When You Feel Screwed: 3 Steps to Get Help!

Difficult Times

If you are like many of us, there will be a time in your career that things will go wrong.  You will feel aggrieved that it does not appear that you get equal or fair treatment, including important resources like preferred territories, distribution of prized or house accounts, or even issues regarding salary increases or promotions as compared to your peers.


This problem can be vexing in the sales workplace.  You might feel embarrassed, emasculated, and even paralyzed, yet need to have answers.  Your job is important to you and your family, so you must take care to do this correctly.  It is also difficult because you feel powerless to affect outcomes when you believe management is working against you.

Yes, you feel your options are limited as you are working hard to insure that you keep your job, yet your results don’t always put you in a position of strength.  Frankly, I have been there.

What Are Your Options?

There are some things you can do; yet you need to do them correctly.  I am going to give you an example:

Problem -Distribution of orphaned accounts and prospects to favored sales representatives.

As a sales professional you know how refreshing it is to get customers and prospects that you do not have to prospect for.  Customers who get the introduction to you as their new representative  feel instant credibility based on the organization that you work for and will give you a chance to consummate the relationship by your actions.  That credibility can be very important to a Black sales professional.   I also talk about “the spoils of sales” and how the distribution of business and prospects can help, or hinder.  I made references to situations like this in Black Sales Journal December Post of Preference, Perceptions, Prejudice and Your Employer.  Feel free to take another look at it.

When you are seeing these accounts distributed to other sales executives who have less experience, less product or service knowledge, and less tenure than you have, it can be disheartening.  This happened to me years ago when I was a sales representative.  You may feel powerless, but you should not feel voiceless.

I was pretty good at selling commercial insurance products to medium and large businesses in the Chicago metropolitan area many years ago.  I was also proud of the organization that I worked for 5 years (eventually I retired from virtually the same organization with 32 years).  You can imagine what I felt like when in the midst of various situations where there were several distributions of prospects and accounts and I received literally nothing.

What I did was simple.  If faced with the problem, you should do it as well:

STEP # 1 – Research your sales record and your effort and be brutally honest

Be honest with yourself about your record, which will buttress you case, as well as the situation.  Did you handle a previous situation like this poorly?  Take an honest account.

  • Seek Counsel - Find someone (a sales colleague or another sales professional) who is objective that you can seek honest counsel with and really listen to his or her response.
  • Review Your Activities - Take positive account regarding what you have received in terms of “call-ins”, and other business, and any other failures.
  • Take account - Know what you have done with this type of business, and be prepared to show the facts.
  • Know Your Total Performance -Note your total performance, activity and production, and be ready to account for why it should have come to you.
  • Be Ready to Prove Up! - Note that speculation and conjecture do not count, it is “not what you know, but what you can prove”!

STEP #2 – Have a frank but professional discussion with the sales manager or principal.

I went to my manager and advised of my concerns.  I was one of two Black sales professionals in a staff of over thirty-five.  I talked clearly, and unemotionally, and stated my concerns.  We reached agreement that I did deserve more.  The facts should speak for themselves, yet you still may not reach an agreement.

You may find that it is still an issue.  I met with the manager again four months later, yet felt the need to hedge my actions and set up a meeting with Human Resources as well.  In my discussion with my manager, I had to make the inevitable statement that I was still bothered and that my concerns were being ignored.

Here is the part where you have to put your self “out there”.  Do not be afraid of the conflict generated from it.  Conflict can be healthy if done correctly.  If you believe in the situation, and your right to be there,  it is what you have to do!

This meeting might seem fruitless to some, yet it is the meeting that gives you the opportunity to say that you may need to look for some satisfaction or discussion elsewhere.  The manager should not be surprised at that point when HR calls to get his rendition of the facts.

STEP #3 – Make Your Case with the Human Resource Manager

Let’s be clear here, you need a party that can be fair and is also interested.  I am not telling you that the HR manager or generalist is an ally, but I am telling you that this individual has a tendency to be fair, and has knowledge about how the company will handle such a concern.

The reason that you had the conversation with the manager first is because that would be the first request of HR, or anyone else called in to help.  It just makes sense.

For HR you want to do the following:

  • Define the problem.
  • Summarize the conversations with the manager
  • Be clear about the disparate treatment or inequities, and be ready to prove up.
  • Open yourself up to asking for help.  That help might be having a discussion with the manager, getting clarifications, or even having discussion with the manager’s manager.

What you should not do is:

  • Lose emotional control
  • Play the “race card”
  • Talk about confrontation

In Summary

Whether it is distribution of favors, salary, or other issues regarding equitable treatment, Human Resources is not the end-all, yet they can be objective and provide perspective to both parties regarding equitable treatment. If you believe that it is because of racial discrimination you should be prepared to enunciate it clearly and succinctly with as much evidence as possible.

