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Failure Should be Terminated

July 19, 2011

by Derek W. Christian
Owner, My Maid Service, with locations in Cincinnati and Dallas

I owe much of my professional success to a guy named Gary Alverson. I was hired to work for Procter & Gamble right out of college. I was going to be working as a field sales person selling cleaning products to distributors and cleaning companies in the San Francisco bay area. I got off the plane and met my new boss. He gave me the keys to my company car, a list of customers, and 3 HUGE binders of training materials. We went out to dinner where he welcomed me t o the company, then he went back to Sacramento about 2 hours away.

I would only see him again at quarterly reviews. Reviews which were not pleasant. I was failing badly. I did not understand what was wrong. I was a good student and a hard worker. How hard is it to knock on doors and sell cleaning products? Despite reading all the materials and trying my best I was missing my sales goals and by a lot. My first year I was supposed to sell 15,000 cases and I sold just over 6,000.

At almost exactly one year in, my boss’s boss – a guy named Gary Alverson – showed up one day on my doorstep with no warning and declared he was going to be riding with me for the day. As we went from sales call to sales call he would ask me questions. "What are the 7 steps of persuasive selling?", "What are the top 3 benefits of Mr. Clean to a Residential Cleaner?" and so on. I knew almost none of the answers.

That night at 9 PM I got a call from a VP I had never met before to be in the office at 8 am sharp. I packed all my P&G possessions in the company car. I was sure I was fired and I wanted to be able to hand the keys over and not face the indignity of having to come back again to drop off my computer and customers lists. I was a failure at my first real job. I was already planning on packing up and moving back to Texas with my parents.

I walked into the meeting and the VP apologized to me. He explained that P&G had failed me. My manager had failed me. Gary had spent the day with me and he had determined no one had ever taught me how to do my job. Starting immediately I was reporting directly to Gary. Gary immediately met me outside the room and we sat down and developed a training plan. I would work with Gary for a month. Then I would go to Seattle and work with Paul, the best persuasive sales person on the West coast. Then I would go to Arizona and work with Caroline who was the best person we had at working a trade show. Finally I would go to LA and work with Phil who knew more about cleaning technology than anyone else in the USA. That year I sold 45,000 cases vs. a goal of 25,000.

It would have been so easy for Gary to just fire me. I was a failure by any measure. My boss had recommended I be fired. I am sure my boss told him I was dumb, lazy, stupid, anything but poorly trained. Instead Gary invested the time to find out what was wrong. I was poorly trained, and he fixed it. I never missed a sales quota again. My professional life could have gone very differently if not for Gary Alverson. By the time I left P&G 12 years later, I managed 39 sales people with a quota of over 8 million cases. Both the team and every single sales person on that team exceeded our sales goals. Not bad for a guy that should have been fired in his first year for only selling 6,000 cases.

I try to remember this in my own company. Hopefully we all have these great training programs developed to bring on new employees. But are they really being followed? Procter & Gamble had some of the best training programs in the world but they were not used correctly with me. The same thing could be happening in any of our companies.

When you have someone that is not working out do you invest the time to really find out why? Are your training programs just on paper and not being followed? Do your people assume cleaning is obvious and all your systems are just a waste of time like my first manager thought selling soap was easy and obvious?

Some people are audio learners and need to be shown things. If you hand them a book and tell them to read with not enough in-person training it is no different than my boss that gave me 3 huge training binders and then threw me to the wolves.

They say hire slowly but fire quickly. I disagree a little. If you have an employee that had good attendance and a good attitude and they are failing, you need to investigate. You could have a failure in your training program and be about to fire you next superstar.

Originally published by Failure Should be Terminated

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