Friday, December 24, 2004

Happy Holidays

A sincere thank you to all who have stopped by since I started this back in June. So glad to have "met" you.


Wednesday, December 22, 2004

...Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth

My former boss and current business partner, Bob, is a great guy who I respect and admire, but he’s one of those people who has the annoying habit of always taking the “Devil’s Advocate” position, often debating you over things you know he actually agrees with you on just for the sake of debating.

Case in point:

Our company, considering our small size, sells a pretty incredible amount of product for D., a small manufacturer out of the Midwest. We’re a good fit for each other – their product line has fairly limited distribution, making it easier for a small company like us to compete in the market, plus their line comes with other strategic advantages (like super long warranty periods) that make it an attractive product for our customers and us. We’re an attractive reseller to them because they know that, being small, we have a limited number of lines that we represent so their product will always be pushed heavily by us, unlike some larger dealers where D’s product line is just one of several dozen carried and thus more likely to get ignored.

But more so than anything else, it is our great relationship with Jeff, who manages our account at D., that has caused us to embrace this product line so heavily. Jeff is just an overall good guy. He is reasonably honest as far as salespeople go, calls often just to stay in touch and to see if there is anything he can help us out with and will always bend over backwards for us if we have a special request or need something in a hurry.

Because I so firmly believed we shared such a great, mutually beneficial relationship, it came as somewhat of an insult to me at this time last year to find that in appreciation of our terrific year in sales with his company, Jeff had sent my partners and I one of those generic Hickory Farms beef log packages to share between us.

Before I come off as sounding eternally ungrateful, I should explain that we had purchased an extraordinarily high quantity of product from Jeff’s company that year, meaning a great deal of profit for D. as a company, and by extension, Jeff personally. This was a classic case where I think it would have been less insulting had Jeff purchased us nothing at all, rather than buy us the most impersonal gift possible, a gesture that only signified that Jeff put absolutely zero thought, effort (or money) into the purchase.

What bothered me most was feeling like I had to appear somehow full of gratitude and obligated to push D.’s product even harder than before just because Jeff went through the absolute minimal effort of buying us a log of questionable meat product and a few stale crackers. By coincidence we placed a relatively large order with D. a day or two after receiving the beef log package, resulting in a phone call from Jeff who commented, “You guys sure do appreciate that gift I sent you, huh?” It was real hard to bite my tongue on that one.

In the grand scheme of things, I really didn’t take this all that seriously, but I did jokingly mention to my business partners how tacky I found the gift to be. Bob of course had to take the opposing point of view, attempting to convince me that not only was the beef log package an incredibly kind of thoughtful gesture on Jeff’s part, but also a great and wonderful gift in and of itself. The fact the beef log went entirely untouched for weeks afterward didn’t do a whole lot to further his argument.

A perfect opportunity to call Bob’s bluff came just a short time later. Our account manager at a different vendor had given us a lead that ultimately turned into a six-figure sale for us. We all thought it would be a nice gesture to send this particular account manager a gift to show our appreciation for the great lead. My partners all started throwing out rather pricey gift ideas, like a new tool set, expensive video equipment, etc. I suggested a beef log package (around $20). Bob started to protest, suggesting that a beef log package might seem a bit chintzy considering the size of the sale. I reminded Bob that it was he who had enlightened me to the wondrous joy that is a beef log. I’m sure you’ll all be surprised to learn I’m still waiting for my thank you note from this particular vendor. Nor have we received any more leads from them, come to think of it. NOTE TO SELF: Don’t sacrifice potentially lucrative sales just to prove a philosophical point.

To Jeff's credit, his gift-buying skills have improved greatly over the past year (or maybe it's just because we had an even better year in sales) because we all just received individual bottles of wine from him. The twist-off cap leads me to believe this may not be the finest of vintages, but hey, it was a nice gesture. My business partners must really appreciate all I do around here too, because they got me this:


Thursday, December 16, 2004

...Goochin' On: Extended Dance Mix

*Over the last few days I’ve noticed a significant increase in the number of daily visitors to this site. Perhaps it’s mere coincidence, but this coincides with the bombshell announcement from Sloth that she will not be continuing to regularly update her wildly popular "Slow Adventures in Slothville" blog. Like anyone else who puts their writing out there to be read, I appreciate the increased readership, but can’t help but feel a little bit like the girl who only gets hit on after her better looking friend has already picked a guy to hook up with.*

Name Dropping
*My college sweetheart, Kari, ran into Peter Tork of the Monkees on a few occasions. It’s a long and boring story, but the short version is that her mom was very into singing and was heavily involved with a local community chorus and by extension was somehow involved in an annual a capella competition that Tork participated in as a judge. In my years of dating Kari I found it highly amusing how she would so often try to work her connection to this most minor of celebrities into conversation. Her preferred device was the "make a confusing comment that leads to a follow-up question" method, i.e. when someone would mention the Monkees Kari would respond with something along the lines of, "Yeah, that Peter Tork sure is a jerk", leading the original commenter to ask,"Really? Have you met him or something?" and thus giving her an opening to share her story. Seeing as how rarely the Monkees tend to come up in daily conversation, I guess it's possible that I may recall this as happening far more often than it actually did.

