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 Category:  Biographical Non-Fiction
  Posted: April 30, 2018      Views: 69

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I need to admire you, before I can respect you. Fortunately, I'm easy to impress,

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How one crook stole 6 months of my life
"Sneaky Salesman" by Spiritual Echo

One of the most bizarre experiencesI ever went through demonstrating the effects of feminism on men didn't happen while I strived for equality. Though my journey included more than a fair share of harassment (if such a phrase should ever apply to abuse) of every kind, my encounter with Greg happened after I'd moved into the corner office.

Over the years, I'd met dozens of salesmen. Some were highly personable professionals who represented their product and company with dignity. Others were two-faced, sneaky con-artists. In between these two extremes, the vast majority are average guys who are just trying to make a living on the road.

I was one of them, but I was different--a woman in a man's industry. It was ground-breaking times, and the reaction I received ranged from contempt and sabotage to respectful inclusion from my peers.

My favorite memories came from sales meetings. Watching these men's behavior during formal meetings and after-hours get-togethers revealed stark contrasts. During the day they were attentive, polite and seemed a credit to the company they represented. At the bar, many were anything but, competitive to the point of arrogant, crude and full of themselves.

When they discovered I could dish it out equal to anything they threw in my path, I was pretty much ignored, and in time, accepted. Fueled by alcohol, a small segment treated me as challenge, hoping to 'notch one up' by trying to coerce me to share their hotel room. I met heroes and bums and all manner of personality in between. It was quite the education, and by the time I'd earned my way--twelve years later--into an executive position, I thought I'd heard it all.

I'd accepted a position with a company that specialized in national and corporate accounts, and both enjoyed and preferred selling product in boardrooms rather than the dreary and exhausting work involved in independent sales. No more dragging sample cases from town to town, cold calls or lecherous invitations into the back room. My new job entailed opening and developing department store and multiple location accounts. For three years I enjoyed the thrill of working with designers, travelling overseas for trade show and entertaining customers in five-star restaurants.

Sales were good and I was making more money than I ever imagined, but three years into the job, the principals of the company walked into my office and announced they'd decided to pursue independent accounts.

Forcing a smile, I said, "Great! Who are you planning to hire as a sales manager?"

Even as I spoke, my gut told me my worst nightmare was about to unfold. I tried to talk them out of it, but even in a language they understood, a projection of two-year losses, they refused to reconsider. I became responsible for developing sample lines and hiring a sales force. The commission over-ride on their sales did nothing to inspire me to take on this job willingly. I had no choice.

Though the company had been around for a long time, it hadn't had an independent account in years. For all intents and purposes, it was a start-up and seasoned sales people had little incentive to entertain my offers. Furthermore, the line would not be big enough to generate a living. It was a secondary or third line for a salesman and couldn't compete with companies the rep might already be representing. As a straight-commission deal, I didn't have a lot to work with to make this a desirable opportunity.

By the time I met Greg, I had half the territories covered and was scraping the bottom of the barrel. Well dressed and groomed, he walked into my office selling; his mouth went into gear and never seemed to stop long enough to take a breath. He'd either misread me or was very nervous, but he definitely didn't make a good first impression. In my world, a good salesman knows how to listen and adapt to his customer's needs. After an hour of listening to him prattle on about his extensive experience, motivational speakers he admired and his highly exaggerated promises of sales he could bring in, I finally lost patience. Manners didn't allow me to stand up and scream shut up, but that's what I wanted to do. Before asking one question, I'd already written the guy off. After several attempts to interrupt Greg's monologue, I finally stood up, gently took him by the arm and escorted him to the front door.

"Thanks for coming," I said.

"Did I get the job?"

"I'll get back to you if you make it to the short list."

I walked back to my office feeling like I needed a bath because the BS clinging to the air.

Two days later I received a phone call from Greg, a follow-up to check on his status, he said. I thought I made myself clear when I told him to keep looking for another line. Apparently not. A few days elapsed before a different Greg called.

"I guess I made a bad impression," the humble voice on the other end of the line said softly. "Please give me another chance."

I tried to be kind, but informed him that we weren't a good fit. I offered some advice for future interviews and suggested a few leads for other companies who might require salespeople.

"Please reconsider," he implored me before I hung up.

The following week I received a letter from Greg listing all his assets and reasons I should hire him for the territory. I chalked one up for persistence and sent back a reply thanking him for his time and interest, but making it clear he was NOT being considered.

I still hadn't filled several territories, including the one Greg had applied for, but I had my own customers and hiring salespeople was not on my list of priorities. I didn't give the man another thought until Stanly, the company president, came into my office and brought up his name.

"I want you to give the guy a chance."

"Jesus Christ," I swore, "doesn't the guy ever give up? He went to you...and you caved?"

