SalesRants 4: Quid Pro Quo

“Julie” and “Bob” help our adman on the inside master the nuances of sales etiquette

Managing Up(s) and Down(s)
It’s a beautiful Friday morning, and I’m in bright and early putting the final touches on a PowerPoint for Boss. Boss is an older man, sort of an ex-hippie creative type with decent industry rep, but somewhat scattered and disdainful of the spotlight. Boss lets me “do my thing” and I let him do his. “My thing” is selling stuff and numbers and management. “His thing” is talking to Buck*, the Group Underboss (who is the Group Boss’ bitch). I manage up, Boss manages up, and everything we have to say gets synopsized into a handy three bullet-point summary for Senior Management.

The process goes something like this: CEO asks, “What’s going on?” Message filters down to Group Boss, who emails Group Underboss, asking, “What’s up with sales?” Underboss parses this, and mass-emails every publisher in the group his interpretation of Group Underboss’ question, which he translates as: “Please send me a comprehensive report on your first six months—including details of every revenue center—with detailed notes, forecasts, and projections for the next 3 months, years, and decades.”

Publisher (a.k.a. Boss) forwards me the email, and I spend three days composing a variety of spreadsheets and supporting documents laying out the business model for the next century, with a particular emphasis on the next month or so. I send this back to Boss, with a note: “Okay with this?” Boss emails in reply: “Are these numbers legitimate?” While I’m not really sure of what I put in, my reply reads: “Solid as a rock, Boss.”

 

Boss then sends those rock-solid numbers back to Group Underboss, who asks what the three top points we want to highlight are, returning my PowerPoint and 11-tab supporting Excel document to Boss. Boss forwards this note to me, asking that I whittle down the presentation that took three days to put together to an email consisting of three bullet points. I send the bullet points, pasted within an email, to Group Underboss, who doesn’t reply.

Three weeks later, Group Underboss informs us that we need to make another $200,000 in the third quarter because unrelated magazines in our Group aren’t doing so hot. We put it into the budget, even though we know we don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of making it. Nothing is ever said about the original presentation I slaved over, so I archive it on the server, deleting the 22-megabyte file from my hard drive.

Scenario #1
I have spent the better part of an hour on our intranet site, taking a required course on sexual harassment. Comprised of helpful online videos (whose set design and production quality are bizarrely reminiscent of a high-budget porn film circa 1985), quizzes, and “refresher units,” the course serves as a welcome departure from the morning’s usual sales reporting.

In Scenario #1, “Julie,” a comely office denizen roughly 35 years of age, is working with her line manager “Bob” on a proposal. They are pitching a massive sale of copiers to ACME Business Corp, and Bob brings up the idea of meeting “Mr. Zeberdee,” ACME’s top purchasing agent.

Julie remarks that while she’s only been in touch with “Ethan,” Zeberdee’s purchasing manager, it would be great to meet with Zeberdee himself, if Bob thinks that would help close the deal. Bob’s response: “You know, Julie, Zeberdee’s single, and the last time he was in the office, he asked about you.” Bob goes on, reckoning that old Zeberdee would be “putty in Julie’s hands” after a social rendezvous. What does Julie think? Would she mind meeting Zeberdee for dinner and drinks to help them, as Bob so delicately puts it, “close this puppy?”

I can barely believe what I’m watching, and jack up the volume into my headphones, subconsciously afraid someone will notice my profound enjoyment and assume I actually am looking at porn. Will Julie do it? She doesn’t exactly strike me as demure. Come to think of it, the last time I saw that much green eye shadow on a woman in a skirt suit, she hit me up for five bucks.

Go get ’em Julie, you tramp—you better plan on coming back with at least $500,000.

Alas, the video stops right before the dénouement with the multiple-choice pop quiz. What should Julie do—what should she say to Bob? As I wait for the answer choices to appear on my screen, the suspense is downright paralyzing.

I consider going with, “(D): There is nothing wrong with Bob asking Julie to participate in an non-work related dinner, since Julie is single and may appreciate the introduction.” Exactly. Go get ’em Julie, you tramp—and you better plan on coming back with at least $500,000.

Instead, I select, “(A): It would be inappropriate for Bob to ask Julie to attend a social engagement with Bob, especially after Mr. Zeberdee indicated a romantic interest in Julie. This would constitute a form of quid pro quo sexual harassment.” I contemplate going back to the video for a “refresher unit,” but reluctantly move on to Scenario #2.

What will that kooky Bob and Julie get up to next?

[This post originally appeared in MediaBistro, 6/21/2006]

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