We were all in our beds when we heard Raymond shout that out. It was 8.30am, a good 90 minutes later than when we should’ve been up and out the house.
The house was a five bedroomed bungalow that the five of us rented in a small Aberdeenshire village while we were establishing a sales outpost for The Book Club. We were door to door salesmen, all from Glasgow, and who’d been tasked with becoming what the company called the “satellite team”, miles from head office. We’d volunteered partly because Aberdeenshire was virgin territory which in turn meant that we’d be guaranteed a few sales a day as long as we did the job properly – and actually got to territory on time. Being still in bed at 8.30am was not part of the company’s business plan.
We all threw ourselves out of our beds, those of us who actually washed running about in search of vacant showers while those who didn’t shoved bread into the toaster. Big Al appeared from his room fully dressed shouting, “what’s keeping you, you lazy bastards,” forgetting that, as our team manager, he was responsible for getting us out of bed, or, at least, that was our excuse.
“What am I?” He shouted at the burrs rushing passed him trying to get dressed and fed at lightening speed. “Am I your mother! You don’t have alarm clocks?”
Big Al then crept over to the living room window, which looked out onto the street and whispered to Raymond, who’d not moved from his crouching position since his “Oh, no!”
“It’s Bill, isn’t it.”
“Aye,” replied Raymond, adding, “sneaky b*****”.
Bill was the regional manager who'd patently just carried out his threat to turn up unannounced to our abode, having developed suspicions that Big Al’s team were at best “unorthodox” or at worst, the laziest team in history, their sales figures only saved by the fact that they were operating in virgin territory where it was traditionally easier to recruit new members.
Big Al pulled back the curtain a little bit and could clearly see Bill sitting in his red Ford Escort XR3, window down, looking over at our house. “Shit!” said Al, as he dropped the tiny corner of the curtain he’d held up to look through.
Everyone was now assembled in the hallway looking like ragamuffins, some with soaking hair, some with dry hair but none with hair that looked like it had seen a brush in weeks. Ties, where worn, were in tight knots and at improbable angles. Shirts were almost tucked into trousers. This rough barrel load of humanity then spilled out the front door trying to look nonchalant and unfazed.
Big Al looked over at Bill and shouted “Morning.” Bill replied by holding his wrist out the car window and tapping on it with his other hand.
Al bluffed it. “It’s OK Bill, we’re just working local today. So we’ll be on territory for 9am as per the company rules.”
Bill’s eyes rolled as if he’d expected this subterfuge. Of course we’d not planned to work local. In fact, we’d not planned to work at all as we’d been having a great week and Big Al had held back sales in order to put them through for this day. He felt “his boys deserved a wee day off,” meaning he felt he deserved a wee day off and we’d no choice but to take it off too. Not that we resisted furiously.
Once we were in the car and driving to territory, with Bill following, Big Al gave us a riveting team talk.
“Right! Today, we do everything by the book. No bad presentations, no smoking, smarten yourselves up, mints for your hangover breaths, and don’t forget, be like the company manual says, ‘lively, polite and enthusiastic’. Don’t stress, its just for one day. Bill will be gone by 5pm.
At this point, Raymond asked a question that struck me like a thunderbolt and stayed with me for a long time.
“Al, just a thought, why don’t we just do it by the book every day? Then it wouldn’t matter who showed up to surprise us. No one could ever catch us out then, ever.”
Big Al’s face looked into the rearview mirror and caught Raymond’s eyes. Al’s expression was as if someone has asked him to donate his liver. Raymond then shut up and we sauntered on to territory and had a good day and Bill went away at 5pm, although not before saying to Al, “Oh, well, that’s this little charade over for another month.”
So, when I took over as Team Manager many months later, after Al’s almost inevitable sacking, I made sure the team behaved as if Bill was out to surprise us every day of our lives. It didn’t make me popular, but it did save all our careers.
By Bob Smith who has worked in sales for more than 30 years, works as an experienced recruiter, trainer & motivator and is also a published author of both children’s and adult titles.