A Bad Year in the Life of a Top Sales Rep

Here’s important news! Success Has Gears… and so does Leadership

By Susan Ford Collins

As we drive, we use gears to move us ahead, slowly at first then more rapidly and easily. As we succeed, we use gears to move us ahead too.

First Gear is for starting anything new. Second Gear is for accelerating into productivity and competition. Third gear is for breaking through into creativity and innovation. No gear is better than any other; all are essential—each one has its own timing and use.

Each Success Gear has a corresponding Leadership Gear which specifically meets the needs of individuals and teams who are operating in that gear… the 1st Gear of Success/the 1st Gear of Leadership, the 2nd Gear of Success/the 2nd Gear of Leadership, the 3rd Gear of Success/the 3rd Gear of Leadership. Today most of us spend most of our time accelerating in 2nd Gear (more-better-faster-cheaper). And most of our managers are accelerating in 2nd Gear with us. Unless something unexpected occurs.

It was a peak moment. Bob had just returned from Pharmco’s national convention where he had been appointed to the President’s Council and invited to speak on how to be a successful sales rep. Because of Bob’s consistent high performance, he had won every mixer, toaster, bonus and trip, even one that landed Bob and his wife, via helicopter, on top of a volcano high above the clouds in Hawaii.

Finally Bob and Ellen felt secure enough to start a family and they had just received the long-awaited call: Ellen was pregnant. Elated, they took the steps they had been planning: they bought a larger home and a kid-friendly mini-van.

But a few weeks after the conference, Pharmco lost its contract with a major healthcare provider. The loss was over profit margins and had nothing to do with how well Bob was servicing their account. But instead of backing their loss out of Bob’s next year’s sales numbers, management simply tacked on the usual 6% increase.

Bob was staggered. He would have to produce a 31% increase just to make his numbers! Six per cent was a stretch but 31% was outrageous. He tried talking to his boss Howard and suggesting alternative approaches but, instead of being supportive, Howard accused him of having a bad attitude. That stung! Bob had always been seen as “positive and resilient.” In fact, those were the words his managers had included in past appraisals.

The next twelve months were tough. Bob had felt valued when he was exceeding expectations. But now he felt he had become upper management’s personalized message… no matter who you are or what you’ve done in the past, you have to increase your sales 6% each year. Or else.

Even though Bob was making steady progress, Howard kept delaying his appraisal. When they finally met, instead of acknowledging Bob’s successes and reaffirming his confidence in him, Howard was critical. Weeks later, his feedback was threatening. “Unless you start getting the job done, we’ll be forced to find someone else who can.”

It was time for the convention again, but this time Bob didn’t walk away with all of the prizes; in fact, he didn’t get any. But most devastating of all, this year’s top sales rep only exceeded his plan by 10%... and not 31!

Weeks later Bob was offered a job with a competitor. And despite lingering feelings of loyalty, he accepted it, eager to find a company that would be loyal to him as well.

What would skillful 1st Gear Leaders have done?

How would responsible leaders have behaved when they heard about the loss of the SMB account? As soon as they found out, they would have immediately asked Bob to meet. Let’s imagine sitting in and listening to what is being said. “Bob, we’ve just learned that we’ve lost the SMB account due to pricing, and we know this is going to affect you and Ellen profoundly. That’s why we’ve asked you to come in and think this through with us.” “SMB? Whew, it sure will. What happened?” asked a stunned Bob. “We simply couldn’t make the price point they insisted on. These things happen from time to time, but we don’t want it to hurt you. We would like to help you lay out a new plan and rethink your goals for the upcoming year.”

This kind of support would have been great, but it didn’t happen. If they had, Bob would have felt Pharmco’s leaders were there for him, and he would have reached his goals and taken home an award. And even if he hadn’t, he would have felt good about his company and been a far more motivated and loyal employee in the future! Instead they lost him to a competitor who gave Bob the support he needed and (with his inside track on the moves Pharmco would probably make) Bob soon became number one in their company. Unfortunately, millions of valuable employees are being lost in just this way because companies fail to understand this crucial shift leaders need to make from the 2nd Gear of Leadership back into 1st Gear... at times like these.

The mantra of today’s business is more-better-faster-cheaper. But when circumstances force you to gear down, to rethink and restart, will your company's leaders have the skills they need to help you? Or will they force you to move on and take the experience and inside-information you’ve gained into the open arms of a competitor who is all-too-eager to take away a significant chunk of their business?

(c) Susan Ford Collins. Contact me for permission to use it.

* For more information about the 2nd Success Skill, how to when to use all three success and leadership gears, read The Joy of Success and Success Has Gears.

The Technology of Success skill set empowers team members to move ahead together, instead of forcing one or more to leave and take their ideas and expertise, and your ideas and expertise, with them to a competitor.

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