Always note that your previous record with HR, and your current sales record are all in play in this discussion.  But…if you are being treated unfairly, you should find comfort in discussing it without a focus on race as the possibilities of discrimination, if any is obvious, will be on the mind of a good HR manager or generalist anyway.

This is a sensitive subject with a heavy impact on the lives of sales professionals.

I look forward to your comments. You can reach me at michael.parker@blacksalesjournal.com.

Performance Programs: Do You Know What You are Up Against?

Depressed Sales Professional

I know that you’ve  heard about performance programs, even if you have not been in this situation!  It can be a bewildering position, but it is not uncharted territory.  You can beat a performance program.  You should never give up if it is constructed fairly and you are good at what you do.  don’t be bewildered, chart a course of action and get at it.


Are you currently being threatened with termination?  Have you been put on a performance program?  I have seen both sides of this issue, and want to make some comments that I hope will be beneficial.

As a threatened sales professional, my sales program was fortunately loosely put together, but it was program nonetheless. Performance programs for sales professionals are structured tightly now, and you should know that what you’ll see when you view the performance program is essentially a template document from past programs and even terminations.  It will be fairly tight, if the managers that put it together are good.

As a manager, I put together sales performance programs that were designed to get someone to generate sales results or be out within a prescribed amount of time.  I suppose that you would call it ‘sales justice’.  These programs should be designed to be fair and equitable.  It probably will be based on the current goals and how those goals would apply in a shortened time period.

Owning and maintaining a sales force, or even a single sales professional is expensive.  Whether it is a single professional or a sales force can be expensive.  It is a wasted resource if it is not productive, even for a short period.  Programs are a necessary process and when used correctly can reform some behavior,

Can You Beat a Program?

The answer is yes… if the program is fairly constructed.  Sales professionals beat programs often if they have been working hard.  A well constructed sales program is potentially beatable if:

  • Your goals are constructed fairly and the time limits are granted correctly
  • You have been working hard and are not starting from ‘scratch’
  • You have never stopped prospecting and recognize that prospecting is a required activity
  • Your company’s products are solid and priced properly
  • You have the sales skills necessary to be successful

To capsulize, if you have fair goals and have been working hard, you have a chance.  That chance is enhanced if you have been prospecting and working to sell your products to a wide base of prospects, and thus creating real, sellable opportunities.  If you don’t have the above bullets on your side, you are toast!

Defining Fairness

I would be remiss if I did not cover this portion.  Fairness is a concept that defines an employer’s actions.  Here is a simple example of fairness:

Your goals are as follows:

Sales in Dollars – $500,000

Cases sold – 25

New Prospects – 250

Quotes – 125

What you have here is a results and activity requirement.  New prospects and quotes are activity standards, and dollar sales and cases sold are result standards.  Activity leads to results, so both are necessary.  Some sales organizations will rest on the results standards and require their sales professionals to reach the results goal, but the best organizations realize that they must us both.  The presence of the prospecting and quote portion requires that those activities necessary to have future and continued success are being done.

So a fair performance program for 3 months would look like this:

Sales in Dollars – $150,000

Cases sold – 6

New Prospects – 63

Quotes – 31

The simple fact is that the goal for the performance program is an elementary 25% of the annual goal.  A simple but potentially fair goal.  It is based on the previous goal, and is apportioned in a way that probably could be justified and would hold up if tried in a court of law if the sales cycle worked in terms of lead-time and production time.

It Happened to Me!

As a fledgling account representative I was put on a program at a time when nothing would go right for me.  It was a time when our company’s product was good, but priced a little higher than the competition.  The program had a component that was centered around activity (how many quotes?) and on production (how much did I sell?).

I was successful and beat the program, but the key to that was that I had never stopped working, but had just not had success.  The activity portion does not guarantee anyone continued employment, but it is the process that counts.  I refer you to BSJ 2/28/11- How Many Prospects Do I Really Need? It is probably more than you think!

I will be honest that I was not confident that I would make it.  I had worked hard, but just had not been able to convert.  For some reason during the time when the program was in effect, I generated some sales and locked myself in. It also created an expectation that I worked hard to keep up with.  Remember your chances are always better if you never stop working!

If the Program Is Not Fair

If your program goals are not attainable, then you have a couple of problems that may be insurmountable.  You need to have the conversation with your manager re making the program ‘doable’.  If that does not give fruit, you need to have a conversation with human resources.  Do it immediately.

If you are behind the “8” Ball, my suggestion is to do what is above while you try to work through it.  In most programs there is a clause covering any other deterioration of work.  In other words, you could be terminated earlier if you slow down your work effort.

Sales is a occupation with much objectivity baked in to it.  Be as effective as possible, and recognize that this job may be aided by relationships and a plan, but if you are not getting results, you are forever vulnerable.

Drop a note regarding your program and how you will beat it.

Always be the best. You can reach me at Michael.Parker@blacksalesjournal.com.