Mark Twain once said, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” This is a true story. I’ve seen people do foolish things in business before. Maybe it’s because they got poor or no guidance on how to be successful in business. Maybe it’s because some people have no clue about the effects of what they do. I don’t know which this one was, but I still shake my head in disbelief when I think about it. I’ve developed and teach the Master Selling series for the local Small Business Development Center. This is what one participant in the program did.
This participant is an experienced salesperson. He’s been in business and sales for probably over 20 years. I consider him to be successful at selling. Why? Because his customers think highly of him and are very loyal to him. Unfortunately, that’s not enough if you work for a large company. The company this man works for is experiencing huge problems. In addition to the economy, a senior manager renegotiated a contract with the company’s largest customer. What happened was a shock. Not only did the customer reject the contract, but the impact on the company’s overall business was that it would lose almost overnight 65% of its business. Despite all his hard work, this salesman saw his business evaporate overnight. I learned this in the program I presented on listening.
During the listening program I have an exercise that demonstrates how difficult listening really is. I read a brief story and then ask the class questions about the story. You can see by the range of answers in the group that everyone heard the story differently. This class was no different. The salesman raises his hand and asks me if he can have the story. I was curious and asked him why he wanted it. He said, “I want to share it with my boss.” Now I was really curious. “Tell me more,” I said.
It seems that when this salesman and his boss make joint sales calls they often debrief the success of the call after it’s over. What happens is that they often have exactly opposite interpretations of the sales call. Since it was a class on listening, I said, “One of you is not a good listener. Which one is it?” He said, “It’s my boss.” Since he had such good working relationships with his customers, I believed him. What did the salesman want the story for? He wanted to give his boss the exercise and show him what a terrible listener he was. Bad idea–and I told him.
If no one has told you yet, in business there are a few basic rules. One is make your boss look good. Another is never make your boss look bad. The last is your boss is your most important customer. Perhaps no one told him these rules. The salesman disagreed with me and plans to embarrass his boss even when his own business is in jeopardy because of the company’s dire situation. What do you think? Am I missing something? When is it a good idea to make your boss look bad? I can’t think of one situation.