The Salesman’s Truth

At the end of the last millennium, I interviewed for a sales support position with a dot-com company. This was during the first round of dot-com millionaires, before the big bust.

The guy who interviewed me, Bob the Sales Manager, was a friendly, funny guy who told me how the company provided high-speed, wireless internet services to apartment communities. Residents could now use their laptops anywhere in the building or outside by the pool.

Bob enthusiastically described how sales were going gang-buster with 50% of the residents signing up in each building.

Unfortunately, that was only half the truth. Actually, it didn’t even add up to that much.

The Salesman’s Truth. Thanks to Bob’s loose statistics, I later coined the term The Salesman’s Truth to describe the habit of lying. (If someone else has used this term, I don’t recall having heard it.)

So I started the year 2000 working for an exciting company in an exciting industry…..internet expansion. As the months went on, the company grew in terms of employees and the amount of venture capital money we burned through.

Unfortunately, it was months later before even one customer was brought online. While waiting for that to happen, I learned a lot of about the internet, people, and I never did fully get why anyone invested big bucks into this company.

I heard a lot about portals, and we’re all going to be rich, etc. Still, no one was sending us any money except the venture capitalists.

When I left the company, we had a total of 17 customers in two metropolitan areas. That was one less customer than the number of people our company sent to one national convention that year.

We  also had several “competitors” in other cities… management talked a lot about expansion plans for those areas. I still wear one of the competitor’s T-shirts…it was made of really nice material that has withstood years of spins through the washing machine. The t-shirt came from our President who picked it up at a trade show.

Oh, and did I mention….we had 3 customer service agents to handle the 17 paying customers. We would have had at least one more customer, a pilot with a MAC, but we couldn’t figure out how to hook up his service.

So we’re burning thru all of this money, including a nice team-building outing at a local winery and a day at the ballpark. During the course of nine months, I think I had five supervisors.

And still….technical problems ruled the day. Not only that, but we were hooking up buildings with a large population of college students who had just graduated from free internet service and they weren’t willing to pay our business model rate of $50/month. (Which, eight years later, I don’t think anybody pays that anywhere.)

Not only could I not keep track of who was the boss….but I’m thinking, did any of these people take math in grade school? Bob certainly had not.

My skepticism started showing, and I was asked to leave the company. I wasn’t drinking the Kool-aid anymore….and that was paramount to being a traitor.

I still laugh when I recall hearing one of the engineers describe how the outside antennas we had installed were not designed for outside use.

Three months after that…they closed their doors unexpectedly. Unexpectedly to the new guy who started the day before. Unexpectedly to the office manager who was about to order brand new furniture for the new office they had moved to. But certainly not unexpectedly to anybody who understood basic math.

A few years later, I ran into Bob the Sales Manager, and my first supervisor in the series. He sat opposite me as we ate our lunch at a local fast-food restaurant. Bob was animated as he told me how the company had a mini-sex scandal involving the HR department. I laughed. I always liked Bob.

The thing about The Salesmans’ Truth is it sounds so good. Too good to be true. You want to believe it. But sometimes, the math just doesn’t add up. And guess who had the last laugh?

Remember this story the next time you’re watching one of those late-nite infomercials. Or during your next job interview. And “do the math”…… before you drink the Kool-Aid.

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