I was definitely angry. Tasked with a job I'd never signed up for, I resented my authority and judgment questioned--even by my boss. Greg had sold him a sob story, literally begged, and I had no choice but to hire him, knowing full-well it was a bad decision.

"You have a lot to prove to me," I told Greg the day I handed him the sample line.

Every instinct I possessed fired off warnings. I made certain he checked off every item in the line, and had a witness sign the receipt for samples directly under Greg's signature. The employment contract included a very clear, concise termination clause giving the company all the advantages and no notice. The smirk on Greg's face when he left the office wasn't real, I told myself; just a reflection of my soured attitude.

Managing a sales force amounts to sophisticating babysitting, and by their nature, salesmen are sociable creatures who like to talk. With new reps, I spent a fair bit of time on the phone each day, mostly productive time guiding them through company capabilities and negotiations with customers. For the first month after his hiring, Greg phoned every day, chewing my ear off, expecting daily motivation. I was not aware that when I cut him short, Greg would call Stanly, that is, until the day Stanly instructed me to send Greg $100,000 in delivery goods.

I was appalled, sharing my outrage with Stanly in no uncertain terms.

"The guy needs a boost, some needed incentive to get sales rolling," Stanly said.

"He hasn't made a damn sale yet, and you want to send him live product?"

Though I thought I'd escaped the 'good old boys' network, I was wrong. Resentful that this little schmuck was becoming the bane of my existence in what had been a dream job, I was equally angry at Stanly.

"You're taking full responsibility?"

"Of course," Stanly replied in a voice that had an unspoken tag line--you silly girl.

Underperforming salesmen tend to call more often than reps that are too busy with their customers. Sensing my hostility, he limited his calls to me, but it didn't stop him from calling Stanly who appeared to be flattered by the attention. The production manager wasn't spare and even the company controller chatted with Greg regularly.

"What a sweet guy," my assistant said to me one day when I requested Greg's sales figures. "He's so interested in my son's hockey games and always asks about my weekend."

Always? Enough already. My next phone call to Greg was brutal. His sales for three months were virtually non-existent, and we'd never received payment for any of the delivery goods. I put him on notice. Though not obliged by contract, I gave him thirty days to turn it around or he would be terminated. This time he believed me, though, he immediately called Stanly after I hung up.

"You put the guy on notice? Threatening to fire him?"

"That's right, Stanly, but I'm not threatening, just deferring the inevitable." The tone in my voice contained my own muted dialogue tag, but I wasn't forced to use it. Stanly knew I meant business.

At the end of thirty days I asked Greg to come into the office and to bring the line and delivery goods to the meeting. He arrived and pleaded his case, refusing to be fired. He hadn't brought his line. As his territory was two hours away, it wasn't a question of running home and returning with the products. I feared a Mexican stand-off with product used as a hostage.

There was something pathetic about Greg. It took five tries before he accepted my decision. In the end, it took the fear of prosecution, profane and direct language before he surrendered. When it was finally over, I discovered he was a devious little skunk.

Though he earned virtually no commission from me, he still made a fair bit of change. How much remained a mystery, but I wish I'd found out how much a man's integrity was worth. Within days of receiving the sample line, he delivered it to my biggest competitor. They knocked it off, a shocking discovery I made months later when I lost a major sale to an identical product submission I'd offered a national account. My prices were undercut by ten percent.

"I can't justify buying this from you," my customer told me.

It took some time to uncover the truth, how my competitor could have the absolute identical product, and sadly, my assistant found out she was played. Between the information she told Greg and what he could glean from the production manager, every trade secret was available for Greg to sell to the highest bidder.

Equally interesting was how he profited from the delivery goods Stanly insisted I send Greg. He parked those in an independent account, offering them a pay-as-you-play consignment package. The customer accepted the goods as a favor, being told the diamond rings represented a failed sample line Greg developed on his own. They paid him directly for items sold and returned the product to him when he ended the deal, accounting for the missing rings when Greg finally sent back the remnants of our goods.

I took no joy in reporting this information to Stanly, and though I resisted the urge to say I told you so, I did not spare him the consequences. "I wash my hands of this mess. You deal with it."

In the end, prosecution was far more costly, both in real money and the harm it would do to the company's reputation. To accuse a competitor of knocking off the line would likely be seen as sour grapes for losing the sale. It wasn't worth it. In the short term, Greg got away with it, but I didn't spare his reputation. In a quid pro quo of deceit, when I couldn't tell folks what really happened, I was not above whispering innuendoes into the ears of potential employers. As far as I know, Greg never worked in the jewelry business again.

And the moral of the story is...always trust your gut instincts.

Write a Modern Fable writing prompt entry

Writing Prompt
Write a short fable-like story where the last sentence starts with: "And the moral of the story is". This can be on any subject, true or fictional, and can be in any voice, as long as the moral is stated in the last line. A new twist on an old fable is also allowed.
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