It was a hot day, early, about 10 am and the heat was already above 90 degrees. The kind of sweltering heat common in central Texas in August. Years before cell phones and voicemail, I pulled over and was at an outside phone booth off FM 359. Now was the time for me to reach Len, my Sales Manager, and talk about pricing and strategy for a bid due 3 PM at Texas A&M University, 50 miles further west. Len was expecting my call and I was ready. Less then a year into my job as a sales rep I was excited about this opportunity.
I had been working with this customer for 6 months to convince him our instrument was better than the 3 (soon he thought to be 4) he had been using from the competition over the past 10 years. He finally agreed if I was competitive, meaning he would not pay more, he would give us a try. I spent the good part of these past weeks researching other bid scenarios with this competitor. I talked to other sales reps, marketing and customers. I ordered a price sheet to understand the line item pricing of their solution. There was no internet so doing that took a week. It was a 12 item bid and I looked up all 12 items to understand the starting point for the competition. I wanted to be lower by just a few dollars on this $25,000 sale. That would do it. I was ready!
Balancing the notebooks and brochures in my arm with sweat dripping on my suit, I dialed the number. Len’s assistant put me through and it was time to “work the deal.” Bid strategy! I took about 10 minutes and walked Len through the situation and the competitive pricing we would most likely see. He had some questions to test my analysis. He asked some questions about the process I had not thought through, and fumbling my notebooks I made notes, occasionally asking him to repeat himself when he was drowned out by 18 wheelers roaring by. My goal was to get approval for the price needed to win the bid. It was so hot with sweat dripping off me onto and through my suit. Then he asked “ What is our pricing?” I was a little surprised. I did not expect that and did not have that information in front of me. I wanted to be at a certain price no matter what our list price was. It was now 10:45 and the temperature felt like 150 degrees. I thought to myself and said as I thought it “ well, since you are in the office (an air conditioned office) and you had a copy our price book on your credenza, could you turn around pick it up and look them up as we talk?” In a millisecond he said, “ Call me back when you have our pricing.” Then, the phone went dead as he hung up. I was stunned. I felt my anger heat up to the sweltering temperature in the glass and metal phone booth where I was standing. I could not believe what had happened! Really? Pissed, I went into my van which was hotter then the phone booth and quickly wrote down our prices so I had the information. It was now 11 am and the heat was unbearable. I was shocked he would not do that, making me dig through this crap when it was right behind him in his air conditioned office. I called back in 10 minutes and held my tongue. We worked the deal and I had what I needed to win. Later that week I was in the office, yes the air-conditioned office, and felt compelled to ask Len why he couldn’t just look up the prices for me. He said, “My value to you is not looking up prices.”
It was a lesson I would never forget. Len had 12 sales reps to manage as well as the office staff. He was incredibly helpful and important to me in developing my career, and I considered him a real supporter. He taught me that when you have employees reporting to you don’t do their job because yours is challenging enough. Some managers pride themselves on taking things off their employee’s shoulder, “I’ll do this and I’ll do that.” Sometimes that makes sense if only you can do it. We hear a lot about stress and work life balance, developing and engaging employees, doing the right things at the right time and being organized. What is really important is being in control of your life and balancing your responsibilities, not getting overwhelmed. Doing your job and adding in your employees responsibilities is a recipe for failure.
The lesson: Know your value and do that. No matter how easy it may be for you to quickly do it pause and ask yourself “is this something I need to do”. If not, challenge your direct report to do it themselves. Teach, coach and encourage but don’t do it. When they come to you with “can you do this, can you do that”; hang up the phone. By the way, in case you are wondering. Yes, I got the order.