Ok Ok,…. enough you say of this long drawn out synopsis. I get it. You’ve read I’m sure, my adventures as a commercial salesman and my rise to a national accounts rep. Where did I go next? Where, after my my devastating experience did I end up and what direction did my path take? Oh? You haven’t read that? Follow those little blue links (or whatever color they are these days) and you can see some of the lowest parts of my career. The dark shadows of the business world that consumed me and sucked me down to a place I thought I’d never get out of. A cold dark place where I believed with my whole heart would destroy my love for an industry that had given me such hope, such fervor for living and a zest for working that I had never had before.
But it happened… I can’t deny it… I can’t… as well… lay the blame solely at the feet of my employer… please. Follow the links for THAT side of the story but please as well. Allow me just a little latitude in what I’m about to write next… It was my darkest time.
Winters were the worst in Baltimore and I hated them. Especially in commercial sales. January 2nd, not the most optimum day to land any big sales no matter what the year but I managed to bag a $1200 sale all by phone on the VERY FIRST day of my commercial sales career!!! —- which—unbeknownst to me— ok I knew it wasn’t policy but HELL, they agreed over the phone to take the service so what’s not to like? It was a technique I learned in calling cancellations and getting them back on board. It worked that day and, it has worked every time I’ve tried it since. However, the next morning at our sales meeting, as my manager wrote the number on the board (the biggest number out of them all) he might as well been carving the numbers like fingernails on a chalkboard… I was chided, reprimanded and scolded all in front of my colleagues and my great conquering moment became a lesson in humility and a tongue lashing that rivals any I’d had in my short 22 year old existence.
So instead of an “inflating” moment, I sure was “deflated” and quickly at that. I thought I had done so well and for the first time in my life I was ahead on that damned big white board that so far was just a testament to what a lousy salesman I was. Almost all the sales guys came to me afterwards to console me and tried to “buck” me up. “Don’t listen to him man, numbers speak louder than his words” I heard in my ear from a guy named Moses who was basically a rockstar of sales for so many years. “Don’t let him get to you” whispered Steve, while Terry was shaking my hand and saying “good sale.” But all these words rang hollow to me. All were sincere but I could tell they were mortified by the display of the childish tantrum directed right at me, but in the end, they went on to $16k months, 21k or Moses the Golden Boy, 31 or 32, I can’t remember. There was frickin 6 inches of snow on the ground and he was still selling 30k plus in termite???!!!! WTH?
That month ended horribly, and the next and the next and the next. I knew I was on the chopping block. I went from barely scraping by as a residential salesman to reaching up to touch bottom as THE commercial guy. The end was near.
In the mean time…my personal life was hitting rock bottom as well. Familiar story perhaps and one I wouldn’t mind forgetting but suffice to say… I was consumed with the thought of losing the BEST thing I ever had and with every turn, it seemed that this was exactly what was going to happen. The cold winter days and no sales only exasperated the situation. On the verge of divorce and going back to the days of just me and a backpack wandering the countryside alone… I had almost no hope.
I don’t know why- but somehow the regional commercial high muckity muck intervened into my hopeless situation and one day, just out of the blue, I was promoted to National Accounts Representative… wow!!!! Did he know what a lousy sales person I was? Did he consider my numbers? Didn’t he hear the story of the day I disappeared and was found behind the complex sitting in the snow crying and almost unconsolable? I guess not.
So there I was… told NOT to worry about my numbers , that they would come and my mgr. was told in no uncertain terms to NOT to worry about my sales. That this was a corporate program and the decision had been made. I was told only to go after the BIG FISH — the huge accounts and that with my skills, I was going to be a huge success.
Wow, where did this come from? I thought to myself as my boss got the details of the program. I could see steam coming out of his ears when it was explained that my pay would come out of HIS budget and that I wasn’t restricted to any area. This meant that if I sold an account for another branch – they would pay me the commission but in turn, they would get the account and the production. This was not sitting well with him at all.
At the end of the meeting I was asked to leave the two brass eagles to have a private conversation….Just before going through the door the Regional mgr. said in a supremely confident tone, “Jerry, I’ve got your back.” That’s pretty much the last I heard from him…. again, follow the links and see how it all went down. It didn’t get any better than that.
