The internet is rife with business school articles debating whether outside salespeople are still required in this age. But this isn’t one of those. This is a story about an outside sales rep and me and a very long road trip.
It wasn’t too long ago I did the summer road trip with our technical sales rep. The whole circuit was 2,800 miles with 1,300 of those miles by car and our rep did it every 6-8 weeks. Although hardly a journey on the Perquod the route was almost always an adventure, particularly in the winter. We flew into the Edmonton International Airport and proceeded to the car rentals where we headed out in our noble craft, a pristine Inferno Red Crystal Pearl PT Cruiser.
There are a few things you need to know about our outside salesman Rob. First, he is a great advocate of being hydrated. He drank bottled water incessantly and knew every refueling convenience store, gas station and donut shop along the route. The second thing you need to know is he has a bladder roughly the size of a walnut and he barely controlled it if he laughed too hard or too long. These traits ensured we made many, many stops along the way. Another detail you need to know about Rob is he is not a multi-tasker. Nothing wrong with that, he just could only focus on one thing at a time.
When you are on a road trip for so many miles, you get bored and start getting silly. This materialized at about mile 60 when I noticed Rob rolling up the electric windows from the driver’s side then gingerly lifting a cheek off the seat. And what followed was an odour, like death, that even the seafloor would have embarrassed to release. I frantically tried to roll down my window only to realize he had locked it out. Laughing maniacally, he continued with the flatulence for another half mile until he had to pee so bad he had to stop and I could step out of the car and into the fresh air.
With the car properly vented, we proceeded on our way. A short time later, a customer called him on his cell phone and he continued to drive and talk. I reached across unnoticed and rolled the windows back up and locked them out. Then I turned the heat to maximum and the fan on full. As oblivious as a frog in a frypan of water coming to a boil, Rob carried on his conversation, the sweat beading up on his forehead, down into his eyes, his face flushing from the extreme temperature. He would look over every once in a while, his sweaty hands gripping the slippery steering wheel tightly with a questioning look in his eye but I just shrugged as if everything was normal. When he finished the call, he screamed something about Dante’s inferno and tried desperately to roll down the windows. Locking them out only confused him more and it took him a few more minutes to figure it all out.
We limped along the route in convulsions, stopping for water, filling the car with aromatics, stopping to pee and then being parboiled over and over. It could have been the trip from hell but we laughed so damn hard each time, our sides began to ache. And then he would have to pee and we would start all over again.
Like Captain Ahab, Rob had his own great white whale he was chasing but his Moby-Dick was a $50 hotel room. Often advertised on road side signs and on the internet, they proved themselves too elusive to capture in the years he had been running the route. He regaled me with stories of close calls where he pulled into a hotel just as they were taking the sign down or just as he was signing-in being told the $50 room had just been booked. So close and yet...
We stopped in on many customers, some were active, others he had been trying to sway for years. He always announced our arrival with a big box of donuts and he liked to joke he almost always got the same two orders from the customers that liked him; “GET OUT & STAY OUT”. But all the silliness while traveling was replaced by sincere professionalism and I could see how much our customers appreciated him and his knowledge. Any doubts I had about the worth of outside sales reps prior to this road trip were blown away. He knew the same people in the industry as our customers and had news from other shops which people loved to hear about. They understood if any problems arose, he would be in their corner helping in any way he could. He is probably the best salesman I ever had the privilege to work with.
By the time we arrived back at the airport, we had managed to burn out not one but two of the car window motors and had resigned ourselves to driving down the highway with the doors open to get fresh air. It was a long road trip but one I remember fondly every time I see a PT Cruiser with a whale tail spoiler.