“I Went to School for THIS?”

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Heard that before?  Better yet, have you SAID it before?

Translation:  This is not what I expected.  Not what I should be DOING.  Maybe not what I WANT to be doing.

It’s said so often in business it almost becomes a “throwaway line”, a conversation starter.

A “throwaway line, or conversation starter” is one end of the pendulum.  On the other end?  It’s defeatist. Borderline arrogant and dismissive of something that actually has value.  All jobs & roles have value.

In the Consumer Packaged Goods Industry (CPG), one of the most common areas you will hear this is a retail store level “sales” position. Notice that “sales” is in “”.  Many would argue that it’s not a sales role, but glorified stock person for the store you’re calling on.

A grocery store re-set is tough work.  Pulling off every single product on the shelf, and there are a bunch of them, cleaning the shelf, and re-setting it to what a new Planogram (schematic of what item should be shelved in which position) is physically draining work.  Guess what else it is or is not?  I can think of 4 things…

  1. It’s tiring, and sometimes back-numbing.  Physical work!
  2. It’s thankless.  Nobody gives you an “atta boy!” for this.
  3. It is NOT sexy.  They didn’t talk about this in your Marketing classes….
  4. No big thinking, fancy charts showing how brilliant you are crunching data and pitching a new market opportunity.

In short, the retail sales experience, and the re-sets that accompany them are in short, HUMBLING.  They also happen to be CRITICAL for anyone that aspires to Marketing or Sales leadership in CPG.  Very few college grads that start in this role rave about it.  Most view it as a stepping stone before moving onto an account sales management role where you are managing budgets and truly “Selling” to headquarter buyers.  As some would say, that type of work uses their degree.

Notice the 4 things I mention above……all have a somewhat NEGATIVE bent to them.  They were the first realizations that were measured against expectations, albeit self-imposed.

What about the things that EXCEEDED expectations?  

  1. Relationships:  The grocery store manager in south Boston that you went to a football game with, as a thank you for helping win a display contest.  The same one that appreciated the congrats note for getting his EMT certification
    • The team members who appreciated you covering for them on vacation…
  2. Becoming a trusted source for sales management, the “eyes and ears” for what’s happening in the stores.
  3. Seeing the urgency of a quarter end “push” to make the team sales number, and playing a role trying to help generate real business results, do my part, etc.

Every profession has their ground floor opportunity.  Every profession has groups of people that aspire to come OFF the ground floor to greater heights.

It’s as American as apple pie.

What is critical when mentoring a new generation of talent is to help them see the big picture and not DWELL on their ground floor opportunity

  • Expectations, whether fair or not have a tendency to damage your own morale, so check them quickly.  Hit the “re-set” button

  • Show up, answer the bell.  ALWAYS.

  • Every person they encounter will be a teacher:  They will teach them on what to do, not do, treat others, and YES, in some cases how NOT to treat others.  Bad seeds do exist, learn from them too.

  • Establish trust:  Do what you say you will do.  Do it with a smile.  Repeat every day.

  • Over-deliver:  Meet and start to exceed expectations.  Ask for more.  Ask to make more of an impact.

 

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Comments

  1. Great post! Especially in the current environment when college graduates are having a hard time finding jobs. This experience is definitely good for you and the skills learned will help in any later more management-oriented job.

  2. When I was in college, I had a plum job – I worked at a liquor/beer/wine store.

    No one liked slow traffic days because it meant we had to dust bottles. All of them. Every shelf, every bottle. The owner never wanted dusty bottles on the shelves. Decades later, I still notice dusty bottles in a store and it makes me wonder about how that store (and its stock) is managed, while bringing me back to my younger days.

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