Story Time: When I was told to do sales

The GFC of the late aughts leads to some really insane decisions, and that had some repercussions that stun the leadership team

Story Time: When I was told to do sales
Photo by Christina @ / Unsplash

Think back to the dim distant past of fall 2008. The Global Financial Crisis was just beginning to unfold, Bear Stearns had just gone tits-up, and the bottom was dropping out of the economy.

The setup

At the time, I worked as a product manager, reporting directly to the VP/GM of the business unit, and as such I was in the "inner" circle. I got to be party to discussions about what was happening in the macro as well as the micro environment, and I can assure you it was ugly. Our "certain to close" opportunities all backed off, and commitments fell by the wayside.

As our orderbook fell apart, we were in panic mode. Opportunities that were locks just fell off the books.

It was terrifying, as we were heavily back loaded, our sales looked more like a hockey stick. It was common for about 90% of the quarter's bookings to come in the last month of the quarter, and probably 70% in the last week of the quarter.

And mid-December it looked like we would miss. By a LOT.

The Meeting

We gathered for our usual senior staff meeting, and the topic was how to get as much bookings (and hopefully revenue, as we had built to ship orders that were expected by the end of the quarter) as possible. Tons of ideas, but the leader of sales was adamant that his team needed to not be burdened with the blocking and tackling of the sales process. The gist was that they needed to spend their time pounding the streets, not qualifying leads...

The leads

If only someone could call and qualify these leads, the sales staff could work at closing.

The pivot

Upon hearing this, our VP/GM turned to stare at me, and said: "Geoff, I need you to get on the phone and start calling all the leads to qualify them, and relieve the burden on the sales team to allow them to close orders."

At first, I was in a fog. Did my manager, our VP, really just tell me to start doing cold calls, smile and dial, to prequalify and start the sales funnel?

Yes, yes he did.

Gobsmacked, I just stared for probably 15 seconds, and then I said:

I have a better idea. I quit right now, and you can take my senior product manager salary, and hire at least 4 inside sales people, people who are skilled at the art of qualifying leads, and I will go work on my resume.

Then, I grabbed my notepad and walked back to my office, packed a few of my personal belongings into my backpack, and as I walked out the front door, I removed my keycard from my wallet and dropped it on the receptionist's desk, expecting to have my other belongings returned later. I walked out in a haze.

It was too early to go home, so I went to a local watering hole to have a beer and decompress.

The aftermath

About 45 minutes later, my cell phone rang, and it was a NY area code. I picked it up, and lo and behold, it was the admin assistant of our CEO. He wanted to have a discussion with me, and would I take his call.

Gulp. This had happened only once before, and I was totally unsure what would transpire, but I took the call, stepping outside the bar.

He was profusely apologetic and pleaded with me to give it a second chance, if I could just return to the office.

I am going to admit that I was a bit terrified about being unemployed at that juncture, the recession was just beginning to set in, and I was living in Tucson Arizona, not exactly a hotbed of tech companies who would hire a product manager. Certainly, that weighed on my mind, but I queried him to ask how this would go down, since I sorta lost my shit on my way out. He assured me that he had spoken very directly (and directively) to the VP/GM, and that there would be no repercussions. He (the VP) was out of line, panicked and grasping at any port in a storm.

So, I went back, but I knew that I needed an exit strategy, and about 10 months later landed another great product management role in town. I didn't even need to move!

How the CEO got involved?

Years later, I connected with a few of my old colleagues, and it turns out that most of the people at the table were absolutely gob smacked by the exchange. That it was completely inappropriate, and that the VP had overstepped his bounds.

One of them, the director of R&D got on the horn with an Executive VP, who then looped in the CEO to a "situation" and advised that he get involved to sort this out.

Final Thoughts

Look, I know that the product manager role collects a lot of bullshit tasks that really belong to other orgs, but as the last link in the chain, the product manager will pull it off to ensure that the customer is satisfied.

But to tell your product team to officially take on the role of inside sales is really a step too far.