They Wanted Me to Wash Their Cars
(Mississauga, ON, Canada)
In July of 2007 I was hired in a Sales role with a U.S.-based company in Toronto and in September of 2007 I started working for them. For the first 3 months all reps that started with me at the same time were involved in a full-time training program, so we did not actually start working on the floor until January of 2008.
What was initially promised to us during the interviews for the position and the initial months of training, however, was very far from the reality we experienced when we actually started selling on the floor. The Sales Managers and Trainers were painting a picture of “easy life” of a Sales person, with huge income potential and lots of perks.
However, in reality the whole company structure turned out to be very “pyramidic”, i.e. only a handful of people who stayed at the company for 3+ years have access to large accounts. Less than 10 Sales people out of 250+ over there at that location actually make commissions and enjoy perks. The rest of the newbies are merely a “pipeline” for creating business for them and, when the new guys discover the reality, get discouraged and quit – the accounts they develop are coded by Sales Managers to the handful of veterans, thus adding to their wealth and prosperity and helping the company to keep their “Success Myth” going.
Push-ups, Money Pool and Gay Jokes
I was actually shocked at some methods that the Sales Managers implemented in the organization, in order to strengthen the discipline and improve performance.
One of them was making the employees do push-ups as a punishment and put money in the “pool” for the future company parties. I was one of the few folks who refused to do push-ups because the very thought of implementing the elements of “army routine” into a corporate culture was totally alien and very humiliating to me.
When I was 3 minutes late one day for the training and was challenged to do the push-ups by the Sales Manager, I walked out of the room instead and then had a private meeting with him explaining the problem that I saw with that type of punishment. I also had to explain to him that he had no right to put up gay pictures as screensavers on employees’ monitors if they happened to forget to lock their screens before stepping out. On one hand, it offended gay people in the company. On another hand, it was encouraging employees to play similar jokes to one another.
Fortunately, that particular Sales Manager was very responsive to my suggestions and made sure that push-ups and gay jokes stopped completely after I and several other Sales people talked to him. However, I have no knowledge of what happened to the money that went into the “Party Pool” and how it was used later on.
Even during the initial 3-months training I found out that the role of a Sales person was not described objectively in the job contract. In that company, we were expected to do way more than what regular Sales guys usually do in other companies. See for yourself: in addition to making at least 80 phone calls a day, spending 3 hours on the phone with customers and sending out 10 quotes, every Sales person is expected to do Customer Service and prospecting, ordering products and dealing with Credit issues, processing Credit Card payments and Purchase Orders, trouble-shooting the delivery issues, participating in “Lunch and Learns” and other training sessions, talking to vendors who are doing the “floor walks” and scheduling and taking part in conference calls with various Technical Specialists and Clients.
By April of 2008 I felt so overwhelmed, exhausted and stressed out that I collapsed right at my desk and was taken away to the Hospital. My doctor said that the fact that I passed out was caused by stress and dehydration at work. It took me 2 weeks to recover and get back to my duties after that incident.
Public Humiliation Through Nail-Painting
One of the reps on our Team was recently challenged by our Sales Manager that he would not be able to close the deal by a certain time and was foolish enough to accept the challenge. Not surprisingly, the deal did not go through and the rep had to take a punishment from the Manager who publicly painted his finger nails in pink, with the laughs and cheering of the gathered crowd. As I remember, she even dropped some nail polish on one of her red shoes, but persisted in her execution. I did not want to have any part of it, so I spent my time talking on the phone with one of my customers.
At the end of May I received an email from the Sales Director, who said that I was one inch close to being put in a so-called “Coaching and Councelling Program”. In simple terms, the person who is being “coached” is supposed to meet 2 criteria out of 3, such as 1) number of calls, 2) time on the phone and 3) items shipped for 3 months in a row. At the end of 3rd month the rep is either receiving a final warning and being fired or gets out of the program and continues working.
In June and July I had meetings with both Sales Manager and Director, who kept pressurizing me into selling at “zero” margin and shipping everything for free, just to push products out through the door, based on the fact that I was in the coaching program!
Another astonishing revelation that one of my co-workers and I made was that the “Landing Price”, i.e. the actual cost of company’s goods and services purchased from Distribution listed in our database turned out to be far from the actual cost after all – the company was still making up to $300 or more at times on the products, however the reps were literally robbed of their commission due to various “scare tactics” of the management.
Beg, Borrow or Bribe and Car Wash Challenge
The “Car-Wash” challenge was the last drop in the bucket after which my patience ran out. In order to boost the Team’s dwindling performance and become number one team in the company once again, the Sales Manager suggested that the management would pair up the reps with each other, and a more junior rep would have to “Beg, Borrow or Bribe” more senior rep, in order to make them win. The losers of that competition were expected to wash cars of the winners – in public!
No one actually agreed to that challenge, but everyone was scared to lose.
During the contest, I was asked to team up with a very seasoned rep who has been with a company for 3 years. But even with him, I could only achieve 40% of the goal, while he ended up at 70% of his.
During the final meeting the Sales Director announced the winners and then he announced the 4 losers who were going to wash his truck (???), due to the fact that one of the winner’s cars was apparently unavailable, in a company parking lot after work in the week to follow.
The Sales Manager concluded that she would gladly provide the time and the water for the event, and the “Car-Washers” would be expected to provide themselves and the soap.
As soon as the meeting was over, I rushed home and wrote Resignation letter. Yes, I was furious, as in 15 years of my Sales career I have never felt so insulted and so badly humiliated in front of my team mates as during that meeting.
I could barely sleep that night and I resigned early the next day. In my resignation letter I stated the following,
“I am leaving my position due to the fact that I disagree with offensive practices proliferating at this branch and the bullying tactics of the management of this location.
At this point you leave me no choice but to resign and file an official complaint against your actions.”
So, I will not be washing cars next week and I refused to do an “Exit Interview” with the company because I don’t believe it helps change anything. My self-esteem is still hurt, but I don’t have to live in fear anymore.
However, my concern goes beyond just my self-esteem. There are 3 more members who are left on the team who will be going through public humiliation washing management’s cars next week. One of these people is a pregnant woman.