My first ever job was as a door-to-door Book Club promoter. You know, these clubs that send you a brochure every quarter and you have to choose one book or receive the dreaded Club Selection. It was 1983. I was part of a five-person sales team cold-calling on householders. The atmosphere in each team could be supportive, sullen, or vicious – and always competitive. The person with the most sales was ‘The Champ’. Corny but it worked. The person with the least sales was ‘Team W**k’. It was tough love. Actually, love didn’t enter much into it.
Jane was my team manager. Fearsome and good at recruiting members herself although, had she deemed to train newbies like me, she might not have developed impatience with, and then something approaching hatred of, me as I failed day after day. Good leaders don’t shout at you. They offer you an example to follow. They lead from the front, not push you from behind, a sure way to have a vast turnover of staff and a resultant low level of expertise. But, hey, that’s long-sighted. Jane’s own job depended on the daily score-making target
This day was the wettest of the year. At least that was how it was in my mind. I was giving off ‘The Neggies’ (negative vibes that formed a non-sales force-field around you). Jane had taken to addressing me as Plonk, as in ‘Plonker’.
“How many sales have you got, Plonk?” shouted Jane from the team Ford Escort.
It was 5pm and I had nothing. “That’s three days in a row you’ve blanked! Now, I am going to pick up the others and you’d better have something before I get back in 30 minutes, PLONK!” Her tyres screamed off.
My hair was dripping with rain and I thought about just soaking in self-pity.
However I thought I might as well knock on these last few doors. I walked up to the next door, praying no-one was in. I’d been told to get lost more than enough times already today. And this was going to be my last day. That was for sure.
I knocked on the door. A woman opened it with her coat on and was obviously going out. She looked anxious for me to evaporate.
I pathetically mumbled my introduction. She stopped me dead. Here we go. I prepared to vanish on request.
“Son, I used to be a member of that club but moved house and I never heard from you again. Can I rejoin with you?”
I looked at her, dumfounded. “Son, I am going for a bus. I have to go now. Can I join?”
I blurted the presentation incoherently until she grabbed the membership form I was fumbling with, took my pen, and signed. “Here’s my post code. That’s all you need.”
“But you have to choose a book to join.” She’d manoeuvred us both outside, closed her door and was escorting me down her path.
“Just put me down for the Club Selection.” And with that, this angelic apparition blurred into a haze of rain.
Then, “Oi! Plonk! We’re over here, waiting on you. Where have you been?” I ran smiling to the car. Jane’s driver window was down. “I got one!”
She looked at me, disgusted. “One!?” She pointed to old-hand Graham in the back seat. “He’s got six! Get in, Plonk.”
Well, it wasn’t my last day after all. I stayed seven years. That day was like Alex Ferguson’s 1990 FA Cup final, the game which, if he’d have lost, would have cost him his job. The rest is history. Within two years I was Jane’s boss. I helped develop a training programme to ensure we minimised ‘Team W**ks’. But I allowed the term to remain. It was a tradition. But from then on it was one of affectionate encouragement, not of aggressive bullying. And we broke every record standing year-on-year.
The moral of course is, every door must be treated like it is your first door, with the same enthusiasm, same positive expectations no matter how many times that day these expectations have been dashed. Tough, I know. But if it was easy, any fool could do it.
Most importantly, no matter how tough the day’s been, never give up until the final whistle. How else could you score a last minute winner?