October 7, 2006
Call is out for cellphone salespeople
Special to The Seattle Times
AMANDA SMITH / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Bethany Richards' customers come to her for bars, rings that sing and the occasional bling.
And some just want a little help trying to figure out their voice mail.
These days, with all the bells, whistles and razzle-dazzle service available through wireless phones, salespeople like Richards are busier than ever.
So are hiring managers at the Puget Sound region's largest wireless phone providers companies looking for "greeters," salespeople and customer-service specialists who can handle the growing demand for cellphone service.
Referrals from current employees drive many hires at Verizon Wireless, according to Jennifer Beery, Pacific Northwest region associate director for human resources.
Other cellphone sales employees found their jobs when they came into a store as a customer, she says.
That's how Richards landed her job at the Cingular Wireless store at Northgate Mall almost two years ago.
Across the globe wireless handsets account for a $300 billion business, sell 2 billion units annually and top 40 million new connections per month
By the numbers: More than 1 trillion text messages were sent via mobile phones worldwide in 2005; 16 percent of U.S. wireless phone users have two phones while five years ago, less than 1 percent of American cellphone users claimed two; new U.S. subscribers tend toward lower-cost plans with accounts set up by parents for children; more than 40 percent of 12- to 14-year-old Americans carry cellphones.
Sales are up: U.S. mobile-phone sales hit 34.8 million units in the first quarter of 2006 an 11 percent increase from the same period in 2005.
Pay/Benefits: Most cellphone sales jobs start at about $10 to $13 hourly with an emphasis on commission-based incentives that can boost salaries far beyond $25,000 annually at many entry-level positions. Most offer extensive benefits packages, including family leave and tuition assistance.
To find jobs: Cingular Wireless www.cingular.com/about/careers;Sprint Nextel: www.sprint.com/careers;T-Mobile: https://tmobile.recruitmax.com/ ENG/candidates;Verizon Wireless: www.verizonwireless.com/b2c/aboutUs/careers
Sources: Compete, In-Stat Digital, The NPD Group, Plunkett Research; Wireless Intelligence.
"I came into the store because I didn't really know how to use my phone," Richards says.
But employees at the Cingular Wireless store where she shopped convinced her that she had the skills to be successful working for their company.
"I wasn't that interested in phones, but I really like helping people," says Richards.
Not surprising, says Verizon Wireless' Pacific Northwest retail-sales director Lance Laing. That's the core of what his company is looking for in a sales staff.
"I would say 80 percent of the job is personality," Laing says. "It's a customer-focused position where you really want to help people. We can teach you about the products and the services so you can offers customers solutions but you can't be phobic about computers and technology.
"The great thing about this job is that there is no one mold that fits only one type of individual," Laing says. "I've found some of my best hires waiting tables, renting cars and doing computer sales. We've had formerly stay-at-home moms and dads who get into it. The key is being outgoing and friendly with a passion for technology."
That's why four- to seven-week full-time training sessions are common in this industry after hiring. Some companies incorporate quarterly and weekly classes to update employees on rapidly changing products and services, as well.
"Our team needs to be the experts on the products so they can simplify it for customers," said Georgia Taylor, a local spokeswoman for Verizon Wireless.
True, says Harris.
"When we're interviewing candidates, we're looking for people who are coachable and to see if they can learn the technology side of it," Harris says.
"Wireless changes happen so quickly. You can go into a store and see handsets today and go back a month later and see all new stuff. We're constantly putting out new things. Our folks have to be able to adapt to change."
Some of this change is about the glitz and glamour. Motorola's Razr started a handset trend toward sleek and slim.
Now many handsets come in various shades of pink to cater to fashionistas.
It's no wonder that even uber-chic Dolce & Gabbana and Versace are dipping their toes in handset design waters.
Other changes are about razzle-dazzle features.
Nearly 50 percent of all handsets in the world are camera phones.
Sprint Nextel invites its customers to follow TV's "The Amazing Race" around the globe for free.
Gamers spent more than $2 billion accessing their entertainment via wireless handsets. GPS (Global Positing Systems) downloads now allow handset users to get turn-by-turn directions on their phones.
"It's no longer just about data, text or pictures," Taylor says.
"People's expectations aren't just about making the call. They expect their wireless phone to do everything and work everywhere."
That's what keeps Richards excited about her job.
"It's different every day," she says. "When I was a cashier at my former job, it was 'Zoom in and zoom out.' But here I'm working really getting to know customers so I can find them find out about their lives and how their phone can work best for them."
Worldwide, wireless phone providers are making 40 million new connections per month "the highest volume of growth the market has ever seen," according to Wireless Intelligence, a company tracking and analyzing international cell phone trends.
"The cellular industry took 20 years to reach 1 billion connections, three years to reach 2 billion connections and is on target to reach its third billion in a period of just over two years," according to Wireless Intelligence director Martin Garner.
By 2007, predicts Texas-based Plunkett Research, 8 percent of U.S. homes will have canceled their landline phone service and will rely on wireless phones instead.
Locally, it's impossible to know exactly what that growth means for wireless phone-sales employment figures. Citing privacy for competitive purposes, local providers won't divulge those numbers.
But at kiosks, shops within malls, and "stores-within-a-store" centers throughout the Puget Sound area, hiring is steady year-round even before the holiday season.
"Going into the holidays our stores are open longer hours to better serve our customers," says Derek Harris, a Cingular Wireless area regional sales manager.
"To make sure we're properly staffed some employees will work overtime or we may bring in some part-time employees," Harris says. "We have steady customer traffic all year so we are interested in speaking with potential employees year-round."
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