I’d only been a sales trainer for a few months and this was the first training course I’d prepared and run myself.
Everything had been arranged in the training room. One of the guys had brought in a video recorder and a TV to use as a monitor. This was the mid 1990s after all, way before digital technology. I’d prepared a new presentation based on my experience of selling books to independent retailers; a good introduction, decent features and benefits, and a killer close. I’d rehearsed it and indeed spent time in the field refining and practising it “live”. It worked. I’d sent it out to each of the attendees a month previously, asking them to put it into practise themselves. I was open to suggestions of refining it further - as long as anyone making such suggestions had mastered the presentation.
“Okay folks, we’ll do some good old fashioned role play.” The predictable groans were audible. “We all know to take role play with a pinch of salt but it will tell me which of you have gone to the trouble of learning the presentation. Remember, a great actor can make even a terrible script sound convincing.”
I looked around the table and I seemed to have the audience with me, with one rather obvious exception, Mark McPhee. He was ostentatiously yawning, as if this training course was the only thing holding him back from earning a fortune – except that the reason this training course had been commissioned by the company was due to lack of sales performance. Mark's claim to fame wasn't high sales figures but the ability to smoke massive cigars, thus ensuring he smelled like a walking ash tray. The link between this and his poor sales figures had been pointed out to him but to no avail. Mark was the longest serving and oldest team member. I identified him as the main obstacle. Every team has one. I wouldn’t pick on him or humour him, I’d just motor on, ensuring he could not interrupt or disrupt.
“Okay, we’ll go round the table while Dave here films our presentations. Then we can watch the presentation on the monitor.”
All was going well. The team had obviously done their homework and it was looking good - except that, as we got further round the table closer to Mark, he was becoming more and more uncomfortable, nervous even.
“I hope you’re not thinking about recording me doing a presentation?” he said.
“Well, we’re all doing it. So, it’s only fair.”
“I’m telling you now! If that camera starts on me I’m outta here! No way! What a disgrace! I’m not a schoolboy! I don't need someone with half my experience teaching me anything! It's a total insult! So don't start filming me or I'll resign!" His face was bursting purple, his eyes popping.
With that, he stormed out the room, and went outside, not realising that he'd stopped right outside our window. It was pouring with rain outside. Mark had his bulky back to us. Then we saw cigar smoke puffing above his head, his hair soaked.
We were speechless. The silence was broken by Dave, the guy who'd brought in the video recorder, and who was now wearing a cheeky smile. "Anyone want to watch all that again?" He'd filmed it!
The room burst into laughter. Although I was desperate to watch it all again I thought it would send out the wrong signals. "I think we'll leave that for another day, Dave."
I went over to the window and knocked on the glass. "Mark turned round outside and nearly jumped in fright. I motioned for him to come in and he gratefully accepted.
We continued with the presentations. It all went well. I deliberately didn't ask Mark to participate again. He watched his peers do so enthusiastically and he eventually started to join in. We made the date for the next meeting and I finished with "And we all know who will start the role play that day, don't we, Mark?"
It was the only time he smiled all day.
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.