Walter sat in his cubicle obsessing about the three little words. He used to think that the most powerful 3 words in the English language were “I love you.” Some more mean spirited people thought “Go F**k Yourself!” were the most powerful 3 words. However today Walter had found there was a worse phrase.
The phrase had come at the end of his quarterly sales performance review. Walter had known the review was going to be bad. His sales were down almost 5% from the prior quarter. He had a whole list of excuses ready. The general economy was bad. His biggest customer was re-tooling its factory. The warehouse had shipped products late.
But his regional manager, Todd, had not yelled at Walter at all. Instead Todd had been friendly and understanding. Then came the bomb. At the end of the review, Todd had said, “Don’t worry. You moved a lot of product for your age. You are almost selling as much as guys 30 years younger than you.”
“For my age?” thought Walter. It was not the first time Todd had used those words. Walter thought back to the company pool party the previous summer. Walter prided himself in keeping in good shape his whole life. Walter was showing off a little swimming laps in the pool when Todd and his gorgeous girlfriend showed up. Walter jumped out of the pool to say hello. Walter was in a really good mood until Todd said,
“Wow Walter! You are in great shape for your age.” Then Todd took off his own shirt and Walter was stunned. Todd’s body was perfect. It was like Todd spent every spare minute in the gym. How do you even get a stomach to look like that? You must have to do 500 sit-ups a day.
But Walter told himself that it didn’t matter. Todd was younger, in better shape, made more money and was his boss. But it didn’t matter. What mattered to Walter was being the top salesman; just like he had been for the past 20 years. But now here he was at the back of the pack and Todd was telling him it was alright . An old guy couldn’t be expected to keep up with the younger people on the team. Of course Todd didn’t say that exactly. He just made that offhand “for your age” remark. But Water got the message. It was alright to get old and fall behind.
Well it wasn’t alright. Walter sat in his cubicle and decided he was going to put into practice another three word phrase. “Whatever it takes”. Walter decided he was going to be the top sales guy next quarter whatever it takes. If it killed him. If it took every dime he had. No washboard stomached kid with a model girlfriend and a full head of hair was going to tell him he was OK “for his age.”
Walter glanced around to make sure he was alone. He stood up and saw that the other cubicles near him were empty. Then he reached in his bottom drawer an pulled out his Rolodex. He didn’t want the young people in the office to see that he still had one. They already teased him about not being very good at any of the social media applications and always needing help running the computer applications.
Probably none of them had ever even seen an old-fashioned Rolodex. But he still knew how to work it. All his contacts and all his little personal notes about all of his customers were in it. He knew e-mails and tweets were not going to get him more sales. He had a lot of work ahead of him. Phone calls, road trips, little “gifts” (not bribes), and a lot of dinners and heavy drinking with customers. That was how he knew how to get the sales. He was going to stop pretending to be younger than he was. He was a dinosaur and he was going to admit it. A big T-Rex that was going to get the prey it was after.
Walter was not in the office much for the next three months. When he was there it was just to pick up some extra samples or brochures and to use the computers. He was also exhausted. He was working 12 or 14 hours a day driving or flying to customers, and then spending long nights taking them to dinner and drinks.
When he was not entertaining customers he was sending them gifts. Actually the gifts were for their kids. He had found over the years that gifts to customer’s kids were more effective than gifts to the customers themselves. Wedding gifts, Bar Mitzvah gifts, graduation gifts. He was spending more than the company allowed for these things so he actually had to dip into his own pocket.
He knew his work was increasing his sales, but he did not know how he was doing compared to everyone else. The company did not tell sales people everyone’s results until the end of the quarter. It was not like the old days when there was a big chalk board in the middle of the office with the quarter-to date totals listed by salesperson. The company felt that was “too aggressive”. But the competition was still there. In this kinder gentler world they all had to pretend to be part of a team and not the cut-throat competitors they really were.
The end of the quarter came and as usual all the salespeople were in the office for their reviews and nervous as Hell. One by one they would be called in and told how they did in comparison to everyone else. There were rumors that this time the bottom five percent would be fired.
The rumor looked like it might be true, since Jack Winston himself had flown in from California to give the reviews. Jack was the vice president of the whole company and had not been seen in the New York office for at least a year. Something big must be up. “Happy Jack” was a legend in the company. Always nice, never raised his voice, but the “happy” part was just a facade. He was the hatchet man in the company. If a factory closed or a executive fired, “Happy Jack” was the guy who flew in to do it. Now he was here, and the first person he asked to speak to was Walter.
Walter nervously walked into the conference room where Jack was camped out. He looked around for Todd but did not see him.
“I guess you know why I’m here,” said Jack.
“Not exactly,” lied Walter.
“Twenty five percent,” said Jack with a smile. “How the Hell did you increase your sales by twenty five percent in this economy? Most of the rest of the team had a down quarter. The next best person after you only increased her sales by three percent. Congratulations!”
Walter was stunned. Exhausted and broke, but he had done it.
” I am going to take you out of the field, Walter, ” said Jack. “Someone has to teach these kids how to sell. Todd just wasn’t cutting it. I am making you the new Regional Manger. I know you will miss the road, but I really need you to take over that spot.”
“You mean Todd is fired?” asked Walter.
“No of course not,” said Happy Jack with a smile. “We reassigned Todd to be the regional sales manager in Mississippi. It is a smaller market that will be better suited for him. We made a mistake moving him up in the company too quickly. The big New York market was just too much for a young guy like Todd to handle this early in his career. All in all Todd actually did a good job. For his age.”