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Real Deal

Real Deal: The Case of the Million-Dollar Mess-Up



Real Deal: The Case of the Million-Dollar Mess-Up 


Editor’s Note: Real Deal scenarios are inspired by true stories, but are changed to sharpen the dilemmas involved. The names of the characters and stores have been changed and should not be confused with real people or places.

Salespeople with natural talent and a good work ethic are few and far between. That’s what Caroline Greenlee kept telling herself as she watched her million-dollar superstar, Max Arden, selling a diamond bracelet to a woman who came into pick up a watch repair. She could see where this was heading. Max would make the sale. He would take the client up to the register and process the transaction, continuing his witty repartee the whole time. She would be thrilled, and would leave the store vowing to show off her new treasure and tell all her friends about the amazing service at Greenlee’s.

Everything would be fine till the end of the day, when the bookkeeper would try to close out the cash drawer and reconcile the credit card deposit … or maybe until the next day when the customer would look at her receipt and realize the price she was quoted was not the same as the price she was charged … or maybe until the next week when the guarantee and appraisal that Max promised wouldn’t arrive at the client’s home and that “amazing service” began to look a bit less amazing.


Max was not new with Greenlee’s. He started with the store bout five years ago, right out of college. Caroline’s mother hired Max as a favor to a friend. His progress in sales was nothing short of spectacular from the start. As with every Greenlee hire, Max had been provided with extensive product knowledge and selling skills training, and he’d been thoroughly trained in store procedure as well. The problem was that Max was hopeless with details.

The first sign of trouble came early, when Mrs. Greenlee noticed that Max’s work station was always cluttered and disorganized. She asked Caroline, then the sales manager, to work with Max on setting up a workable system. But it seemed that as soon as order was restored, his space would just “blow up” again. It got harder to criticize him, though, as Max’s sales continued to rise every month. It wasn’t as though he wasn’t trying, either. Caroline could see that he really wanted to do well and to be everything the store needed. Finally, in sheer frustration, Caroline decided to move Max’s mess into the back room, where it would at least be hidden from client view.

In the first two years, when the store wasn’t too busy, Mrs. Greenlee or Caroline or one of the other salespeople would always be handy to help Max write up his sales, and because there was no POS system back then, there was always a cashier to count the money or to process the client’s check or credit card. Caroline was able to keep on him for follow-up, so not much fell through the cracks.

The serious clerical errors didn’t start till a few years into Max’s tenure, when volume had built to a steady pace, and Greenlee’s had installed new, state-of-the-art management software. Everyone in the store was trained on the system, and was expected to use it to process sales and repair transactions, and to manage client services and information. Caroline knew that Max was computer savvy and comfortable with using his laptop for everything from social networking to diamond searches on vendor web sites, so she had high hopes that this turn to technology would help keep him accurate and organized as his client base continued to grow.

Max took great pride in his ability to handle the register – except that he couldn’t. In a matter of weeks, the store’s bookkeeper began to notice occasional discrepancies in cash and credit card balances, most of which could be traced back to careless transactions handled by Max. Caroline talked with him repeatedly, and was met each time with an apology and a promise to do better. As the mistakes became more frequent, and as new issues involving customer follow-up began to arise, Caroline even threatened to dock Max’s commissions dollar for dollar for his clerical mistakes. The mistakes would slow for a time, then escalate again – all as Max continued to top the store in sales.

At the suggestion of a friend, Caroline decided to hire a cashier to replace the one who retired when the new system was installed. She called Max in for a meeting and told him that he would no longer be required to process his own transactions – that he should use the cashier to ensure that everything was handled accurately. He said he hated the idea of passing his customers off – that some of his best sales were made as a result of the conversations as sales were being processed. He also told her he didn’t want to be embarrassed in front of the team or to get them upset with him for being treated differently. Max said he could learn to do the job right, and asked for one more chance to make it work.


THE BIG QUESTIONS: 1. What should Caroline do with Max? Has it reached the point where his sales talents have become overshadowed by the problems his poor attention to detail causes?

2. What might providing ‘special help’ for Max do to the morale among the other sales associates?

3. Can a salesperson really be taught to be organized and accurate – or are those best wired for sales somehow ‘un-wired’ for the details?

Comment below or at [email protected].



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