So with that brief introduction as to what my mindset was at the time…Enter the CHOICE that changed my career….
There were two guys who worked for the big behemoth that I admired as techs and then later in sales. In my short stint as National accounts rep. I used to go over to their branch (way across town) just to hang out with them. They were always fun loving, supportive and had fire in their eyes, so confident they could take on the world. On one day I arrived to their branch and learned they had left. Office gossip was that they had jumped ship to start their own pest control business. One part of me was happy for them as I figured if anybody could take on such a big challenge it was them. On the other hand I was saddened because out of the 3 branches I bounced back and forth from, these two guys were my only bright spot and now they were gone too. Besides, I had my biggest break in awhile and was switching branches (a back door deal between my mgr. and a cross town rivals) Same deal for me, just that my current mgr. could unload the dead weight (me) but the rival mgr. said he saw the promise. As a “bonus” I was gonna get a sweet two contract deal that just needed a signature and I would finally get one of the biggest commission checks in my life. Well, I missed out on sharing that news with them but in the coming days that “deal” turned out to be a huge betrayal and put me deeper in a hole of despair than I think I’ve ever been. I left the behemoth firm soon after, disillusioned, depressed and with absolutely no idea where to turn. I had lost track of my two rockstar friends, no one in the industry I knew had much interest in talking with me and I can’t blame them. Who wants to talk with a broken down shell of a guy who all you can do is feel sorry for but he was pretty much happy to just wallow in his misery? I know I wouldn’t. Well, not to much longer, in this downward spiral of my life and very close to the end of my pest control career when all hope was seemingly lost, I got a call.
Apparently my two friends had heard of my great calamity and couldn’t idly stand by and watch my career come to an end. Especially not when they were just cresting as a small start up and needed an experienced tech to fill the void of service that their huge surge was creating. At first I don’t remember being to excited but as they talked and told me of the accounts they serviced and the sales they were making I began to perk up. When they offered me a job well, I was definitely all ears. For the most part it was a great offer. $500 bucks a week guaranteed and commission on sales. The downside was that I would be using my own car and that the office, (their home) was way on the other side of the county. However, I’d only need to go there once per week maybe to get supplies or maybe on a slow day for equipment maintenance…. mark that last part in your memory.
So I signed on with the two of them and the first few months were a heckuva ride. They mostly had me drive out or meet them in a designated spot and we’d all ride the rest of the day in the conversion van they had outfitted for the job. Busy was an understatement.
The premise of their business plans was a “no contract” contract. The initial was $75-80 or what have you but there were no 12 month contracts, it was service either as needed or as you (the customer wanted). This took off like a rocket and we couldn’t keep up with the demand. People still signed a legal agreement which basically held the maintenance visits to a certain price, ($25 for residential and whatever it was determined for commercial) that would be good for a year and if they wanted 1, 3 or zero services after the initial it was all just fine with them. Of course after that year was up you’d be asked to pay the initial fee again if you hadn’t kept up. So far, they hadn’t crossed that bridge to see just how that would take.
Summer flew by and I rode with them more than not. They sold a lot of termite and commercial work and the 3 of us got it done way faster than just the 1 or 2. It was in these “rides in the van” that I started seeing a way different side to these entrepreneurs than I thought existed. What I thought was a noble cause to ‘right the wrongs’ of the big corporate beast towards customers was really just the same, maybe worse, only on a smaller scale. More than once did I hear the stories of massive sales that were, shall we say, were questionable at best. $1000.00 dollar termite jobs that should have been $500 and that kind of thing. I really didn’t like that much but what really got me was another prize they both chased, even more than they chased any contract.
