Retire already why don't you! OK, just help us prepare before you go.
March 18, 2014 12:57 PM   Subscribe

One of our sales reps is retiring in two weeks and I am to take over his accounts and duties. The problem is he isn’t exactly helping with the transition process. How do we motivate him to help us prepare and be ready for his exit? Right now we might end up high and dry without access to important information we need to work after he's gone. We need to know what is going on with the accounts and everyone we should be working with.

I am the oldest son in a small family business of manufacturer’s representatives. We represent the top consumer brand in its category and sell the product to local retailers.

The gentleman retiring has made little to no effort to train my assistant or provide much information. I have asked twice for a contact list of customers and he just told me he didn’t have one. I told him, “make one”. Haven’t seen it yet. We have requested that he give all paperwork, new tasks, and follow-ups to my assistant and me, but he still continues to do his job as always without sharing info or the work. He hasn’t responded to several emails asking for help.

He’s always more or less had difficulties communicating and sharing information. He has always seemed more concerned about flying under the radar than making a real effort at sales. He rarely leaves the office to see customers and only when he is formally requested to. I’ve found some emails he sent where he gave some of the worst sales pitches ever; one time even encouraging a customer not to buy because we didn’t have any good deals, but we did. He’s a good guy and does a good job at doing what his assistant should be doing, and that’s all. I’ve known this for some time while others have not really noticed. I predicted months ago that we might have some problems with the hand off.

The boss, my father has a little problem with boundaries and trying to be a friend before a manager. He’s not the most forward thinking or organized business manager. Due to this there has been a distinct lack of transition plan, role clarity, and even a firm retirement date. I thought the retirement date was April 1 but now apparently the retiree told another employee that he’s staying on a few more weeks.

I really need to get aggressive and out in front of customers as it’s the last real time frame to effect business for the year and we need to make quota this year. If this makes any sense, I don’t want to embarrass him by blatantly doing the job as it should be done in front of him. I have to be honest, after seeing his sales pitch, I and another manager think it is best that I see customers alone.

He’s 66 and I’m 37 if that makes any difference. He has 13 years in the company to my 10 as a full time rep. He’s one of those old school guys that considers age as superiority and high capability. Due to this, I’m trying to save face for him so he can leave without hard feelings, but he’s really not cooperating. I suspect there may be a tendency towards passive aggressiveness on the retirees part. He may be getting cold feet. I can’t say for sure.

He probably just needs to be firmly told what to do and directed, but this is my father’s weakness and it’s not really my job.

I’m thinking that there also may be a subtle way to light a fire under him. Thoughts?
posted by Che boludo! to Work & Money (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Hmm. I wonder if the fact that it's you doing the asking rather than your father that may be at the root of this? If it's your father's business and your father is the boss, and you're like the second-in-command, this guy may be viewing you as the upstart and thinking "fuck that guy, I ain't answering to anyone but [Dad]."

So I'd try this:

* Take your dad out for a beer or something and have a heart-to-heart about how you really need him to get certain bits of information from this guy. Dad can be nice about it, but Dad has to really be the one to get this ball rolling.

* Dad then has a friendly and chummy chat with the guy: "Hey, Lenny, so retirement is coming up, eh? Wow, think of it! You gonna get straight into the fishing before the wife gets you to fix the gutters, right? Heh. Listen, buddy, I actually have a couple favors to ask so we can keep rolling when you leave...."

Ideally, your dad should do this without giving any impression that this request is coming from you. It's very possible that your dad's friendly approach and seniority is going to be what this guy responds to.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:03 PM on March 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

Prepare for the worst now.

What will you do on the day after his retirement if you are in the same place now?
posted by hal_c_on at 1:05 PM on March 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Is this a US company or a Latin American company? It makes a difference.

If you're in Latin America, throw him a big retirement party and invite all of his customers. Then you can mix and mingle with them, introduce folks around, and let them say their official goodbyes to this guy. Also, you can gather business cards, names and give them the appropriate contact information.

