Joel Spolsky (Joel on Software) has a new article in Inc. magazine on the things that can go wrong with commissions and incentive sales plans. The article is ok–interesting, although there is a lot of ground not covered–but it does make me think of a funny story.
Many years ago when I was still in college, I had a PC with a trimline cabinet that was only a few inches tall. As a consequence, it only had three expansion slots. The slots were on a riser board mounted parallel with the mother board, and even that was a pretty tight fit. Now this was back in the day when computers didn’t have video or sound on the mother board, and many didn’t have sound cards at all. Many had only a PC speaker which for the most part produced only one noise: “beep”. I oh-so-wanted a sound card. But I couldn’t install one because my slots were already full with the video card, network adapter and something else I couldn’t remove that eludes me at the moment. I was stuck with no sound card because I had nowhere to put it.
Then, a miracle happened. The hole-in-the-wall computer parts store where I used to shop got a “two in one” card that had a sound card and a video card on the same board! This store sold mainly used and import goods, so most of the items in there were one-offs. Very excited and concerned I might not run across another one, I bought it right away.
Naturally, I got the board home and installed it only to discover the hardware was faulty. Disappointed as I was, I ran a full set of diagnostics to confirm it really was broken. Indeed, it was damaged, so I returned it to the store who kindly refunded my money without any hassle.
A few weeks later, my brother bought me a surprise gift! He knew how badly I wanted a sound card, and he had found a two-in-one sound and video card at the parts store so he bought it right away for me. I laughed. It was the exact same faulty board I had returned to the store just a short time before, the same crumpled box and everything. I returned it to the store, who again gave me a full refund.
Not long later, my dad bought me an early Christmas present. It was the same board again! The exact same board. This was getting downright silly.
I brought the board back to the store and spoke with the salesman. “Doug,” I said, “You keep selling me this board over and over again. You know it’s broken. You know I’m just going to return it again. Why do you keep selling it to me?” The salesman looked at me, leaned closer and said, “Yeah, Lis, I know it’s broken and I know you’re going to return it. But you see: I get a commission on the sale every time.”
Groan. Never would have thought of that one.