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Defending Your Life

01/12/2010 5 comments

Everyone knows about fear. Because the word itself has some negative connotations, some prefer to call it anxiety, apprehension, discomfort, dread or trepidation in order to make the emotions more manageable. What started out as instinctual or subconscious “fight or flight” syndrome in early creatures, this is an emotion that is so vast in its cause and effects, that it is impossible to know where it starts and ends.

The topic has no shortage of discussion when it comes to personal and professional behavior. So many ideas about how to deal with it, deny it, understand it, embrace it or fight it are commonplace, but often provide little relief. We all know what the various forms feel like, but does that help anyone understand how it really affects our performance in any of the many roles we all have to fill every day and week?

Different Angles for Business

One of the most popular approaches in the business world are the concepts presented in the book “Who Moved My Cheese” when Haw asked himself “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”. Only when Haw began to understand the implications of the answer was he able to mobilize himself and realize his potential for action.

If the book is good, is the movie better?

Perhaps a different approach gives another perspective. In the movie “Defending Your Life”, Albert Brooks has recently died in a head-on crash, and has been sent to an afterlife (Judgment City) where he must demonstrate how he has overcome his fears  in a court that will decide if he is now worthy of advancement in the Universe or not. In this clip, his Defense Attorney explains the Big Picture about fear.

Watch the clip and then ask yourself:

What should I start doing different right now?

A Funny Thing Happened When He Quit – Part 3 of 3

11/24/2009 Leave a comment

In the first and second installments of this blog, we looked at the story of Robert, a senior sales rep who grew complacent and elected to leave (under duress) his high salary position due to some performance and behavior issues. The fact that he had left a fair amount of business on the table at his existing clients was surprising news to his old managers. Robert then found himself with a new job that required him to implement a different sales discipline that allowed him to be successful under the mostly commission based comp plan. And with that new found discipline, even Robert was surprised to see his results go up dramatically.

Of the many comments received about this story, some suggested the following:

  • The fault lies with sales management for not paying attention.
  • Just because someone on the team speaks up, doesn’t mean that what they are saying is always negative and should be let go because of it.
  • Robert was just a phony trying to do a minimum of work just so he could collect a paycheck.
  • Somebody should have done a better job of “motivating” him.

Any of the above could be true, but the fact of the matter is that every situation is different because of the vast combination of workplace elements combined with the unlimited array of human factors. As with many of the dynamics in the sales world, there is never a shortage of right vs. wrong thinking, finger pointing or what seem to be perfectly rational explanations. The temptation in these situations is to try to find the “answer” to solve the “problem”, when in reality these problems are just conditions that have been going on forever, and will continue to persist as long as sales and business continues to be an imperfect world. So with no magic bullet and no hard science, all that can be done is to treat the conditions themselves rather than being frustrated that there is no single answer to the problem of managing people.

It’s all really simple, right?

So, in the business of sales, someone will have to unravel all the inter-related items that can affect the performance of each rep, each sales manager and the overall success of the company.  In the case of Robert, just a sampling of the questions that could be asked are:

  • Did Robert really have the Desire, the Commitment and the self responsibility to be successful?
  • If not, then why did he succeed in one position and not the other? Was it only about the comp plans?
  • Why were some of Robert’s peers hitting their numbers when they were in the same market with the same products? Did they just have a “better territory”?
  • What parts of Robert’s game really needed fixing the most?
  • What impact does sales management really have on performance? Should they be cheerleaders or intimidators, or both?

Certainly there are many “Do it Yourself” approaches than can be tried, but in the end, Sales Force Development is a planned process with many moving parts.

[Author note: Someone asked if Robert was a real life character or if I just made this story up to serve my own purposes. The truth is that “Robert” is a compilation of three different reps that had almost the exact same situation occur to them in real life in the last six months. True story.]

A Funny Thing happened when he quit – (Part 2 of 3)

11/10/2009 Leave a comment

In the first installment of this series, we looked at Robert, a rep that was not only overpaid relative to his results, but that was causing trouble within the organization. Because of the circumstances, Robert had made the decision to leave that position and go out to find someone that would pay him what he thought he was worth. After his resignation, his former employer was shocked to learn that there were many pockets of business that had gone untouched and were easy pickings for someone willing to do some selling.

So what happened to him?

Many of you might guess that failure or job hopping was the inevitable future, but the outcome was entirely different. Despite his vast network of contacts, Robert was more than a little deflated to find that nobody was willing to pay anything close to his last salary, and that the nature of comp plans in his business were heavily slanted towards pay for performance. Not wanting to be on the street for too long he took the best offer he could find and proceeded to figure out how he was going to make the kind of money he was used too.