It wasn’t abundantly clear at first but with the ‘van’ rivaling any scene from Cheech & Chong movie details began to slip. Yes, they smoked pot, a lot of it. I never did but I might as well have because the smoke filled the van, circled around the rig and sprayers (separation walls weren’t required back then) and you (I) couldn’t help but breathe their smoke. They would sit in their bucket seats passing a joint back and forth while I sat on a tool box with a 100 gallon bubble tank as my back rest. They’d offer me a drag from time to time but I always refused. The two of them would never stop talking and at first it was always about sales and their company and plans for growth. However, it was never that long, maybe by the 3rd or 4th stop of the day their conversation would inevitably turn towards women. Without getting to graphic these conversations would start out “oh she’s so hot” type of talk to, well, I said I wouldn’t get real graphic so you can take it from there. I guess they forgot I was leaning against the hundred gallons of Dursban death, I suppose the 3rd joint saw to that. The ONLY time they would stop was when a favorite song came on the radio and BAM! The conversation stopped, the volume went up and the live karaoke show was on. Both of these guys would sing to the top of their lungs as Credence Clearwater Revival blared out of the conversion vans speakers matted in the doors and dash covered with shag carpet. Yikes, from my vantage point, I was wondering what I got in to. With one such ‘show’ the boys were belting it out and one of them dropped their joint as we were barreling down the road. They both laughed and began looking for their little puff of happiness somewhere on the vans floor. Within seconds I saw we were heading right for a stopped car. Looking up my stoned boss slammed on the brakes and our tin can on wheels was sliding sideways right for the backend of that vehicle. As my life flashed before my eyes the rig (not bolted down) hit the side wall and as the van straightened again it slid forward pinning me to the back of the front seats… We didn’t end up in a crash thank God but man was that close. I pushed the rig back and we all agreed that thing needed to be secured. I shoulda quit by this time but we had all agreed that in the coming days I’d be out on my own taking care of the route they had built. That was my saving grace and I REALLY didn’t want to give up $500 bucks a week.
Out of the van and on my own things were going fairly well. Still, on the days of a big job where I’d again ride with them or back at the home office it was always the same. They went on and on about their obsession with females and what really took me aback is that BOTH of these guys were married with kids!!! Ok, not so odd in this day in time but when the wives were present it was all hugs and kisses and “I love you honey how was your day?”. Then, as time progressed (and weed was consumed) I guess they just got really comfortable with me around. Their conversations turned from what they “observed and lusted for” to what they actually had going on. Both, BOTH of these guys were having full blown affairs on their wives-their families… I hated it!!! Both talked in detail and were so proud of their conquests. At one point I unexpectedly walked in on one of these entrepreneurs when he and his mistress thought no one would be there for the day. I guess he was so stoned he forgot he called me to come by and pick up some paperwork. That was an uncomfortable moment.
At the same time this was going on winter was setting in and the “choice” model of business was beginning to unravel. Without being bound to a contract our attempts to schedule service were a lesson in futility. The frozen ground was doing a great job at keeping bugs out of sight and very few people were agreeing to have us out. Sales dried up and one of the owners took a pizza delivery job at night (where he met yet another conquest) and tensions were raising high. I soon found myself dreading the pest control world once again but to their credit, they never missed a check.
However, that didn’t make up for the treatment I was now put under. With no sales and no jobs to do I would be called to the ‘office’ just to wash the van. Apparently I sucked at that and more than once the white glove inspection revealed my ineptitude. Or, I was very often dropped off in a neighborhood with a handful of dot matrix typed printed contracts and told to knock doors and they’d be back at 5 o’clock to find me. Oh man did I hate that. With each day, I dreaded showing up for work more and more and I’m quite sure they saw me as a real drain on the company. With the phones rarely ringing and me freezing my butt off I barely eeked through the winter but I did hold up my own. In the spring I think we all knew that it might be a good time to go our separate ways. They were talking about revamping their service agreements so as not to experience another cold unproductive winter and I had reached out to other companies and landed a job in sales that couldn’t hire enough people to even answer the phones… more on that in the next chapter.
Suffice to say, I don’t believe they made it very far that next year and I’d be surprised if they lasted much longer than that. I feel most sorry for their families and the train wrecks they were all heading for. The whole experience did give me a breather and allowed me to recoup a bit. Truth be told, it wasn’t all that bad all the time, we had fun as well and there were great moments of promise but that never lasted as the objects of their attentions just wouldn’t let it. So, some of my fire was rekindled and I had landed another sales job once I saw the end of our road together and as I said, they weren’t sad to see me go. They dropped me off at home that last day and as the van pulled away and headed down my street, I heard the radio crank and saw a puff of smoke blow out of the drivers window and my time with Cheech & Chong came to an end.