When I first accepted the offer to join the TSA (Technical Sales Associate) Program at TI (Texas Instruments), I wasn’t exactly sure what I was getting myself into. As an engineer, my perception of sales guys was that they were slackers who over-promised and under-delivered. But that was before I got to see how the other half lived.
The TSA Program was pretty unique to TI. Being a huge engineering company, TI needed sales professionals who were incredibly well versed in the world of semiconductors (microprocessors). Unfortunately for TI, people like this are very hard to find. As such, TI decided that the best way to get a super technical sales force was to grow their own. Thus, their model was to hire only Computer and Electrical Engineers with great communication skills and then put them through an 18-month Sales Training Program before deploying them to the sales field. The training was part MBA program, part engineering internship, and part fraternity pledgeship. There were thirty people in the program, we all lived in the same neighborhood, we were all getting paid a healthy engineering salary (even though we weren’t doing any engineering), our accountability was that of an intern, and our primary purpose was to learn how to “build lasting relationships” with customers. What this really equated to was a lot really long lunches and a lot of happy hours, all in the name of “relationship building”.
My first day on the job, we had a couple meetings / presentation from some high level executives, we took an extra long lunch at a local bar and grill, and then about 3pm we all left to attend a team building activity / happy hour that was facilitated by our program supervisor! I remember asking on of the more senior guys in the program if this was a normal day, to which he responded “yeah, pretty normal – we don’t always work this much though”.
Holy shit! Are you serious?
While the engineers were slaving away, pulling all-nighters, and getting yelled at by their supervisors for missing deadlines, this is what the sales force does?
Yep. That’s right. But don’t bother asking anyone about it – We’ve all been trained to deny every word of it.
And so it went for my 18-months in the program. Long lunches, happy hours, and a little bit of email and powerpoint. Some people in the program graduated early and accepted positions working in different field sales offices, but I never understood why. Sure, you made more money, but you also had more responsibility. Being an intern is the greatest job ever and we had found an internship that paid a full salary! Why would you want to leave early?
Alas, all good things come to end.
Fortunately for me, my ending in Dallas resulted with a new beginning at the Field Sales Office in St. Petersburg, Florida. There, I was the Distribution Business Manager responsible for the nine distribution branches in the three major Florida markets: Tampa, Orlando, and Miami. This entailed driving to each of the branches once a week or so and building relationships with all of the sales reps in order to influence them to sell more of our products. What this actually entailed was taking people out to lunch and dinner at nice restaurants, hosting happy hours, and talking clients golfing and deep sea fishing.
There I was, 24-years-old, getting paid a six-figure salary to entertain people.
What can I say? It was a fun job.
One major downside was that in between the happy hours and the rounds of golf, I was doing a ton of driving from city to city. To put it in perspective, I literally put 100K miles on my car (which the company paid for) in my first three years on the job.
There was another downside too: I didn’t spend very much time at home, which didn’t bother me that much, but I don’t think my fiancee appreciated it. The fact was, I would spend Monday – Thursday on the road and then simply want to hang out on the couch all weekend. Unfortunately, she wanted to go out to eat or go hang out a bar, which is what I had been doing all week with clients. This quickly became a point of contention, but I was able to diffuse it pretty quickly by simply sucking it up and going out for dinner and drinks for the fifth time that week.
At first, eating out all the time seems glamorous, but there definitely came a point where I got completely bored of looking at menus. To this day, I limit my menu viewing to just 30 seconds or so, as I feel I have wasted enough of my life deciding what to eat. I know, I know, Uptown Problems. Unfortunately, this was just the tip of the iceberg.
In general, the people I worked with in the Sales world were good people, though the things we valued on the surface did seem shallow. Conversations regularly revolved around new cars, new houses, new boats, new golf clubs, new home theater systems, new restaurants, the stock market, and our own personal comfort and leisure. At the time, these topics seemed both appropriate and important. That is, until one day when I was at a co-worker’s backyard barbecue. I was sitting with a couple of colleagues and our girlfriends by the pool and one of the guys remarks “I wonder what the poor people are doing today…”
Though I understood the sentiment of his statement to mean that we were incredibly fortunate to be enjoying the experience and lifestyle that we did, I found the comment to be incredibly insensitive. Not that I said anything about it. I simply simply bit my lip and let it slide. Later on, I came to find out that this was actually a saying among assholes who thought their salary made them cooler that it actually did. Nonetheless, I should’ve had said something, or I should have left. But I didn’t. The same way I didn’t say anything or leave when I was golfing with my boss and an important client and the client started dropping the N-word.
Sure, the job was fun, the salary was great, and the perks were amazing. The question was “what was I trading for this job / lifestyle?” Was it required to exchange my values and morals in order to work in this industry or had I simply gotten wrapped up with the wrong crowd and a couple of bad influences?
It would take me a few more years to actually answer this question.