Now that he was mostly on commission, it didn’t take long for our wayward rep to discover that the game had changed. Being in a slightly different market, he couldn’t really leverage all his contacts the way he used to, so something would have to give. Looking back he realized he had behaved like an account manager (farmer) rather than the new business development pro (hunter) that he was expected to be. He also knew that his pipeline of new opportunities had been a stagnant list of hope and wishes.

Progress starts with change

Now that he had a firm understanding that he would actually have to prospect and sell again, Robert found some new strength from internal motivation and an unwillingness to make any excuses for himself. He became totally committed to his own success, he was willing to track his progress, monitor his behavior and develop the confidence to set and meet the goals he had failed to set for himself in his last position.

Update: It’s only been less than a year since Robert set out on this new course, but we know he is performing a lot better than he was before and that his results continue to grow.

[In the final installment next week, we’ll take a look at the cause and effects of this situation, and connect all the dots]

A Funny Thing happened when he quit (Part 1 of 3)

10/28/2009 2 comments

We know of a company in the Midwest that sells construction supplies through an outbound sales force of about 10 reps. Although they had a few new people, most of their sales team consisted of veteran reps who had been in the business for 10 years or more. They had the usual mix of a few underperformers, a few Top Guns, but with the majority of the team falling in the “average” category. One of those average performers (we’ll call him Robert) was well respected because of his knowledge of the industry and the market, but never really seemed to be able to make anything but a mediocre contribution to the top line. Interestingly though, Robert had appointed himself the “guardian” for the rights of his fellow team mates, making sure to question management on their every move concerning  comp plans, perks, marketing, pricing and other strategies. Also, it wasn’t unusual for Robert to recruit his team mates to gang up on management to insure they had frequent and active “bitch sessions”

 

Here’s the surprise

As disruptive as Robert was to the daily operations, he was considered “too valuable” to terminate or re-assign because of his relationships with key customers. The fear was that if he left, the competition would storm in, taking critical business that was needed by the company. Although management coddled him, gave him his way sometimes, and tried to reason with him, nothing much seemed to change until the economy stepped in with the answer. With sales down, the company had no choice other than to start cutting salaries. Management took the first hit, and then it was time to talk to Robert about his big fat salary. So Robert, being the “guardian of all things righteous”, decided to resign and go out on his own rather than suffer the indignation being offered at the heavy hand of the wrong doers.

 

Now it gets interesting

With Robert gone, his sales manager began to do damage control by visiting all of Robert’s key accounts. At the very first place he visited, within 30 minutes, he walked out the door with one of the biggest orders ever placed by that client. And it didn’t stop there. Many opportunities were popping up that seemed like they had just been laying there waiting for someone to take the business.

 

The lesson learned

Just as many banks were deemed “too big to fail”, it’s not uncommon to find companies that have reps or other personnel that are deemed “too valuable to let go”, even though they are no less a drag on the company than the banks were to the economy. Field reps need to have only a few key ingredients in their “sales DNA” to succeed. While everyone knew that Robert “could sell”, the truth was that most times he “wouldn’t sell”. While there could be many reasons for this, the lack of the desire to be the best, and the lack of commitment to his profession are surefire signals that mediocrity is about the best you can expect.

Passion for selling … a blessing or a curse?

10/27/2009 2 comments

Curse #1

What leaves a bad impression more than encountering a salesperson that is just going through the motions? The smell of the of lack of interest and commitment seems to linger after these folks have dropped off their literature, business card and limp hand shake. The sad part is realizing that you lost interest almost immediately in what they saying and found yourself feeling sorry for these miscast pretenders. You may want to tell them that if they could just show a little emotion they might actually sell something someday.

Curse #2

On the other hand, there are the salespeople that love selling so much it scares prospects away. They love the company, the product, the marketplace (and probably you too) by the end of a call. When they leave, you can find yourself shaking your hand to make sure the gooeyness of the hand shake is gone. The passion these people have overwhelms your interest in what they offer, and you can’t help but wonder what all that emotion may be hiding. If something sounds too good to be true, well you know the rest.

The Blessing

Somewhere in between are sales pros that love to sell, but still remember that the customer is more important than their emotions. You can sense a balance that looks and sounds like confidence in what they are doing, a confidence to succeed with or without you as a customer. There is a genuine interest in helping you find solutions, but not in making a commission if the sale isn’t in your best interest. In short, these people act and carry themselves as winners. Aren’t things more comfortable when you get to interact with these kinds of people as opposed to the ones that can’t even muster the strength to quit a job they hate, or the ones that can’t quit selling so hard you want to run away?