the situation before it became serious.”
  15. “Tell me about about the last time you missed a project deadline because you were not well organized.”
  16. “Describe a time you had to make a quick decision with incomplete information.”
  17. “Tell me about a time you had to work with conflicting, delayed, or ambiguous information. What did you do to make the most of the situation?”
  18. “Describe the worst-on-the-job crisis you had solve. How did you manage to maintain your composure?”
  19. “Tell me about a situation in which a customer was so difficult that you just gave up trying (or were unable to satisfy him / her?”
  20. “Describe the most creative work project you’ve ever completed.”

The promotional product job interview experience and results can be greatly improved when hiring firms move from canned interview questions to behavior-based interview questions.  The answers that come from behavior-based questions gives the candidate a chance to truly reveal who they are, what they’ve done in the past, and what they can contribute to the hiring firm.  With this knowledge, hiring firms can make quality decisions that reduce ramp up time and improve retention.