If you're in the US, you can be a bit more 'in your face.' "Lou, we need to stop pussyfooting around here. On Thursday, we're going into the conference room, you're bringing your files, your roladex and your business cards and we're going to discuss your accounts."

At the end of the day though, it's not like this guy has been keeping great records or anything. I once inherited a shit-ton of files from someone and ended up throwing it all out because it was old, worthless correspondance. Someone said to me, "Lot's of stuff there," as I was putting it all in the shredder bin, I responded, "Yep, everything but a contract."

It may be fine just answering the phone and rifling his desk once he's gone. If he was as ineffective as you say, his customers will be happy to see a new face.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:05 PM on March 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

If he isn't going to willingly provide you with information, your only option is to shadow him every single day for the rest of his time at the company. You can present it to him as an opportunity for him to introduce his customers to his replacement. It doesn't really matter if he doesn't like it; he's leaving and your interest is in protecting the company long-term.

Ideally your dad would talk to him and explain what's going to happen, but if he doesn't want to and you're interested in providing a smooth transition, you have to take the lead here. You're the boss! The retiring employee doesn't really have a choice.
posted by something something at 1:06 PM on March 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

First question, will you have access to his company email account after he leaves? Most of his information is in there - customer contacts, their needs, history of whatever negotiations are going on, etc.

Second, what is it that you've ask him to do for you - "document all the stuff you do, and send that to me"? It's a vague request, a difficult task, and he may be floundering under not knowing how to handle it, especially given the low motivation of an employee on the way out. Try to be as specific as possible. Make a spreadsheet for him to fill out for you, that pares it down to the bare bones of the info you need: account, contact name/phone/email, most recent thing you did for them, any outstanding promise to them, next deadline. If he can't seem to manage to fill it out, get his assistant to do the filling out. This might also be a good simple request to get "the boss" to make - "yep, Lou, just need you to fill out this one form this week and you're all set". (note, that's "this week" and not "before you go". He might be procrastinating.)
posted by aimedwander at 1:22 PM on March 18, 2014

ummmmm, aimedwanderer, I have been forwarding his emails to my account for sometime knowing I wouldn't be provided with much info. I've felt guilty doing it, but it started when he was out of the office for a week as I was his backup and I just never turned it off. This is how I got to terrible sales emails. Unfortunately, he does most business over the phone.

I have been very specific about what needs to be done and yes EmpressCallipygos, it is my old man's job to do this, and yes I do not think retiree will listen to anybody but him.

About being second in command, I have no authority over him, only that I am a stakeholder in the business as family.
posted by Che boludo! at 1:49 PM on March 18, 2014

About being second in command, I have no authority over him, only that I am a stakeholder in the business as family.

I wonder if this isn't why he's resisting divulging this to you, then. I'd be a little grumpy too if someone who wasn't my boss kept nagging me to do a task in a certain way when my boss himself wasn't asking me for anything at all.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:02 PM on March 18, 2014

Another point: the company knows who its customers are and would probably be able to tie many or most of this particular rep's customers to him. I would wait until the retirement party, and then go start making visits. The customers may be happy to finally see someone who wants to connect with them.
posted by yclipse at 2:07 PM on March 18, 2014

I'm not nagging. I've made a couple of requests from one teammate to another. Nothing out of the ordinary in this situation. I don't want to nag and that's why I come to you my friends.

I've thought about the waiting until retirement for customer visits, but I have a window within to work that's closing and he's talking about staying a few more weeks.
posted by Che boludo! at 2:07 PM on March 18, 2014

Apologies, I wasn't clear - I'm suggesting that even though you aren't nagging, it may feel like nagging to him because of the age difference, or because of office politics or old vs. contemporary office culture or any of a host of factors. That's why I suggested your father be the one to escalate this, because he may just be one of those old-school kinds of guys who's all, "humph, I'm only gonna answer to the boss."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:17 PM on March 18, 2014

If you can't get the full list of customers from him - can you look through paperwork in another department? If he gets commissions on sales, there's got to be some way to track it outside his own head. Accounting should have order forms or invoices that show who the sales rep is. You or your assistant can go through the entire last year or two by hand, if necessary, to compile your own list of customers.

