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Toxic Cubicles: Finding the Anti-Sales People

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My stomach ached when I called the home office. This was a new thing.

The fun had left this job, but now I had contracted a job-related disease, too. I wondered why.

I was working for an anti-sales company and didn't even know it. Three weeks ago, I began counting the selling hours and the home office contact hours. I was averaging six hours of administration (home office begging) compared to two hours of selling. Ugly.

Ironically, I used my company's call-manager software to learn of my spiral down from sales pro to clerk. My first clue came when friends would call to go to lunch and I had not made one sales call the whole morning. I was buried in admin work.

I couldn't believe the results of the time-keeping. Not only was I not having any fun, but I also wasn't seeing any big commission checks in my mailbox. Some days I was spending six hours a day arguing with someone at the home office about one of my price quotations or requests for information. I decided to do something about the problem.

I quit.

I made money from selling, not overhauling a company. My company had become "home-office-centric" and left the guys in the field to fend for themselves. The CEO of my company was asleep, and I wasn't the one to wake him up.

Some companies bust their butts to help make a sale; others make the salespeople jump over hurdles constantly.

If you're selling products with lots of choices, like complex financial instruments or spaceships, the choices are almost endless. You have to rely on multiple people to decide what possibilities can happen and what they can do for you. Your order is held hostage by these people. You can bring the buffalo carcass to the home office and wait to see if they are going to skin it. It's not the selling anymore; it's the skinning.

The joy had left this job, and it wasn't worth it to me anymore. I voted with my feet and called my boss, the VP of sales. "I'm gone," I said, and he consoled me and asked why. I started to explain why, but I clammed up and said I wanted to go sailing. My stomach had started to hurt again. He would have to find out by himself.

My sales friends sympathized. They, too, had encountered similar circumstances. I asked how they avoided repeats of this misery and got five surefire methods for determining if a company's culture is anti-sales. The key, I so recently discovered, is to find out if companies have barricaded the sales door with sandbags. Before you take a sales job, do at least four of the following:

1. Call One of Their Salespeople.

How are the existing salespeople doing? Are they happy? Making money? I prefer getting job references from East Coast salespeople. They are usually blunt and brief. If they are spending a lot of time fixing home-office problems, they will probably tell me. Midwesterners and Southerners are too polite. During the interview, I ask for a salesperson's name to see if he or she is making any money. If the company won't give me any names to call, I'll skip the free interview lunch and head home.

2. Can the CEO Make Sales Calls?

This is a telling question. If the CEO (or whoever is in charge) can't (or won't) make a sales call on his or her own, you have someone in charge who has little idea of what it takes to get a purchase order. What's worse, you may have a CEO who believes that orders fly through a magic hole in the wall and that if you need more, you just hire more salespeople or simply flog them more often. If you think this is farfetched, ask this question during your job interview. I asked a marketing VP this question, and her response was "Oh, no. He has far more important things to do than make sales calls." I knew immediately where salespeople fit into this corporate culture — pond slime. I did not take the job.

3. Prices — Easy to Get?

At one company I worked for, pricing was entrusted to a special group of cubicle monks who were apparently sworn to secrecy. I would submit my request for a price on a product and send it to my supervisor, and he would forward it on to the monks. Usually a week later the price would come back on what I expected to be a parchment scroll. Meanwhile, my competitor gave the prospect the price while in his office on the sales call. I lost more than a few orders due to this process. Before you sign up to sell, ask to have a look at the price sheet.

4. Have Lunch with the CEO.

See if you can get a lunch or a dinner with the top executive. Watch how he or she treats the wait staff because that's exactly how he or she treats the company's workers when the happy-talk job interview is over.

5. So Why Don't You Take This Job?

A VP of sales was giving me the PowerPoint presentation on the sales job, which outlined why I should give up my next career as an emerging rock star to join Global Securities. If this job was so good and potentially so incredibly high paying, why didn't he take it himself? His answer was disturbing. He put his hand on top of my hand and said, "I didn't work this hard to have to make sales calls ever again." Like Papillon, he escaped his tormentors, but in this case he returned as the tormentor. I wondered if he ever achieved inner peace.

Check out these four factors during your next sales job interview, or reexamine your current job. You were hired to sell, not to beg pricing monks for scrolls. Remember, at the right company, they need you more than you need them.

Gerry Cullen is the author of The Coldest Call, available through or
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