Five Pints (Issue 831)

In which we consider whether blindly increasing sales team account loads (to make a business model work) is the best plan.

So, I’m sitting at the bar in a Cambridge pub watching TV sports, waiting for my dinner. And, I’m looking around a bit. And I see this young guy, maybe in his early ‘20s, not a big guy, carrying a tray of beers. He’s come around the end of the bar and he has six pints of Guinness on the tray and he’s balancing the tray on one hand, you know, all professional-like. But he’s wobbling a bit with it. I can see he’s fighting with the tray and the beers.

And, he approaches the high round top where his six customers are standing… balancing the tray with his left hand underneath it, right? And, with his right hand, he lifts one of the beers on the right side of the tray to put it on the table.

The tray is now unbalanced and it tilts sharply to his left, pouring five pints of Guinness into the lap of and down the trouser legs of the customer standing to the server’s immediate left. I know about the trouser legs because the customer was wearing light khaki pants and you could see every bit of that lovely dark beer as it sloshed, soaked, and cascaded down the guy’s legs. There was beer everywhere. And broken glass.

I turned to the bartender, across the bar from me. An Irishman. First, he was irritated that so much Guinness had been wasted. (I made that up, I’m not completely sure that’s true.) Second, he was horrified by the effect of the beer on the customer and his clothing. Third, he was COMPLETELY disgusted by the server’s inept delivery of the beer. Words to the effect of “the kid’s trying to be a hero and now look what a mess we’ve got” came tumbling from his lips. There may have been some other words included, among them “And it’s a good thing it wasn’t hot tea he was carrying or we’d REALLY be in for it.”

Anyway, the customer took it all in stride; the serving kid was whisked away from duty, out the back; the cleanup crew arrived; and, within about 10 minutes, order was restored.

I wondered: What was the server thinking? He could have made two trips. Even three trips. But he tried to be a hero and carry all the beers his boss, the bartender, had given him.

And it got me to thinking, in this time of bean counting, expense cutting, and lean organizations in which companies reduce the admin support, cut sales team head counts, and load up the remaining reps with more accounts so they can make the business model work… Is this really a good plan?

There are young kids, starting out in their sales careers, as well as more experienced players who are trying to carry all the accounts their sales managers have given them, trying to be heroes, trying to make a go of it, like this kid in the bar… and they can’t. They’re not strong enough or skilled enough yet.

So, do we remove them from duty, like this kid in the bar? Fail them? Or do we (as sales leaders) think a little smarter about sales channels, territory assignments, value creation, and account loads – which high value accounts should be managed and to what extent – so reps can actually carry and serve the accounts they’re given rather than letting a bunch of them drop to the floor.

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