Volume 40,   Issue 8                                  August  2005


My Teammate - The Sales Rep?

by Lyle R. Hill

I’ve known him for over thirty years and as sales reps go, he’s probably one of the best in the country. Please understand, I am not a big fan of sales reps, sales managers or too much wind in my sales. But if you have to deal with one, I don’t think you’ll find anyone better. He’s knowledgeable, responsive, and not afraid to take a stand when the going gets a little rough. He also has the ability to keep things professional and never lets personal feelings get in the way of business. He even dresses well. And on this particular day, I needed his help, so I called. 

“Hey, it’s Lyle,” I began as soon as he answered the phone, “and I’m calling to follow up on the Stombecker order.”

We actually started our glass industry careers at the same company on Chicago’s near northwest side. The old Tyler & Hippach Glass Company was a great place to learn the business because we literally did everything. 

From retail mirror installations, to board-ups, to contract glazing and high-end glass fabrications … we did it. We even operated our own insulating line and tempering facility. I worked in the operations side of the business … he was in sales. And even though it was many, many years ago, the memories of those days are still all so vivid …

“OK,” he replied, “hang on just a second while I grab that file. I think an update just came through a couple of minutes ago.”

During the mid-1970s, while we were both working at Tyler & Hippach, I received a promotion and as part of the compensation package that came with my new position, I was to receive a company car. In fact, I had been informed by the company’s fleet department manager that a new Chevrolet Impala would be arriving with my name on it in just a few days.

“Found my folder, Lyle … now what can I do for you?”

“Well, I’d like to know when we’re gonna get the glass! We’ve got a deadline here and we gotta put that stuff in by two weeks from Friday. You’re late and I need you to get your people in gear.”

The big day finally arrived and the fleet guy called me to come over to the building where he was located so I could pick up my company car. To say I was excited would be a true understatement. A company car not only would save me a lot of money but would also indicate that I was important to the firm … a key player … on my way up that proverbial company ladder.

“Lyle, you’re not gonna see this glass for another four weeks.”

“What do you mean another four weeks? You promised a six to eight week lead-time and I ordered this glass six weeks ago. Four weeks from now plus six weeks ago equals exactly ten weeks altogether. This is unacceptable!”

Within minutes of hearing from the fleet guy, I went to pick up my new company car, but by the time I got there my car was gone. When I asked what had happened, I was told that one of the sales guys had pulled rank and gotten it reassigned to him because his car had been in a bit of an accident.

“Listen,” I continued, “I don’t want to hear anything about ten weeks. You told the architect that you could match your competitor’s delivery … that, by the way, happens to be four weeks … and now you’re telling us something completely different. I’m not gonna stand for this!”

“Well, Lyle,” he replied with a stronger voice than before, “we quoted this thing five months ago when we were slow and at that time it probably was a four week delivery, but the real problem is you. Why did it take you more than two months to get us final sizes? If anybody delayed the job it was you … not us. And don’t talk to me about making promises that you know can’t be kept. You guys are every bit as bad as us if not worse.” 

I immediately demanded to know which sales guy had taken my car. The fleet guy told me it was the big blond kid … the one who always dresses so nicely. I was not a happy man.

“So,” I said with an accusing tone to my voice, “are you telling me that you make commitments that you know you can’t keep and then explain them away later by blaming us?”

“I think we sometimes get a little over aggressive in some of our statements, but you know what the marketplace is like and you know that our competitors are probably as over zealous as we are when it comes to these types of things. And I know that you have the same problem with your competition. But you can’t expect the manufacturers to make up for your inability to order on time or for the totally crazy promises that you guys make.”

So I called the big blond kid who dresses so nicely and demanded to know when I was gonna get my car back. He told me he was sorry but that his 1973 green Plymouth had been tossed around in a bit of a tornado and that his boss didn’t think a sales guy should be driving around in a dented up car making sales calls. He also told me not to be too upset because his replacement car was on order and should be in within two to three weeks. In the meantime, he said I could use his Plymouth. He then reminded me that, after all, we were on the same team.

“It all starts with you guys,” I fired back, “you call on these gullible architects, promise them the world, sell them stuff you’ve probably never made before and then make delivery commitments that you know can’t be met. Then, somehow, we’re supposed to cover for you. Well not this time, pal. I’m giving them your name and number and you can figure out what to tell them. You’re on your own with this one.”

I took the beat-up Plymouth based on the assumption that something was better than nothing. But in this case, it was only slightly better. It looked terrible and the only door that still opened and closed was the passenger side front door. Everywhere I went I was embarrassed. People regularly asked me if I was OK because they assumed by looking at the car that I must have been in a terrible accident. 

“Listen, Lyle, I’m gonna make it up to you. You know that 53rd Street bank job? Well I’ll see to it that it gets delivered a week early. What do you think of that?” 

“I think that’s ridiculous. The bank job is all stock stuff and the one has nothing to do with the other.”

Every two to three weeks I would call the big blond sales guy who always dressed so nicely to get an update on his car’s delivery, which, in turn, would release my new car back to me. For four and a half long months, while always being informed that I was appreciated for being such a great team player, I was regularly told that it was only going to be four more weeks until the car was delivered. When I finally got my new car, it had 14,000 miles on it, a dented fender and a radio that didn’t work.

“Lyle, what would you like me to do?”

“I’ll tell you what I want you to do. I want you to call those guys at the factory and tell them that they’ve got to get this stuff to us in the next two weeks or else.”

“Or else what, Lyle?”

“Well for one thing, I’ll never order another car from you as long as I live!”

“I think you mean glass don’t you, Lyle?”

“Yeah, sorry. I guess my mind slipped a little there. Glass … that’s what I meant to say … glass.”

“Sure, Lyle, but you gotta promise me that you’ll slow down a bit, get a little rest. You know you can count on me. After all, we’re on the same team here.”

“OK, Craig McGregor. I’ll do that, but you gotta promise me something, too.”

“You name it, Lyle”

“No more of that teammate stuff. OK?”

“No problem … I promise.” 

The Author:
Lyle R. Hill is president of MTH Industries of Chicago.

© Copyright 2005 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.