Aside from that - do you have a mailing list for promotional materials/catalogs/etc.? If you can cross-reference that list and eliminate anyone already attached to another sales rep, your remaining list is either potential customers or customers of his. Either way, you'll want to reach out.
posted by trivia genius at 2:18 PM on March 18, 2014

We haven't had a mailing list in years and I have access to all customer activity I don't have names for all accounts or most importantly email addresses to start a new mailing list.
posted by Che boludo! at 2:56 PM on March 18, 2014

People are just disinclined to do this. So you schedule a 4-hour meetings every day, in a conference room or in one person's office for as many days as it takes. Invite your father (who doesn't have to attend, but has to bless the meeting).

You will have to pry every single item out of him, but it's the only way you're going to get it.

And business emails aren't private, so don't act like you're spying. Those are records of his customer contacts, and you will need them after he's gone.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:51 PM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think you need to be a lot firmer with your approach. The employee's lack of action will hurt the business and that's pretty much the final word on it.

What I would suggest is to make a list for yourself of all the information that you need from him and start setting up one-to-one meetings with him to get that info. Don't ask him for a meeting time, because he'll dodge it - instead, speak to him face to face and say something like "I'd like to set aside a couple of hours to go through your contacts - how's 2pm sound to you?". Be professional and persistent.

I'd guess you'd need to set up a couple of hours to go through his contacts, taking note about any special things per customer. Then go through his emails - find the outstanding orders, quotes, information requests. And so on. If you set up appointments, and then sit with him face-to-face, it's much harder to dodge it. If it feels a bit like an ambush, it is, but you've got only 2 weeks to get everything in his head out and written down.

Be pleasant and respectful but firm about this. If you think bringing your dad in will help with his attitude, do so. Frame it as "to manage your transition and preserve the valuable work you've done for the company". Ask leading questions about his contacts "How did you find them to deal with? How did you manage their (special requests)?"

But, I think it's important to understand that he might not be able to hand you everything - particularly if he's as ineffective as he sounds. Ultimately, you may have to do as hal_c_on and ruthlessbunny have suggested and start afresh. If he's that ineffective, a fresh start might ultimately be more valuable.
posted by ninazer0 at 4:53 PM on March 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you have all the customer activity then you know who his clients are, you just need specific contact people. That's the easy part. Just call up their main office number and introduce yourself.

"Hi, I'm Che, with [Che's family business]. We currently have an account with you and I'm your new sales rep. Unfortunately I don't have in front of me the name or email address of the person at [company] who I should be working with. Could you please give me the contact information for the person who handles purchasing, or let me leave my contact info on their voicemail?"
posted by trivia genius at 5:35 PM on March 18, 2014

An old school sales guy is not going to do this for you. Next time this happens, you assign the retiree an assistant for the last 6 months of work and the assistant documents everything. (Six months assuming that he'd speak to most clients in that timeframe. Adjust that for your sales cycle.)

Send your assistant to document whatever can be documented. Accept that he's not going to document anything for you.
posted by 26.2 at 5:49 PM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, the last assistant he had was my old assistant. She was great when she worked with me. Then with him he wouldn't give her anything to do and kept everything to himself. I was his assistant temporarily, same deal he didn't allow me to assist.

When my old assistant was assigned to him he asked me if he was losing his job to the assistant. He had a motive before in keeping things to himself, self preservation. Now, he's retiring anyway, I don't get the resistance.
posted by Che boludo! at 6:08 PM on March 18, 2014

Do you have a list of who paid you? Who authorized the purchases? Who signed the PO? Go through his email list and start contacting people. Treat this like any other sales transition when the salesperson won't do a warm hand-off. You make a sales call and say that OldSalesman is retiring and you're visiting each of his accounts.

BTW, you mentioned that your dad isn't a taskmaster. I'll point out that you aren't either. You knew this would be a problem a year ago and now you're down to the final weeks. Not second guessing you, but pointing out something to be aware of in future transitions.

