The annual sales meeting was wrapping up its second day. The working sessions and presentations
from the field teams and the corporate office had been engaging and upbeat, and it was no mystery as to
why. After several quarters of weak sales, forecasts had finally started to pick up and the future looked
more optimistic. There was a rumor that a big deal was going to be announced tomorrow by the CEO.
After dinner, most of the sales reps, as well as the regional VPs, went to the bar. The sales team had a bit
of a reputation for partying. Occasionally, they might drink a bit too much and do a little bragging about
their sales. But nobody worried too much, since the event was held at a hotel and nobody was driving.
As the new head of HR, this was your first national sales meeting and it was a lot more fun than you had
expected. It was a great chance to meet the field sales reps who were scattered all over the country.
The event gave you a chance not only to get to know these front-line warriors as individuals, but to get a
better sense of the challenges they faced on a daily basis. Securing meetings with potential buyers and
getting deals closed are no easy tasks, especially in a tough competitive environment. As a supplier of
high-tech equipment, your company sold to a relatively small number of buyers. The industry was
specialized and reps did not move frequently, so the sales team was a tight-knit group.
At the bar was Rick, a top performing sales rep and recent addition to the team. He had an audience of
seven or eight salespeople gathered around him, and you could tell he was enjoying it. The other reps all
liked Rick and looked up to him. He had been in the business for a while and had worked for two
competitors before joining the team. He had no shortage of war stories. Even though you were not part
of the conversation, it was not hard to hear what he was talking about. Every time he cracked a joke, a
chorus of laughter would erupt.
You thought to yourself, “It’s great to have people like this on the team. The younger reps can really learn
from them, and Rick just has a way of building enthusiasm for the business.”
In the midst of the jokes and stories, Rick, now on his third scotch, dropped his voice and leaned into the
group, “Look, you’re all naïve if you think the way to get deals is to just get out there and hustle. The truth
is, you’ve got to work deals from the inside. It’s all about relationships. Let me tell you how it’s done…”
Finishing his glass, Rick continued: “Tomorrow they’re going to announce the biggest deal this company
has ever seen – my deal. My cousin works for the client and let’s just say, from time to time, we help
each other out. Look, I’ve built my business on my connections. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Everybody wins. We get the business, the client gets a great product, and our shareholders get a boost
in stock prices. Besides, we need this deal. As you all know, we’ve been losing business. You might
even say we were on the way out! But now, you’ve got some job security, and once this deal goes public,
it will create a huge buzz out there, and then it won’t be long before you’ll all be taking home some pretty
nice bonuses.” A big grin came over Rick’s face, as the other reps murmured their approval.
The rest of the conversation got lost in the noise, but you had heard what you heard. You thought to
yourself, “Hmm, it was nothing, probably just bragging. And the conversation wasn’t even meant to
include me. I just happened to be within earshot.” You continued with your own social chit-chat with
colleagues, but in the back of your mind, you kept replaying what you had heard over and over.
As if on cue, the Head of Sales for North America, Andy, slapped you on the back. “What do you think?
Pretty good team we got here, huh?