A standard arrangement for many companies selling just about anything is an inside / outside sales team: the outside rep calls on the customers and prospects, the inside counterpart supports the selling effort in various ways: telephone follow-ups, routing orders through the system, handling emergencies, as well as many others.

The overall success of the company, then, depends to a great extent on how well these "teams" work together. I worked as an outside salesman for a company with this exact setup; one of the ongoing complaints at this company was the lack of cooperation between the "inside guys" and the "outside guys." The outside reps would consistently complain about how "their" teammate just didn't want to do very much beyond the bare minimum. (I'm sure the inside guys griped as well but I wasn't privy to their discussions as I was one of the outside guys.)

One thing I've learned is not only are there two sides to every story - there is almost always some background, some context, that needs to be learned in order to best understand the situation. In this case the background consisted of the simple fact that the inside reps were paid substantially less than the outside reps. Not only that, but the outside reps had a substantial commission program that could result in even higher earnings for them.

Pretending to work -- and pretending to get paid

The inside salespeople had some kind of a "bonus" plan as I recall but the reality was that even with bonuses their earnings were quite a bit less than ours. The bonus was also a "pool" type situation, meaning it was paid based on the overall performance of the inside team as a group. One person working really hard could be dragged down by the lackluster performance of one or more of the other "team" members. The bottom line was these guys had very little to motivate them.

My counterpart was a very bright, personable fellow named Chuck. He was trying to do a good job but I could tell the combination of endless bureaucratic busywork and lack of real motivation was beginning to take its toll. He was either going to leave or join the ranks of the "zombies," those poor souls that aren't motivated enough to do a good job but haven't quite found the courage to just quit. It was clearly just a matter of time.

I invited Chuck out to lunch. I explained an idea I'd had to him: if he would be willing to really bust his butt, to go out of his way to help me build up sales in the territory, I would share my commission checks with him. I forget the exact split we agreed on but it was something substantial, 60% me, 40% him, something like that. Not quite 50-50 as I recall but substantial.

I could tell he was skeptical but he agreed to give it a try. And did he ever! He literally came to life... he was on the phone all day long contacting people for me to go see; he'd run out on his lunch hour to get something to a customer that had to have it that day; he became an absolute genius at getting rush orders through the company's bloated paperwork system. He really helped me to keep the customers satisfied.

It worked, too. Sales increased almost immediately, and, of course, my commission checks increased. There is absolutely no question in my mind that Chuck was directly responsible for the lion's share of the additional commissions I started to receive. This is an important point which I'll come back to shortly.

A check for Chuck

After I'd received my next (larger) commission check I suggested to Chuck that we "do lunch" again. We sat down, I told him the results, took out my checkbook and wrote him a check.

ZZZZZap! I know how Ben Franklin must have felt when lightning struck that kite of his - Chuck looked like someone had plugged him into the wall socket! To say that he was pleased would be like saying Bill Gates knows a little bit about selling software. So what became of his new-found behavior, working harder than ever to help me get the sales figures up? He kept doing it! He just plain kept at it, and for the next year or so he and I both made more money than we had before. We had a good time working together, too. The company we worked for sold more of the stuff they were trying to sell, and the customers got better service than they were used to getting. Good deal all the way around.

At some point some of my counterparts, the other outside guys, began to notice the change in Chuck. Their guys were still behaving the old way, just more or less shuffling along, while Chuck was going off like a Roman candle on a daily basis.

"How did you do it?" "What's your secret?" Several of us outside guys had lunch one day and of course my new, improved "inside guy" was the hot topic of the day. They wanted one too!

Just cash, guys

So I told them. No real mystery, just cash. Nothing new about that, either. I even explained that I wasn't being altruistic or self-sacrificing in any way because I was paying Chuck out of the increase in my earnings. As I indicated above, I was now making more, even after giving Chuck his share, than I was before. So what was the downside of all this? None that I could see. I was more than happy to share this with my comrades. I was even naïve enough at the time to figure that they would go on and do some version of the same thing, with hopefully similar results.

They didn't. Not a one. They kept griping about their inside guys, their inside guys probably kept griping about them, and the status pretty much remained quo.

This was the point in my life when I began to suspect that sometimes the opportunity to complain about something is perhaps more important than the opportunity to fix it.