Dealing with necessary evils

How to thrive despite that product in your book you just can’t stand and other obstacles

This business of ours, as wonderful as it can be, is bedeviled with plenty to complain about—that other distributor making in-roads on your territory, that new Pinot Grigio in the portfolio, and that manager that just can’t manage.1 These seemingly disparate problems are of the same ilk, undesirable circumstances that must be accepted. Like death and taxes, these necessary evils, require strategies for coping.

First, remember that you can’t purposefully address a problem until you can describe it. These necessary evils save you the work of having to define your hindrances. The thing is the problem. You needn’t search for the source of your troubles; they already have a name.

Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.

Second, their scope is limited—to one company, to one person, to one product—which affords you opportunity to focus on resolution.2 Of course, you didn’t read this far just to hear me effectively say “deal with it,” so here are some considerations for when you need to dance with various devils.

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That Other Competitor

Never denigrate a competing importer, distributor, producer, or salesperson. If they are as shitty as you believe them to be, they’ll aid in their own downfall. No long-lasting reputation is built on tearing down others.

Skip reading The Art of War and learn your competition. Know their portfolio, know their prices, know their techniques. You won’t beat them by trash talking to their customers, but rather by offering better products, prices, and service.

Whether your competitor is a behemoth that offers every product but less than optimal customer service or that tiny upstart that has a great portfolio but is continually running out of stock, there are lessons to be learned. Be a student.

That Product that You Can’t Stand

Just like it’s unwise to disparage a competitor, you should avoid deprecating your own portfolio despite any of your own misgivings. This does not mean you should compromise your integrity, but just that there’s no accounting for taste. You never know when you might be “yucking” someone else’s “yum.” Salespeople lose a substantial number of sales by making the assumption that what their buyers want is what they themselves enjoy. Sometimes this might be the case, but not always.

Overcoming such bias is easier said than done. Still, there’s a trick that will leave you less hesitant to put that bottle you don’t love back into your bag. Simply remind yourself that the top three brands of wine in the United States are Barefoot Cellars, Sutter Home, and Franzia.3 Now it shouldn’t hurt so much to put that Pinot Noir from the Languedoc with a 20,000+ case production in your bag.

Similarly, wise bartenders have long recognized that though they might prefer a Manhattan or Daiquiri, it’s still vodka that pays the bills.

Much like a teacher mustn’t love every student, it still doesn’t hurt to find something likable in every bottle. A good place to start is with the 7 P’s. Maybe the juice isn’t great, but the price and packaging are killer. Accentuate the positive.

That Useless Manager

Frustration in dealing with a problem manager can lead to mistaking incompetence for malice.4 Start by asking, “how did this person get this position?” Few managers start as out as managers. What did they succeed at in their previous role that can help you in your current one? If they were a star salesperson, enlist their aid in helping you sell. Maybe they can’t manage people, but in a previous position they were an analyst. Can they serve you in streamlining your data?

According to the awfully smart people at Gallup:

Weaknesses will never develop into strengths. They can only be accounted for, compensated for and managed. Strengths, on the other hand, develop infinitely. 

Play to your managers’ strengths. Because these are areas they excel in, they’ll likely be more amendable to helping you in these capacities.

1

A salesperson that can’t sell is not a necessary evil because they are not necessary. They are simply incapable of doing their job. Because they are usually the lowest rung on the ladder, sustained poor performance doesn’t have to be tolerated. A manager who can’t manage shouldn’t last in their position, but, sadly, that usually isn’t the case. Chalk it up to favoritism, poor review protocol, or executive failure, inept managers often have a tenure that is not commiserate with their track record of delivering. The intractability of such unproductive managers is what makes them a necessary evil.

2

Resolving such matters might feel like a responsibility outside your purview, but managing oneself, including how you respond to such obstacles certainly is not.

3

In the year ending on May 17th, 2020. And, also, if you do sell these wines, congratulations, your job should be slightly easier.

4

If you are dealing with malice, find a new job or read this article.