Bill was a complex guy. Cynical but likeable, he’d joined Big Sam’s top-of-the-league team. But soon Sam, himself newly in his first managerial job, despaired at Bill’s figures which were invariably “sh**e”.
Bill had everything top sales guys needed; charisma, communication skills and work-rate. So, why was selling Book Club membership beyond him? Bill drank with us after work. Witty cynicism was fine in the bar but perhaps not a brilliant work tool. Bill’s cynicism hung in the air so strongly we could inhale it.
This was around the time of Springsteen’s Born in the USA tour, 1985. “Even Springsteen doesn’t come to Scotland,” laughed Bill. “We have to go to Newcastle! At least the beer’s decent.” You could see how Bill won friends but lost customers.
Big Sam was in the bar with us. Being “one of the boys” was how he “commanded loyalty.” He hadn’t “sold out”. Sam believed in what he sold, though, for sure.
“Bill, do you talk to customers like this?” “I tell it like it is, Sam. I’m not going to lie to anyone.” “No one’s asking you to lie, Bill. Just enthuse people with the offer.” “Same thing, isn’t it?”
Bill’s figures were useless but Sam wouldn’t sack him because he got bonus points for keeping a full team of five salespeople – and because he liked him. Besides, how much damage could Bill do?
Eventually, though, Sam’s team dropped from first to third in the rankings. Although he obviously had some notions, Sam made out he couldn’t understand the collapse in performance. Bill liked Sam. So he consoled him one night in the bar.
“Big guy, what can you do if the company offer just isn’t what people want?”
Sam’s patience snapped. “What are you on about?” said Sam. “Look at Peter. Up until you joined he was selling six memberships a day.” But Peter, Sam’s most loyal lieutenant, interjected unhelpfully. “But now I see that the offer is shite. If punters really wanted it, why would the company need us to go bothering people in their own homes?”
Sam grasped the situation immediately. “Just as I thought. You poor b*****ds have got Salesman’s Plague. The Neggies.” Bill started, “It’s not their fault –” “Shut it, you. You’ve done enough damage. You’re out of my team.”
Everyone was stunned! Before Sam’s recent promotion to manager he’d really been one of the lads. Here he was, behaving just like The Man. Bill actually looked fazed. “You can’t do that! I’ll take this up with –.”
“Take it up with whoever you want. You’ll not infect my boys anymore. Whoever turns up in the morning is in my team. If you don’t turn up, I’ll build a new one from scratch.” With that he left. We’d just witnessed a real-time lesson in attitude, management, and leadership.
Bill started some negative chat about how out of order Sam was. I looked at Peter, who nodded to me. Ray, our other team member, looked at his drink, trying to avoid the whole scene. Wise guy Bill? Or Big Sam? Who would we follow? Sam was going somewhere at least and, when it came to it, we’d rather be Sam’s Boys than Bill’s mates.
Sam took upper management flack for sacking Bill without process. From what we heard, upper management got worse back. Like I said, Sam knew his own mind. We all new Big Sam’s days were numbered unless his team produced what he called un-sackable figures. Sam refreshed our minds on The Book Club offering. “If you don’t like it, don’t sell it. If you don’t sell it, don’t turn up.” We turned up.
Peter asked Sam how we’d get back to top being a man down. Sam’s reply was the final part of the lesson. “Without Bill, we’re not a man down. We’re four men up.”