Friday, July 20, 2018

The Meeting By Rachel Doherty

A talented salesman wants his buddies to succeed, but at what cost? By Rachel Doherty.

"I wanted you to be the first to know," Jason confided in me. When he called me over, I had prepared myself for the inevitable long-winded build up that Jason was so prone to when divulging some juicy bit of office gossip. However, upon seeing his sober expression, I realized that this was no office romance he was reporting on. "Mack has been fired and it is now up to you and me to keep his whole sales team from the same fate," he whispered, glancing back at the door to be sure no one could hear. Jason was jumping to conclusions, as usual.

"You're crazy... he's on vacation you jackass," I laughed.

"That's what I thought," Jason hissed, "but I overheard his assistant on the phone. She was in tears telling her boyfriend whole story of how it happened." "What the hell could he have been fired for?" I wondered. "He's the only one who even cared about giving this company results."

Jason countered, "Well, he did give them good results. Too good to be true. He's been fudging the numbers for months." I knew my sales had been pretty dismal for some time but never worried about it since Mack assured us the team as a whole was doing great. I figured it was safe to ride the others' coattails. Over the next few hours, as I perused Mack's papers, I realized everyone's sales had tanked recently. We were all just coasting on Mack's lies.

I received the dreaded memo from corporate, asking me to come in and meet with the directors on Friday morning in Conference Room A. It was cryptic to say the least, but thankfully Jason's snooping skills had paid off in that I already knew what to expect. But, I thought, how am I going to fix this in just five days? I am not even a good salesperson. I hated selling. While it seemed to come naturally to some people, it was always a struggle for me. I felt as if I was imposing on the prospect's life, even if the sale was going to benefit them. Nonetheless, for years I managed to make my quotas month after month, mostly due to sales that were handed to me and repeat business I had inherited from guys retiring who gave me their book of business to maintain. Now, maintaining... that was something I could pull off. Getting new customers? Not so much.

Mack was one of those natural salesmen. He was well-spoken, and with his elegant suits and short-cropped, slightly greying hair he could pass as old money. In reality, he had grown up in the same working-class town I had. I couldn't shed the blue-collar aura that pervaded that town the way he could. Nor did I want to. I liked being a little rough around the edges. I wore that aura like a badge. If someone had a problem with the way I looked, talked, or acted, I wouldn't want to do business with them anyway. At least that was what I always told myself.

But Mack could turn it on or off as he pleased. One minute he was talking about his golf swing with some lawyer he wanted to sell our platinum plan to. The next he was reviewing the merits of various wrenches with a mechanic who was looking for a policy that would cover the mortgage for his wife and kids if those cigarettes he chain-smoked at the garage finally did him in.

That talent didn't save Mack though, did it? In the end, to corporate he was just another working-class slob who was expendable. Truth be told, Mack was a great salesman. That's why they had him head up his own department. He made Jason and I his assistant managers (despite our less than stellar sales) and brought in a few other guys from the old neighborhood. He thought selling would eventually come just as easy to us as it did to him. He was wrong.

Mack really tried. He gave countless sales training classes. He held workshops. We did role playing. To most of us, it was just a way to get out of cold calling; to kick back and take the morning off. He would hand us sales he had already closed to take credit for so we would make our numbers. But he only had so many sales to give away. Eventually, he was just covering for us, posting sales that had not closed yet hoping we could step up our game. We never did.

Now there was no Mack to cover our asses. I couldn't even get him on the phone. It was like he vanished off the face of the earth. We were on our own. And Jason and I were the ones who had to figure out how to save our department. We called a meeting. We told the guys what happened, reminding them to keep it quiet.

Jason and I had figured out that if everyone could double what they made in sales the previous month, the department would be meeting corporate's number and they would have no justification for firing us. Heck, maybe they would even bring back Mack if we could convince them that it was just a misunderstanding between Mack and us. We rehearsed telling the bosses that these sales had been coming in soon but that Mack was under the mistaken impression they had already been completed.

Of course, before that plan could work we had to bring in twice as many sales as before, and that was an even taller order considering that we no longer had any freebies from Mack. During our meeting with Mack's team we outlined the plan. We were met with laughter by most, anger from a few. My how the tables have turned I thought. Just last week I was one of these guys laughing off threats from corporate that Mack relayed to us. Now I was the one delivering the bad news and not being taken seriously. But I couldn't keep my cool the way Mack did.

"Listen, if any of you geniuses can come up with a better idea for keeping our jobs I would love to hear it," I barked. "Sully, if you lose your job how are you gonna keep paying for Mom's nursing home? Big Mike, do you want to go back to stocking shelves at Target? All of you guys, Mack brought us into this company because he knew this was our best chance to have a nice steady job with good pay and benefits where we wouldn't have to break our backs to get it. And we took it for granted."

Jason took over, "If we want any chance to save our jobs then we are going to have to suck it up and start walking the walk. Remember all the strategies Mack taught us?" Blank stares.

"Okay," Jason chuckled. "I have to admit that I don't remember a lot either, but it's in there somewhere, believe it or not. We are going to do a sales boot camp, if you will, and hopefully something will stick. The key this time is you gotta drink the Kool Aid. It's not so hard to believe that these methods work. They worked for Mack, didn't they?"

Once the guys were on board, it was amazing how quickly they adopted all those behaviors that Mack was trying to instill for years. Before, we had acted like we were still in high school and it wasn't cool to do what the teacher wanted us to do. The difference now, we realized, was that we had people depending on us, and we faced the very real prospect of not being able to provide for them. I no longer cared if a prospect felt imposed on. It couldn't be any more of an imposition than the one I would face if I was unable to pay my mortgage. Once I closed a few sales, my confidence improved and so did my sales, as did the rest of the team.

When Thursday evening arrived, Jason and I went over our sales for the week. Although we had improved significantly, we were still falling just shy of the goal of doubling our sales. That night I tossed and turned, nervous about how the meeting would go in the morning. I was so proud of myself and my team, but it was all for naught if it did not save our jobs.

Friday morning, I met Jason for coffee to go over what we would say to the overlords. When we walked into Conference Room A, we were met not by the three old men that ran the place but rather our old buddy Mack. Jason and I looked at each other and then back at Mack. I stammered, "But how? What? Where are the overlords?"

Mack just gave that sly smirk he made when he had just closed a tough sale. "So, let's have it, how did you guys do while I was on vacation?"

"But your secretary, I heard her talking to her boyfriend," Jason protested.

"Did I ever tell you that Audrey is an aspiring actress? I really think she is going to make it in show business," Mack chortled. "Rule number two in sales: To close a sale you must create a sense of urgency. All this time I ignored my second most important rule when I was trying to sell you on your own success. So, I finally figured it out."

"But wait, then what's rule number one, Mack?" I asked, intrigued.

Mack winked at us. "My number one rule is never fudge your numbers."

7 comments:

  1. Well, Mack sure did create a sense of urgency.I love the writing style - "how...what...where are the overlords?" and the wheeze of writing half of it in the first person plural communicates not only the sense of urgency but emphasizes the futility of the corporate office. Bullshit jobs and maybe shades of Joshua Ferris in Then we Came to the End? Thanks for a skillfully constructed piece!
    B r o o k e

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    1. Thank you for your thoughtful and insightful feedback!

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  2. Mack is a sly one! I’m “sold” on this story’s humor and good nature.

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    1. Thanks so much..I see what you did there.

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  3. I'm no lover of salesmen (who is?) but this story did a good job of putting you in their shoes.

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