After almost two years of proving to the company bosses what all my school teachers found out the hard way – namely that I was really good at talking with people – I was eagerly awaiting the opportunity to prove I could take these skills to the next level.
Despite record-breaking sales results, there was this overriding concern from the powers that be about my abilities… sure, the guy can sell, they said, but just look at him, is he really management material?
Note: to this day, I believe those concerns were solely because I was a 20-year-old dude who had bypassed college, and those older, college-educated folks with the fancy paper hanging on the wall wanted to make it difficult for someone like me to join their little club. Yeah… Chip, meet Shoulder.
It seemed with these inherent perceived “limitations” that I was going nowhere fast. If not for the persistent support of some key managers who touted my successes to Regional HQ, I would have likely been off somewhere asking, “uh, you want fries with that?” 🙂
But, fortunately for me, the right people had the ears of the right people. Eventually, I earned a reputation as a hard worker, who, while still young and inexperienced – and maybe a little rough around the edges – was upwardly mobile and ready for the next step.
I was excited when I learned the top brass was finally considering me for advancement (about damn time!). 🙂 Where would they send me? Maybe San Diego, the company’s crown jewel, and at the time the largest cable system in the country. Or maybe they were going to send me straight to corporate, in Hotlanta, GA, so I could hone my management skills side by side with the big guns. I knew there were a number of options, but I was certain I was headed to the big time.
Hmm. Define “big time”.
In this case, come to find out big time meant Porterville, California, population around 1,427 – and they had to have included some orange trees in that count.
Yep, one week shy of my 21st birthday, I boarded a Western Airlines flight (you know, “the ooooooooooooonly way to fly” – if you remember the commercials, you just said that in the bird’s voice, didn’t you?). 🙂 Anyway, I was bound for Bakersfield InterGalactic Airport, en route to the bustling metropolis of Porterville. Sigh.
To say my new locale would prove a bit of a change for me would be a colossal understatement.
I left my team of 25 sales reps and support staff, a state-of-the-art cable system, in my hometown, located on the banks of the beautiful Columbia River, a community nestled in the trees, surrounded by foothills and in the shadows of mountains.
I arrived to a staff of three people, one who immediately handed me their resignation (welcome to town!), in a legacy (read: old) system which had an entire office about the size of my old training room, located in the dust of a California valley, a community surrounded by orange groves and in the shadows of oil derricks.
But, hey, I got the promotion, so there’s that.
I’m not being entirely fair here to Porterville. It was actually a cute little town, with a population (excluding orange trees) of about 25,000. But it was pretty much in the middle of nowhere and, for a newcomer from the great PNW, it was quite a shock to the system. The socioeconomic demo was significantly Ag related and English was a second language for much of the community. It was obvious that I had much to learn, but I earnestly welcomed the opportunity.
I spent a grand total of about eight months in P’ville (I guess that’s what all three cool kids in town called it) and eventually it kind of grew on me… you know, like algae. 🙂 While it wasn’t exactly the party scene where you’d want to spend the 21st year of your life, I knew it was but a stopping point on a long journey and I was determined to make the most of it.
My short stint in the Golden State provided several unique experiences. First, I learned what it was like to be rudely awakened in the middle of the night by the feeling of the earth shuddering ever so slightly beneath you. Oh, a baby earthquake, such a Cali experience. This PNW native also experienced summer for the very first time; as in real summer. As in thirty-one days over 100 degrees – including nine days over 110. Welcome to the valley.
More importantly, I also learned a powerful lesson about the bigger, wider world that was out there.
Remember, at the time I was in the business of bringing paid entertainment services into your home (c’mon… no, not those services, we’re talking cable TV here, sheesh). 🙂
As a new manager, I believed that I should be able to do anything I asked my people to do. So I ventured off into the streets to knock some doors. I mean – been there, done that, got the plaques, right? Not so fast, Toto, we’re not in Suburbia anymore.
In a dramatic awakening to the realities of the world, one stop takes me to this tiny house in an older part of town. After knocking – for what it’s worth, I believe that friends knock, strangers ring doorbells – I’m greeted by a young woman, probably in her early 30’s, who speaks zero English. Our conversation is likely to be very unproductive, as my Spanish is limited to “Dos margaritas, por favor.” 🙂
Fortunately, a child, maybe 12 years old, comes to the door. She greets me in English, and appreciating the fact that she is bilingual I explained my reason for stopping by. She invites me in (I’m hopeful mom and dad approve). They graciously welcome me to sit in the main room of their tiny home. We exchange somewhat awkward – but very genuine – pleasantries, and then I begin espousing the benefits of cable tv. I then listen to the young girl translate my pitch to her parents.
As this unfolds, I find myself becoming increasingly distracted. Uneasy even. Should I even be here? Why am I asking these very nice and hospitable people to incur a new monthly fee?
And before you think I am judging or somehow trying to disqualify them for nefarious reasons, understand… my distraction and uncertainty were not based on their language or ethnicity, but on their flooring – or lack thereof. I had never been in a house with a dirt floor, until now.
I continue with my presentation – as I believe this is their decision, not mine. Once the corresponding translations are done, the father speaks to the young girl, who then tells me, thank you, but they are not interested.
Every sales training I’ve ever had has prepared me for this exact moment. I have encountered and overcome this issue hundreds, if not thousands of times. Objection vs. Excuse. Cost vs. Value. More TV vs. Good TV. You name it, I’m built for just this challenge. What happened next might surprise you… it did me.
After she finished conveying her father’s message, I looked over at the father and nodded, respectfully. I put my binder together and then asked the young girl to thank her parents for allowing me the time to visit. No overcoming objections. No rebuttals. No sale.
Out the door I went. I proceeded straight back to my car and straight back to my apartment, my night was done. I grabbed a cold cerveza and thought through my encounter. Had I failed my employer by not battling for the sale? Had I failed the family by not trying to convince them of the value? Had I failed myself? I mean, I got bills to pay.
I never came up with an acceptable answer to that question. I’m not sure my answer would even matter.
I did, however, get back to work. By the end of the summer we had exceeded every sales and revenue goal that was put in place before I arrived – and with four months to spare. The system was prepped for sale, and my mission – and my time here – was complete.
More importantly, I had proven to the corporate bigwigs that I was up to the challenge and that I was ready for anything they wanted to throw at me.
My reward? I wrote my own ticket.
Well, actually the company wrote several tickets – airline tickets. They provided me the opportunity to visit five locations, review each of the systems, talk to the people, and report back as to my preference for my next career stop. Wow. It seemed as though some of those impediments to my advancement had finally disappeared (about damn time!).
My interview itinerary: San Diego; Lubbock, TX; Pensacola, FL; Macon, GA; and Myrtle Beach, SC. Fantastic options, from bigger cities to beautiful beaches and more.
Where would I land? I didn’t know, but I was definitely preparing to have a busy and exciting few weeks, and I knew these decisions would ultimately set me up for years into the future.
I was also certain of one more thing – regardless of where I ended up, no matter how far I climbed in the business world, I would never forget that family in the tiny house with the dirt floor. They may not have added a commission to my paycheck, but the perspective they added to my life was significantly more valuable.