Don Fried — Playwright & Author

Posts Tagged ‘sales

When I was still working for a living, I was on the road pretty much Monday through Friday, 40 or more weeks a year.  My job was selling large, multi-national Information Technology Services outsourcing deals,  usually in the $500 million and up value range, and sometimes in the multiple billions of dollars.

Deals like those are not high percentage wins; you win about one in 10, and you work on each deal for an average of  about 18 months.  Do the math.  10% hit rate; 18 months work on each.  Yeah, you’re getting the idea.  (Maybe others are better at it, but that was it for me.)  Because of the size of the deals — one of the deals I worked on that closed was worth $20 billion — the company could afford to keep me around and well paid in between wins.

But that didn’t mean that there was much job satisfaction in working my ass off and constantly getting my hopes up, and then losing one deal after another  Take my word for it, it wasn’t a lot of fun.  And even in the incredibly rare cases where I worked on deals that won, there was always someone else who would manage to make sure that I had moved onto another deal months before and would steal the credit.

Which brings us to today’s really sad story.

One evening when Rhonda, Eric, David and I were still living in England, the four of us sat down to the all-too-infrequent event of eating dinner together.  (I think it was some time around 1994.)  We had a dog at the time, and the dog was in the habit of doing in the back yard what  dogs do in back yards.

“Someone’s got to go out and clean up Sheba’s poop from the back yard,” I announced.dog-pooping1

“Ooh, I hate that job, I hate that job,” shouted David and Eric in chorus.  (Rhonda remained silent, since she was generally exempted from poop-cleaning duties.)

“Really?” I responded.  “I kind of like it.”

The three of them looked at me like I had two heads.  It got me to thinking.  Why would anybody like that job?

And I realized.  I would go out into the back yard with a shovel in one hand and a plastic bag in the other.  The plastic bag was empty and the yard was full.  15 minutes later, the yard was empty and the plastic bag was full.  I’d actually accomplished something! And nobody was going to steal the credit from me.

That was as close as I came to job satisfaction for 30 years.  And that was when it occurred to me that I really needed to get a life. It took me another 12 years to get it.

I told you it was a sad story.

puppet1For nearly all of my working life, I was seriously at the mercy of other people. And what wasn’t at the mercy of other people was, to an absurd degree, subject to luck (fate?).

Yes, I taught English as a Foreign Language for a couple of years, and in the classroom I had at least some control over the students. Not much, but some. But then I went into the business world, where any shred of control evaporated faster than the net worth of my retirement fund over the past six months.

Most of my career was spent in sales and sales support for large, multi-national computer services deals. We’re talking about contracts worth $100 million and up. The largest topped out in the billions. These types of deals often take two or more years to develop, and if it looks as though there is a chance that a deal will close, the lead members of the sales team will be dedicated full time.

But deals like this have an extremely low win rate. There are an infinite number of things that must all go right, and if any one of them goes wrong, two years of work go down the drain.

The Dutch shipping executive whom you’ve spent two years selling your deal to can’t convince his bosses? Pack your bags and fly to Zurich. Your client champion at the Swiss chocolate manufacturer just got fired? Lose a turn and move to Helsinki. The exchange rate of the Hungarian forint goes up against the Finnmark, and you’re bidding your Budapest solution center? Kiss your deal with the Finnish mobile phone manufacturer goodbye and fly to Turin. You were stupid enough to waste your time trying to sell to the Italian automobile manufacturer and you aren’t selling for IBM? Shame on you for being such a doofus. But there’s a deal in Germany that’s hot. You forgot to sell the deal to the janitor in the factory in Cologne? You’re not very good at this, are you? Maybe you should try opening up a Haagen Dasz franchise.

Every one of those things, and dozens of others like them, actually happened to me. OK, the one about the janitor I made up, but the principle is valid. There was always somebody or something that could kill my deal unexpectedly. Over 30 years, I figure that I closed about 10% of the deals I started. Of course, I didn’t spend two years on every deal. Lots of them went away much quicker. But even if the average was, say, a year, the math is still pretty discouraging. 30 year career, 10% hit rate, 1 year per – that’s 30 deals worked on, of which 27 disappeared into the ether. And that’s thousands of pages of great work done late at night that had to be fed into the shredder before I moved to the next opportunity. Discouraging? Hell, yes!

Why would companies employ me for 30 years with a win-rate like that? Because the profit on one successful billion dollar contract is enough to cover all the expenses for the lost deals and still pay for the corporate big shots’ fleet of private jets. That’s why.

The team working on the larger deals would be 200 people or more. I was reasonably high in the hierarchy, but there were still always lots of people above me. You know that expression about s*%$ rolling downhill? Just call me Mr. Brownface.

On one huge contract, I was responsible for writing the executive summary for the proposal. By the time that document was submitted, we were on Version 236d! The final days of writing that proposal were like the car-washing scene from “Cool Hand Luke.”

Boss 1: “Put a comma in here.”

Me: “Puttin’ it in here, Boss.”

Boss 2: “We don’t need this comma.”

Me: “Takin’ it out here, Boss.”

Boss 1: “I thought I told you to put a comma here.”

Me: “Puttin’ it back in, Boss.”

Boss 2: “What’s that comma doing in the Warden’s document?”

Me: “Takin’ it out here, Boss.”

Are you getting the point? I was definitely NOT IN CHARGE.

Finally, I decided to quit it all and start doing something where I am in

Deus Ex Machina

Don as a deity, controlling the scene

complete control. As a playwright, I’m like the deity who’s suspended from the contraption in the corner of the stage in a Greek play. I’ve got a character who’s a 90 years old man and he’s decided he’s going to become the heavyweight boxing champion of the world? But that doesn’t work for the play? Poof! He’s a 17 year old girl, and he (she) is pregnant. What a feeling of POWER!

So after all those years of being a flea on the great stallion of life, I am finally

Large And In Charge

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, you’ll have to excuse me. I’ve got to go mail off copies of my new book, Ups & Downs to a hundred reviewers. Maybe one of them will actually read it. Then, I’m going to send copies of my latest play, “Shakespeare Incorporated” to 75 theaters. My hit rate on those is about 1%.