I bring this up because with the Lemony Snicket Series of Unfortunate Events film opening up tomorrow, I find myself in the conflicted position of not wanting to look like a name-dropper by mentioning my very vague connection to the writer of the ASOUE series of books, but would feel equally weird pretending that it doesn’t exist. So:

I went to preschool with Lemony Snicket’s younger sister. Our families become close enough friends (particularly our fathers who both worked in the same industry) that we continued to see them occasionally throughout the years, though I don’t think I’ve seen Daniel himself since his sister’s Bat Mitzvah which was, geez, probably 18 years ago. Our relationship is such that I’m sure he would never recognize me by sight and probably not immediately by name, but I bet I could probably get him to remember our connection within a minute or a minute and a half if I explained it well enough.

I wonder if Mr. Handler brags to his friends about his very vague connection to the writer of "The Gooch On..."* That was a joke, for the sarcastically impaired.

Building a Better Boy
*A running joke between my stepsons and I is how I suffered through an abused childhood because my mom would never allow me to have an Atari, Nintendo or any other sort of video game console. It’s funny, my parents for the most part were incredibly easy-going, but that one thing - the notion that video games were a useless, mind-numbing waste of time was something my mom felt very strongly about. I can still get a rise out of her at the mere suggestion that she buy a Playstation game for either of my stepkids when their birthdays come up.

Today, as an adult, I guess I’m somewhat ambivalent on the subject. In looking back at my childhood, I can say that at no point do I remember ever feeling deprived or wanting because many of my friends had game consoles and I did not, but at the same time it’s not as if I spent the time I would otherwise have been rotting my brain playing video games on any particular worthwhile activity like reading Chaucer or teaching myself how to speak Italian. I think it just caused me to spend more time watching wrestling.*

Dry Spells: An Analogy
I think a very legitimate comparison can be made between the dry spells that a person occasionally runs into in his (or her) personal life and a sales slump that often occurs in a salesperson’s professional life. During both, there is a tendency to make far more out of what in any other circumstance would be considered neutral or insignificant statements or gestures. For example, a supermarket cashier’s, "How are you doing today", the same one she gives to anyone who happens to walk through her line and the same one that would usually go completely unnoticed, can be twisted into a "Hmmm, she wouldn’t say that if she didn’t want me now would she?"

Likewise, during a sales slump a professional salesperson will often obsess over accounts that any impartial observer can clearly see has very little interest in actually buying anything. This would have been a good theory to remember before I headed out to Las Vegas on Monday. We were no more than twenty minutes into the drive when simply in the interest of making conversation I asked my business partner, Kevin, who has been going through a terrible sales slump going on a year and half now, how the appointment with the Las Vegas client had come about. I expected him to respond with something about the customer calling him to arrange the meeting because of a project he (the client) was anxious to move forward with. My heart sank when Kevin instead responded that he had left numerous unreturned phone messages and emails for this potential client before finally getting through and practically begging the client to allow us to travel out to Vegas to demonstrate a product for him.

Now, this type of aggressiveness may be considered good salesmanship in some circles, but when you’re traveling 500 miles round trip to meet with a client it’s preferred that it be for an actual, legitimate sales opportunity, not the result of someone agreeing to see you only to avoid further harassment. Turns out they’re probably going to buy something from us, but not a dollar amount high enough to really justify the trip. Not that I don’t appreciate the opportunity to order $10 scotch and sodas at the Ghost Bar at the top of The Palms.

Going back to my dating analogy - this business trip, while fun, was the equivalent of starting out a night thinking you have a real shot at a menage-a-trois with two hot women who are willing to do anything, including anal, and then realizing that even in the best case scenario the most your going to end up with is a hickey.*

Monday, December 13, 2004


Guess where I'm going on a business trip later today?

Sin City.

Guess what type of customer I'm going to meet with?

A Christian school.

First lesson they teach their students - Move out of Vegas.

See ya Wednesday.


Wednesday, December 08, 2004

...Cultural Relativism

Coming from a “minority” religion, I’ve always tried my best, albeit often unsuccessfully, to be open-minded about religious traditions different from my own. I’ve long been of the belief that most religious practices probably seem rather cult-like to those who don’t follow them.

I am completely comfortable in a synagogue service, but I would imagine the whole experience would seem not unlike joining the Moonies to the uninitiated, as they saw a temple full of people chanting in a strange foreign tongue, alternatively standing up and sitting down like robots at the beck and call of the rabbi.

