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Mastering Credibility Part I: It's What You Know

Lonnie Pacelli -- When it comes to today's job environment and career success, make sure you understand the expectations placed on you and assess your command of subject matter relative to those expectations. Charm and charisma might help land you the position. But what will keep you there?

This is part one of a three-part series on Mastering Credibility. Part two is "It's The Relationships You Build," and part three is "It's How You Deliver Results."

Jeff was the quintessential schmoozer.

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?

After graduation Jeff immediately got a job with a small parts manufacturer. He was excited beyond belief about the job and, though he didn't see long-term career potential with the company, thought it would be a great stepping stone. He showed up for work the first day eager and willing to make his first sale. After meeting with his HR representative and getting all of the job administrivia out of the way, Jeff met up with his boss, Rob. Rob gave Jeff the usual "welcome aboard" speech then gave him a binder of technical specifications on each of the products Jeff would be representing. Jeff was a bit taken aback at the tech specs sitting in front of him and felt as if he was back in college. "Take two weeks to go through all the tech specs, shadow me on a few sales calls, then you go out on your first sales call," Rob told Jeff. Jeff's confidence kicked into gear and just knew in his heart he was going to wow his boss's socks off.

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.

Jeff showed up at Angelo's office and started into his pitch. He was engaging, funny, and personable. Jeff and Angelo had a great time chatting as if they had been friends for years. Then Angelo got down to business. "Jeff, what is the temperature tolerance on the watchamacallit?" Jeff not only didn't know the answer, he didn't have his tech specs with him.

"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.

Courtesy of Lonnie Pacelli

Lonnie Pacelli is an internationally recognized author and autism advocate with over 30 years experience in leadership and project management at Accenture, Microsoft, and Consetta Group. An engaging and entertaining keynote speaker, he consistently receives rave reviews from audiences, and his practical, no-nonsense, experience-based approach to solving tough problems has helped leaders, project managers, and teams consistently deliver results. For more information, and to see Project Management books, articles, keynotes, and self-study seminars, please visit

© 2017 Lonnie Pacelli

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