I told Leighton, the legendary acting Sales Director whose disciples we’d become, that I was ready for the big promotion, Regional Sales Manager. My area’s sales figures were the best in country by miles. I had been the front runner for the 8 months the job had been vacant. But it was almost without precedent for a mere door knocker like me to progress through all the ranks to reach RSM. So the possibility that the company would do its usual recruit-from-outside was always on my mind.
This was August and back in January, when the previous Regional Sales Manager left, the thought of the job had daunted me. It would be like performing on the national stage with only local clothes on.
But, I’d sorted out my own performance, then that of my team, then that of my area. Now here was the chance to take my own brand of how to do this job (which was really just a stricter-than-usual adherence to the methods of the Sales Gods, the company’s founding fathers in Gütersloh, West Germany) to the whole of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Northern England. Effectively I was climbing over the sales bones of a whole army of chancers who’d once imagined they’d known better than Gütersloh.
It’d taken me eight months, but I knew I was ready. I’d imagined that this was all that was necessary for me to be appointed RSM. But Leighton had other ideas.
“So, you feel ready? That’s a start, I suppose.”
“A start? No, the start was in January when the RSM job came up for grabs.”
Leighton looked at me. “Now, I know I was off for a week…”
Oh dear, this was the familiar sound of Leighton taking aim.
“…and I might have missed a memo or two…”
Arrggghh. This was excruciating. I knew I was about to be hit. I just didn’t know where.”
“…but I am certain I would have been told personally of your appointment to M.D.”
I stared at the pedals beside my feet in the car we were sitting in.
“See, you feeling you’re ready is the start of the process. That’s what we were waiting to hear. Now we can take you seriously.”
I had to fight for the job. So I started right away.
“Leighton,” I said, addressing him with just a tad more familiarity than a mere Area Manager might, just to emphasise that in my mind I’d narrowed the gap on his rank, “I really do feel ready. I know I can do it better than anyone else. It’s me the company needs. Full stop.”
Leighton smiled as he stared out the passenger seat into the Aberdeen rain which clattered against the screen much like my words clattered against his ears. I sensed he was unconvinced and so I went to throw more words at him but, he raised his hand.
“Look out there, Bob. See that guy walking into the Mini Mart? I bet he feels like an RSM. I’m sure if you asked them all these people would say they felt like RSMs. It’s all very well feeling like an RSM, but the question is do you look like an RSM? More importantly, do you look like a RSM to Gütersloh?”
“But I’ve got the figures. They see weekly reports, right?”
“Yes, but if you’ll forgive me, the figures are all you’ve got.”
I was flummoxed. Leighton saw my open mouth and must have noted the inability of words to fall out. They were traffic-jammed in my throat as they bashed against each other furiously.
“What else do you need? Is that what you’re thinking?”
I nodded, breathlessly.
“Where do I start, Bob. You’d be the youngest we’d ever appointed. You lack maturity, demeanor, good habits outside work. Look at your company car! It’s filthy!
“Yes, but… our figures…”
“No, no, no. You want to look like an RSM? Right? Selling isn’t rocket science. It’s just the ability to properly hear good instruction - and then having the discipline to stick to the methods of those who’ve demonstrated success over decades. Now, in reality, anyone can work that out eventually. What I’m saying is, eventually, anyone could produce those figures, especially if I’m their boss.”
Leighton wasn’t being vainglorious. He was just being right.
“If you want to look like an RSM then you have to demonstrate maturity, self-discipline, the ability to lead by example. You have to make it so blindingly obvious to anyone looking at you that you look like an RSM. In other words, make sure that when someone looks at you they have no questions in their mind once they’ve taken that first glance. What have we always taught?”
“The first 30 seconds rule.”
“Good. Now, if Muller from Gütersloh arrived here today what would he see? He’d see a filthy car, indicating bad habits, lack of self-discipline, inability to lead by example. Then he’d have… questions.”
Leighton said questions like we were being investigated by the Stasi.
“And if he forms questions about you, he’ll form questions about me, about my inability to get our top performing manager to even wash his fucking car! Now, ask yourself, will I ever let Muller look at you before I think you’ll look ready?”
I closed my mouth. I had nothing to say. And lots to do.
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.