Erhard Westermann, 43 years old, has been a successful sales engineer in a well-known international mechanical engineering company for 12 years. On 1 April 1991 his colleague and friend Guido Kreuzer is promoted to head of sales and thus becomes his boss. They celebrate this together with their wives and look forward to a promising future together. It was to be their last celebration together. The more seriously Guido takes his new position, the more annoyed Erhard becomes. "Why's he suddenly speaking to me in that tone of voice? This new job seems to be going to his head. He's treating me the same way old Hartmann did. Back then we both used to shake our heads at the old guy's 'ambitious targets'. Now Guido himself is setting unrealistic targets. And even worse, he doesn't let me know about them ahead of time." These are the kind of complaints Erhard uses to express his disappointment to his wife. At the Kreuzer's house the story sounds a little different. "I don't know what's got into Erhard. He's been acting withdrawn and even aggressive around me lately. It's as if he's envious of my promotion. I sometimes think he wants preferential treatment. He's drawing attention to himself in our sales meetings with his constant complaining. He's just not playing on our team anymore. It can't go on like this." Guido asks Erhard for a talk to clear the air and re-establish their mutual trust. But that talk takes on a dynamic of its own and ends in strong words, turning what's left of their friendship into shreds. It's obvious they must go separate ways. After they've had time to mend their wounds they become more civilized to each other, Guido offers Erhard the possibility to continue working while looking for a new position. That which shouldn't be a problem, given Erhard's many years of successful sales, his good education and his relatively young age. Erhard says yes, after reaching an agreement on a respectable severance package. As a successful salesman, Erhard has a good network. But he's surprised to find he's not immediately welcomed with open arms; he's often confronted with difficult questions. Above all, his contacts want to know why he wants to leave and join a lesser-known competitor after 12 successful years as a sales engineer in one of the world's leading companies. As a well-trained salesman he knows better than to wash his dirty linen in public. If the story of his falling out with his boss and former friend comes out, nobody would take him on.
So creates his own "success plan": "With my proven success, I want to a head of sales. I expect a salary of at least 95 thousand euros." Surely that's a realistic plan.
Unfortunately, Erhard is not able to see himself through others eyes, and does not have any friends and colleagues he can talk to about his new approach. Confiding in Guido is out of the question. Erhard is an excellent sales engineer, but there are reasons why he remained a sales engineer for 12 years. He doesn't radiate management potential. His job interviews remain unsuccessful and he becomes more and more nervous when the inevitable question arises: "Why do you want to leave BETA AG to come to us?" This eventually turns Erhard from a winner into a problematic case; with over 30 good contacts used up, he is more familiar with doctor's offices than an office where he can work. He is relieved of his duties at BETA AG, which doesn't help his "success plan". It also intensifies his psychosomatic symptoms, which have become visible. Then one of our leaflets lands on Guido Kreuzer's desk and he calls me. Two days later we meet in my Hamburg office. In the same week the consultation begins. During the warm-up and appraisal of the status quo, the facts of the case you have just read come out. Putting Erhard Westermann through a standard program is obviously not the answer. The problem is his ineffective application strategy and the damage it had done. In our consultations I concentrate on helping Erhard see that with a well thought-out presentation of the events as they happened would lay the foundation for him to apply again as a sales engineer. That would allow him to work with his real strengths. This perspective alone is enough to cause a spark and visible upswing. Of course, his skepticism about presenting the truth about his leaving BETA AG cannot be overcome in one session. But in the end it becomes clear to him that headhunters and managers don't think the world is a perfect place free of conflict. For interviews he must give a positive, matter-of-fact description and show that he has worked through the conflict and the part he played in it. We work on these issues during his coaching, which is quite intense. He also continues seeing his internist, and his psychosomatic symptoms begin to recede. After the coaching sessions and following application training, we have to deal with the other major hurdle: finding fertile ground with all the scorched earth he has left behind in his sector (over 30 companies). With the economic data and handbooks on businesses at our disposal we manage to find a couple of companies and headhunters and send them slightly altered applications. After a total consultation period of just 5 months Erhard Westermann signs a new employment contract with Asian company growing in Europe: as a sales engineer with a similar income to the one he had at BETA AG.
This is a real case. Names and locations have been changed to protect privacy.