Earlier this year, my wife and I determined that it would be a good idea to expose the children to religion as a means of helping to reinforce the moral and ethical values we try to teach in our home. Being in a mixed marriage and seeing as there were 3 of them and only 1 of me, that pretty much meant we were going to church.

We chose to attend an outdoor Easter service held at a park not far from our house. I tried my best not to be judgmental, but it was challenging. Being used to my own non-proselytizing religion, it was hard not to feel like I had mistakenly walked into an Amway convention the way I was constantly instructed by the minister to spread the gospel to my unsuspecting friends and family. When we were asked to turn around to find a neighbor we didn’t know and introduce ourselves, I had just about reached my corniness boiling point. The situation wasn’t made better by the fact we were in plain sight of some very appealing playground equipment that my stepkids kept asking permission to play on. When my younger stepson, then 8, upset at our denying his request, rolled his eyes, folded his arms and exclaimed, “I FREAKIN’ HATE CHURCH”, I knew ours was an experiment gone horribly, horribly wrong.

I left the service that day feeling rather superior, until I reminded myself that at that very moment the majority of my family was living on a strict matzo diet because of something that may or may not have happened thousands of years ago. I guess no religion has a monopoly on silly customs.

Except there is one area where I’m pretty convinced us Jews got it right. As a kid, all 8 present-receiving nights of Hanukkah, I knew exactly where my bread was buttered.

As a newbie to the Christmas tradition, I, for the life of me, will never understand the logic behind the concept where you, as a parent, drive yourself to the brink of absolute destitution buying gifts for your children and then, BY DESIGN, receive absolutely zero credit for your generosity and instead intentionally convince your kids that the presents under the tree were brought by a mythical fat old man in a red suit who had them manufactured in the North Pole. No offense, but that’s just stupid.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Don't Make Me Do It Without the Fez On

In the category of "Now I Think I’ve Seen It All", I was watching the latest edition of HBO’s new documentary series "Pornucopia: Going Down in the Valley", where I was made aware that there exists a video where a grossly overweight woman (I’d estimate between 400-500 pounds) is covered in flour, allowing her partner to “search for the wet spot”.


Wednesday, December 01, 2004

...An Addendum to my "Things to be Thankful For" List

I suppose it is inevitable that the spectacular eventually becomes the mundane.

Take sex for example. I remember being in high school, when sex occurred for me, at best, sporadically, and thinking how much happier my life would be if I was in a relationship where I could have sex whenever I wanted.

I bet that version of myself would have been quite disappointed in the 18-year-old me. My college girlfriend had come up from the LA area to stay with me for a few days during the Summer while my parents were out of town at a cousin’s wedding. One afternoon after she had just finished taking a shower, she came into the room I was in, walked over to where I was sitting and started to slowly hike up her towel – an obvious invitation for some sex. But my favorite wrestling newsletter had just arrived in the mail, so I chose to decline. It wasn’t that I had gotten bored with sex; it was just that it was happening often enough for me that it simply wasn’t that big of a deal anymore

Professionally speaking, my first year out of college, when I was working a dead-end customer service job alongside people who I’m not sure had even finished high school, spending my days doing what amounted to data entry, I knew that the one thing that stood between me and professional happiness was a position in sales. Not only would the pay be much better, but it would also bring what I truly desired which was the respect, admiration and high-esteem the position brought with it.

When I was finally offered a sales position within the company, I did earn all those things I had hoped for, but also found the job was often stressful, the pedestal salespeople were put on was not nearly as high as I had imagined, and that when you earn more money, ultimately it just means that you end up spending more money. I would never have traded my new position for my old entry-level one, but it didn’t quite live up to the spectacular fantasies I had imagined in my mind beforehand.

Likewise, for years I dreamed of owning my own business. Working for other people, I was often frustrated by silly restrictions on my ability to sell, like territorial limitations, having no control over the marketing that could potentially increase sales and the huge corporate bureaucracy that made it near impossible to ever get anything done.

Don’t get me wrong. Every day I count my lucky stars that I don’t have to answer to a moronic boss, that I now look forward to Mondays instead of dreading them and don’t have to ask permission like a 1st-grader if I need to leave early or want to take a day off.

But even owning my own business has a certain sameness to it to the degree that eventually it just sort of becomes like any other job minus a few annoyances. There are definitely the days when 5 o’clock can’t come fast enough or when I look at the piles of paperwork on my desk and wish I could have some low-level job where one mistake on my part wouldn’t send the entire company into shambles.

So it is nice when something happens to break up the normal routine and remind me of how lucky I am.

Yesterday, I had a sales call at a company that manufactures lube. Sometimes it’s good to be me.
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