As a younger sales rep, just out of school and in professional diapers, along with a bad tie and nose hair, there was always a little schadenfreude just before Christmas.
No Big Fatty that year? Then you’re out.
Better you than me. I gotta go to work.
For years, Kent had watched mostly nice people, earnest people who just couldn’t make numbers end up on the street. Last year there was one guy about his age, Dylan, who actually cried when he got the email informing him of his departure and then pleaded with the sender, Stan the Sales Manager, for another chance.
“Like hell,” Stan said, before kicking Dylan out of his office and having him escorted from the premises, past all those flashy, however pre-owned, sports cars.
In the immortal words of a good friend from Kent’s youth, it was too bad. But the words were pronounced something akin to, too baaaad. Two words that fairly dripped with schadenfreude.
Couldn’t hit the ground running and build a client list? Too baaad.
Couldn’t close a deal to save your life? Too baaad.
Couldn’t hook even one big fish?
You get the idea.
Stan always let underperforming reps go before the holidays, so it didn’t weigh on him Christmas morning, when his grandkids were opening gifts.
Conscience clear, he once told Kent, “Someday, you will, too.”
But this was different. Stan was in the Bahamas now, with some babe that was half as old as him, retired and enjoying the good life with plenty of scratch and little blue pills.
Kent was Stan. And it was December 15. The kids were at home prepping for the big visit from Santa, trying to be good, though good is a relative term for nine- and six-year-olds.
Meanwhile, Kent was at the office, getting ready to do his due diligence.
This year, there were three that he had to launch.
Bill was in his early thirties, married, two kids, just like Kent. He was a slow talker, taking almost too much time to choose his words with clients who were used to a sales process that was brisk. Taking too much time to do anything was usually a career killer. Kent secretly wondered if he was depressed and on medication that made him talk so friggin’ slow. Maybe, maybe not. But the dealership reputation was on the line with every customer. You can’t have a dolt in a sales position.
Then there was Jared. He was the antithesis of Bob, a fast talker whose apparent objective was to bed as many women as humanly possible while treating the job as a sort of talisman. One time, a swarthy customer named Dave, the kind of guy with the first three buttons of his shirt undone, revealing black chest hair and a big gold chain, dropped in the dealership to eye up a used Porsche. Jared chatted up his wife for a half-hour before surreptitiously inviting her to his place. Dave found out, and threatened to whack him.
He had to go, too. Kent didn’t want blood on his hands from a loose cannon.
Finally, Lindsay was petite and even-handed, a mom to three and the wife to a decent guy Kent had met only once. She was one of the last hires Stan had made before flying off to the Bahamas. Lindsay’s problem wasn’t that she didn’t make her numbers; she did, though the end of every month was an adventure as she swore she was working on something big. But when the clock was ticking, she seemed to pull through. All except last month, when a big deal fell through just after Thanksgiving. At least she was honest and swore she would do better.
No, Lindsay’s problem was Kent. She was smart, detail-oriented and thus in her own way intimidating, someone Kent could secretly see sitting in The Big Chair someday.
That wasn’t going to happen. He was a year into the job and there was no damn way he was going to allow someone like Lindsay hang around in the periphery, smiling and waiting.
The whole Thanksgiving episode was his out for her.
She’d be back on her feet in no time, Kent reasoned, probably at one of the competitor dealerships that lined South La Grange Road in between strip malls, fast-food joints and frozen custard stands. The big joke on the sales floor was that most of the thick traffic on the road were test drives, broken by the occasional ambulance or copper.
Bill. Jared. Lindsay. Kent pressed Compose, typed their email addresses in the To line, then typed in the Subject line:
Too baaad! You’re out!
He chuckled aloud, then deleted those words. Even he wasn’t that heartless, but he could see Stan doing something like that. He tried again.
Please clear your desk
There it was. Much better. And he had even had the forthwith to say please.
The email itself was far easier to write. He didn’t even use a salutation.
Due to substandard performance, we have decided to move forward without you. Please clear your desk and report to human resources.
Then, he typed:
Another chuckle, before deleting that and leaving the space blank.
They would know who it was from.
Stan always told him it was easier to fire people this way. No emotion, no crying, no pleas, no promises of better performance.
When you’re done, you’re done. End of story. Sure, it was a shock, but people were resilient, Stan said. People always bounced back, and hell, if they wanted to use Stan as an example of someone evil who pushed them into a different, happier career, he was fine with that.
Kent hovered his tiny finger cursor that looked like Mickey Mouse’s hand over the Send button.
Be courageous. For these people, going elsewhere was the only way. There were plenty of experienced sales reps up and down South La Grange Road that could step into their roles and thrive.
He looked up. It was Lindsay.
“There’s never a right time to bring this up, but I’m going to have to move on,” she said, sitting down in the chair opposite his desk.
Kent put his right thumb and forefinger together and placed them in front of his lips.
“Why?” he found himself saying.
Inner monologue: Don’t say that! This is a gift. A Christmas gift. You’ve now got an out.
She looked down, then up.
“My husband was just diagnosed with colon cancer, and I’ve got to be home.”
Steady, Kent. This is a break.
“Okay, okay,” he said, sitting up. “What can I do to help?”
What can I do to help? Nothing, you idiot. Let her go, then ditch the other two. Christmas would be merry, and quiet.
Lindsay raised her eyebrows.
“There’s nothing,” she replied. “He’s taken a turn for the worse. You know the real reason I missed that deal at the end of last month? I was in the hospital with him and had fallen asleep in the ICU.”
Oh, is this going to get any worse? Kent thought. And then it did.
“You’re a good guy, Kent,” she said. “I’m going to miss working with and for you.”
“I’ll take my leave now.”
Now Kent stood.
“Wait, wait,” he said. “Maybe we can work something out.”
Her eyes widened. Was Kent emboldened by this? Perhaps.
“Maybe…maybe you could go part-time,” he said. “Maybe you can take off as need be to be with…”
He didn’t even know her husband’s name. Lindsay filled in the blank.
“Right, Jerry. If he’s having a rough patch, I’m guessing you need the income.”
He sat back down and caught glimpse of the email on his computer screen.
Please clear your desk
“Yes, but you need someone who’s reliable, and I can’t guarantee that,” she said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I need to be there for it. I’m sorry, but this is very important to me.”
Kent allowed a long exhale.
“You’re sure?” he said.
And with that, she strode out of the room.
Damn, he thought. Just damn.
Staring once again at his computer screen, the first thing he did was X out Lindsay’s name from the To line of the email.
Then he X’d out Bill and Jared’s names.
Then he deleted the email from his Drafts folder.
Too baaad, Kent.
You got schooled.