Blood, Sweat, and Tiramisu in the Italian Alps |
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Blood, Sweat, and Tiramisu in the Italian Alps

Lauren Harper at pinged me last week to contribute to a discussion about the worst sales training horror stories. Before I took down my sales training shingle in 2005, I had a lot of stories. One that came to mind was this, a slightly edited version of the one I posted as a comment on the discussion:

Seven years ago I was flown to Lake Como, Italy, by the CEO of a global corporation based in Sweden. I was to facilitate a full-day workshop with ten country managers and division presidents. The subject was strategies for improving sales effectiveness within their business units. Not exactly sales training, but close enough…

I arrived at the resort on Lake Como after three flights—Martha’s Vineyard to Boston, Boston to Geneva (overnight), then Geneva to Milan—exhausted and needing sleep very, very badly. My hosts saw me arrive in the late morning and convinced me to spend a few hours getting acquainted with the team and the venue before a brief workshop I was to run that afternoon. By the time dinner rolled around it was too late for a nap, so I stayed with the group until 10:00, then went back to my room. I would catch a solid 8 hours and be in fine shape for the challenging day ahead.

At nine the next morning, the U.S. country manager banged on my door, screaming, “Dave! Dave! DAVE!” We were supposed to start at 8:30. I had slept through the two alarms I set. And the wake-up call from the front desk never happened.

I jumped into the shower, lacerated my face in three places in my attempt to shave. I was out of the door in 15 minutes. Fortunately I had pressed my shirt and slacks before I went to bed. I ran as fast as I could to the conference room, dragging my open laptop with the power cords trailing…

When I arrived at the conference room, sweaty, out of breath, with patches of tissue staunching the flow of blood from the cuts my face, one of the country managers was in front, moderating a discussion. The CEO cornered me and said, “Stein. You are off to a very, very bad start. I don’t know what you are going to do to recover. I am not happy at all. You have until lunch to get our interest.” With that, he sat down, crossed his arms, and stared at the front of the room. Mamma Mia!

Sharing with my audience the fact that that this had never happened to me before didn’t do anything but anger them further. What I considered a sincere apology didn’t help either.

By the time we took a break for lunch, I got two raised eyebrows from the CEO, which I interpreted as, “Okay, you have my interest.” Evidently I did, because he said we would resume our session after lunch. I decided to eat at a table by myself in order not to make anyone I sat down with uncomfortable. There was only one American in the group, and he stayed away from me. Smart guy.

By the end of the day everyone was engaged, including the CEO. They were very appreciative of the content, how I managed the session, and my ability to recover from such a disastrous start. I was beyond happy when they invited me to a special dinner for the team. By the end of the evening we were all joking about the incident. (I wrote this story up in an article a year or so after the event. Coincidentally the CEO happened to read it. I got a very nice note from him.)

I got back to my room at 11:00. I had to get up at 4:30 am for the limo to the airport for the flight home.

You guessed it. I stayed up all night.

There were other stories and some great comments on this discussion, including those by Tibor Shanto, Leanne Hoagland-Smith, Josiane Feigon, and Craig Rosenberg.  Lots of fun.

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