I don’t want to embarrass him by blatantly doing the job as it should be done in front of him.
You're sure about this? Was he missing his quota? Did his customer set underperform other similar customers?

It's more likely that in 13 years, he cultivated a book of business that liked his style. You didn't like his email pitch, but it's possible that he did his real selling on the phone. My mom managed an international sales organization for a big ticket product. There were lots of 'bumpkin' sales guys the could sell that $100K product consistently. And none of them did it on letters or emails.

Either way, start visiting his accounts.
posted by 26.2 at 6:30 PM on March 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Agreeing that an old school salesperson isn't going to do this. He probably views his client contacts as his personal possessions, considering how personal and carefully developed over time those relationships can be. I work with old school salespeople, and I would be dragging my feet big time in his position too. It's not like handing over flow charts and checklists. I don't even think he should necessarily be expected to just hand it all over to a relatively young whippersnapper who may not seem respectful of the weight and worth and personal energy involved in that kind of sales relationship, *especially* if nepotism is part of the vibe at all.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 9:58 PM on March 18, 2014

When my old assistant was assigned to him he asked me if he was losing his job to the assistant. He had a motive before in keeping things to himself, self preservation. Now, he's retiring anyway, I don't get the resistance.

Are you sure he's retiring, and not starting his own business/going to work for a competitor, even part-time/hoping to consult for your company going forward? He told a client that your company didn't have suitable deals, and he told a co-worker (rather than a supervisor, or the big boss, or anyone who could sign off on a continuing paycheck) that he was pushing back his retirement date.

I actually agree with everyone above that your very-understandable frustrations stem from persnickety, old-school hierarchical conventions; I'm offering up another angle, just in case. (Or, you know, for use as a plausible scenario to galvanize your hands-off dad into meeting with him.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 9:37 AM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

My very first proper job, fresh out of uni, was for a company with a dynamic like this.

Frankly, it sounds like you and this man don't like and respect each other. I understand you're frustrated, but your language and attitude here are pretty dismissive. Maybe he's picking up on that from you and is being awkward as a result? Sales is a craft of personal relationships. You want something from this guy, you have to build the relationship. Maybe you aren't the person to do this with him. Is there someone else he wouldn't mind mentoring?

The retirement date is easy to set. Throw him a retirement party. Have someone tell him they need a date for a caterer and the rest. Could they have some of his favourite clients details so they can invite them to the party? After all, Retiring Employee has been such a part of the business and the industry for so long... Invite some of his longer-term or more valuable clients. Even if they don't come, they will be reassured by your personal touch. If this guy has been able to keep them as customers for any length of time, they're probably more attuned to this sort of business relationship than not. He gets the acknowledgement, you get the information, customers see he isn't being thrown out on the scrap heap and get a chance to meet the rest of you and the new person handling their account. Problem solved. Smiles all around!

So let's say he is just being really, really awkward and paranoid and won't let you do things nicely. No party, won't cooperate, won't let your business celebrate his years in the industry, nope nope nope...

If he has been skating the past few years, the reality is that most of his contacts may not be that valuable to you. A lot of them may be reaching retirement themselves. What's the most valuable information this man has? The contacts? Or the general industry knowledge? Who is replacing him when he goes? Why is that person not shadowing him every day until he goes? Going on sales calls, being there when the calls come in or are made? Does his replacement have adequate industry knowledge of their own? The replacement may have contacts of their own, sometimes better ones. There's a tendency in companies to think that they have a completely unique set of customers or vendors. They usually don't.

If there is no replacement with industry knowledge (or other sales people within the company who can train someone up on industry info), you're faced with getting info off his company phone and working with your accounts department. Who writes or processes this guy's purchase orders? Who chases his outstanding invoices and processes payments from his customers? Who pays invoices for things he orders for customers? When he submits expenses, who does he note on the paperwork? His mileage - who did he visit? He took who to dinner, where? Does he take them there often, because it's their favourite place? That sort of information can be teased out of alternate sources.
posted by Grrlscout at 2:01 AM on March 20, 2014

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