Recently I had the pleasure of speaking to Rick Roberge, the recently retired sales expert, and I had a chance to relate this story. So I want to share it with my readers. 10 years have passed since it happened and everyone has moved on, so I share it now.
The year was 2001 and I was selling for a business intelligence software company called Business Objects. Though I was new to BI software, I was very successful, closing deal after deal.(Won the “Top Rookie” award.) But it turned out to be the very worst experience of my career. In hindsight, their business approach was best termed “purchase order extraction.” Booking revenue was their only priority.
Despite the fact I had only been with the company a few months, I asked for – and got responsibility for GE. I proceeded to create a global best practices program – using my old regional comp plan. It was hugely successful – revenue jumped 224% in just one year – but I didn’t make much as my comp plan was all wrong. (It was based on geography – so I got nothing for the wins outside my geography.)
One of my big wins was a certain well-known beer company in White Plains, NY. (For more, read this article on Worst to First) Though we finished dead last in a Proof of Concept, we won — a million dollars in software and services. Want to learn how I did it? Read my review of the book Pitch Anything at Sandhill.com.
The client was so delighted, they gave my wife and me front row seats to the US Open tennis tournament. (The EVP of Sales at the #1 competitor later said to his team “How did we lose there? (And to me) You are the only rep in that entire company we could never beat.” ) In their infinite “wisdom,” the Company put a new services team on the account – and not the team I trusted.
One day my phone rang. It was the IT Director, Carol S. at that beer company. She was sobbing. “I’m about to be fired, Jeff. I spent a million dollars and NOTHING works!” I felt miserable. I grabbed the phone and rang up the #1 tech in the company, a man named Probodh – there was no better tech in the entire company. “Are you willing to fly in and help, Probodh?” He said “Of course, Jeff. Just get your boss to green-light it and I’ll be on the next flight.”
We could save this critical account!
I went to the VP of the East Region, Marc S. and told him what happened. I told him I wanted to bring Probodh in and save the account. I expected a quick “yes” and all would be fine. What he said next stunned me and changed my life – and not for the better.
“Not your problem. Go sell something else.”
I was crushed – a customer had put their faith in me – actually spent a million dollars because of me — and I was not allowed to service them.
I decided then and there I could not work for a firm that did not take care of customers – that actually demonstrated disdain for customers.
As a result, the IT manager was not fired. Her boss, the man who overruled IT to select us – was fired. (I suggest you read How to Enchant Employees) But why did Marc say that? Turns out it was not his idea. (My guess is he had a lousy comp plan too. But the difference is I had a conscience.)
Marc’s boss’ boss at the time was a guy named Jon Temple, SVP of Sales. Jon turned out to be one of the worst political hacks on Earth. Jon’s entire focus was making his quarterly number – not servicing customers.
Remember that lousy comp plan? The company had finally hired a new SVP of Strategic Accounts for large global accounts like GE. I saw this as a chance to fix the comp plan and organization issues. So I visited Craig L., and offered to work for him – with a new global comp plan. Craig said “Of course. Glad to work with you.”
Upon returning to the office, my phone rang. It was our Chief Marketing Office, Dave K. “What the hell did you do to Jon, Jeff?” I said “I have no idea.” I had not talked to Jon at all and I knew what I had done was in the best interest of the Company. Dave said “Jon is livid!” I was confused. I had not even spoken to Jon.
Then it hit me and I realized what had happened. Jon saw Craig as his rival. Going to him was, in the mind of a political hack like Jon, disloyal.
From that point forward, Jon was out to get me. He did his very best to make my life Hell. But I had been so incredibly successful – I blew out my quota in just 3 quarters, I won a trip to Club in Cancun.
One week before Cancun, Marc called me in and fired me. He whispered “The only reason Jon didn’t get you before, is you were so successful, that you were untouchable (due to your quota achievement).” But a buggy release and poor support led to unhappy customers – which killed all my deals in a quarter. “We wish we never bought from you – this software is so bad.” one new GE division said. Word quickly spread across GE and deals dried up.
Even though I was over 100% of quota for the year, one bad quarter was Jon’s big chance to stab me in the back. Dumping me a week before Club was Jon’s way of getting back at me. It was vindictive, plain and simple. Many co-workers were dumbfounded that I was not at Club.
(I took my wife and kids to Cancun on my own.)
- Jon T. was fired by the Company within a week after he got me. He bounced from company to company and is now with a company I will leave nameless.
- Marc S. resigned. He is now with EasyAsk.
- Probodh resigned and went on to great success. He’s now an EVP at KPIT Cummins.
- The entire sales and marketing management team turned over.
- The CMO , Dave K. resigned and went on to great success at MarkLogic. “It was a crazy place when you were there, and got even crazier after you left.” he said to me.
- The Company was sold to SAP.
- The fired beer company exec landed at SAS – ten years later I reached out and apologized personally. He was VERY appreciative.
What do you think? Have you every had an experience this miserable?