Selling the Dream

Alison and several of my friends are involved in sales. I’ve tried my hand at it, too, in a sales engineering role – for those unfamiliar with that term, it means I go along with a salesman and make sure the product can actually do everything he/she is promising it can do. That can be harder than it sounds. Ultimately, though, I’m not crazy about selling because I’m not comfortable enough asking people for things. That doesn’t stop them from having to put up with all the same corporate bullshit the rest of us do.

Anyway, a friend of mine posted a video today that made me laugh.

At 6:35, it’s perhaps a little longer than it needs to be, and a little derivative of the HTC vs. iPhone video (you can see that at the Popdialectic Cinema), but I’ll wager it hits home with my sales friends. As I listened, though, it occurred to me that the issues and mechanisms our hero is complaining about are applicable much more broadly than just sales. I’ve repeatedly been “recognized” with an email or a gold star instead of rewarded monetarily. I’ve been invited to “employee appreciation” luncheons and happy hours at which they spent better than $100 a head … my reward for working hard with a group of people is to sacrifice what little personal time I get, to spend more time with them? Granted, many were friends of mine, but anyone with families, other plans, etc. gets hosed on that deal. I think if you asked the aggregate corporate work force of the U.S., they’d respond overwhelmingly that they’d much rather you take the cost of all the perks and just tack that onto an annual bonus. To bad no one’s running that focus group.

A company I worked for had a policy of paying extra moneys if you exceeded a certain number of billable hours in a month. After I was there a while, they changed that policy to require that you averaged over the maximum for an entire quarter, which torpedoed your chances of earning overtime if you had one or two slow weeks in the three-month period. They said this change was instituted “to improve employee quality of life” by discouraging us from working so many hours. Unfortunately, the revised compensation schedule was not accompanied by more people or less work. So you can guess where that one went. This is the same company that chose not to give raises a few years ago, quelling some of the grumbling (I was proud of my colleagues that it did) by pointing out that the move came amid a poor economy and was necessary to retain everyone. That was followed several weeks later by a wave of poorly-disguised lay-offs and push-outs.

In our grandparents’ time, you graduated school and went to work for one employer for your career. Even then, companies showed their appreciation by giving out gold watches after 30 years of service. Today, the situation is completely different. If you work for a publicly held company, and even most privately held firms, you’re only worth what you bring to the table. The realization better arms me to ask people for something. I’m more likely to demand what I’m worth because you never know how long the ride is going to last. Because when my employer tells me that we’re all in it together, that we’re all family … well, I’m just not sold.

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