He was one of those guys who was the life of the party. He could walk into any room and instantly be the one that everyone else focused on. His charm, wit, and charisma was the envy of his friends and colleagues. Being in his senior year of college, Jeff saw huge dollar signs in his future as a salesperson. Though he was an average student with average grades, Jeff felt that his ability to wine and dine customers was going to be his ticket to being a big-money salesperson. With his wit and charm, how could customers resist?
During his two week binder indoctrination, Jeff would lightly skim the material, familiarizing himself with the product categories and descriptions of each part. "If the customer has questions I can't answer I'll just call one of the engineers and he'll help me for sure" Jeff shadowed Rob on some sales calls and was chomping at the bit to get out there on his own.
Rob was concerned, but also didn't want to squash the enthusiasm of his young protege. "OK, how about you visit Angelo at ABC Manufacturing and see what he needs?" Jeff was flying out of the office after Rob barely finished his last sentence. Rob and Angelo have been good friends for years and Rob knew that if Jeff really blew it he wouldn't lose a customer.
"I'll have to get back to you on that Angelo"
"Also, on the whozewhatsit does it come in 8, 10 and 12 centimeter dimensions?"
"I'm not sure, Angelo, I'll need to look it up."
"And on the whatsamajigger, does it come in black with red stripes?"
"That's a great question Angelo, let me check it out and get you an email."
Jeff was feeling a bit uncomfortable, but was confident he could get Angelo everything he needed and lock down the sale. Jeff left Angelo's office and came back to his office to look up the information and get it back to Angelo. Rob was waiting there for him. "Jeff, come into my office for a bit." Jeff followed Rob into the office and sat down. Rob closed the door, sat in his chair and looked at Jeff. "How did the call go Jeff?"
"Pretty good, Angelo is a great guy and I think we'll be able to close a great sale."
Rob's took a more serious tone. "Angelo called me and said he doesn't want you back. He said you were a great guy and a lot of fun but you just didn't know your product line. Didn't you study the tech specs I gave you?" Jeff felt as if someone had just put a blowtorch to his derriere. "He asked some tough questions and I told him I would get back to him on stuff! I was just going to send him the information now. He's not being fair!" Rob took a more parental tone with Jeff. "Jeff, he's the customer and he's expecting you to know what you are selling. You clearly didn't have subject matter expertise needed to secure his business. Kim will take point on the sale and you'll need to shadow her on this sale and all other calls she makes for three months until you learn what you are selling." Feeling defeated and embarrassed, Jeff left the office.
While this is a fictional story, many of us know a Jeff. The colleague who uses charm and charisma but is relatively content-free of subject matter. Don't get me wrong; being able to relate to people is a very powerful attribute. However, after the back slapping and joking is over and done command of the subject matter you are expected to know will carry the day.
Here's my question to you (I may make you a bit uncomfortable, but that's what I do): Does your command of the subject matter for your job meet, exceed, or fall short of what your boss, employees, or customers expect your expertise level to be? At first blush it is easy to say "meets" or "exceeds" because that is the safe answer to give. Don't be too quick to answer; really give this some thought, look at trends in performance evaluations (where you've heard the same thing over and over), look at your job description, and ask a few folks for their input. It is vitally important that you understand expectations placed on you and assess your command of subject matter relative to those expectations. In today's job environment it could unfortunately mean the difference between who stays....and who goes. Don't wait; do it now.