Playing Nice in the Sand Box

Haven’t we all heard from a very early age that you have to play nice with others? Parents, teachers, sibs, bosses, even your own kids make it pretty plain that being nice to others is the way to go. But aren’t there some times when you’d like to take that little bit of wisdom and chuck it? Oh my, wouldn’t it be awesome to tell the boss that he/she is about the dumbest excuse for a leader since the Ayatollah? But in business doing that can be and probably will be hazardous to your future. Burning bridges and all that kind of stuff.

However, there does come a time when I question whether playing nice does much good. Here is one example with others to follow over the next few posts.

Take the owner of a small plastic molding company. They put out quality product but the place was filthy-walls needed painting, floors were caked with grease, old parts and past molds were laying in dirt three inches thick. I’ll never forget two potential customers who visited the facility. They peaked in my office, looked out my window on the manufacturing floor and shook their heads in unison. It was over before it began. They were kind enough to carry through with the discussion but I never heard from them again.

I decided that being nice in this situation would do absolutely no good so I let the owner have it and hard. He agreed with my feedback. So, not playing nice paid off-the owner painted the walls himself and did a lousy job. Sometimes it makes no difference how you play, some people just don’t get it.

Here is an obvious bit of advice for company owners. Look at your company the way a prospect or customer would look at it. Better yet, invite your best customer in for an honest appraisal (no holds barred) of how you do business. Then change how you do business.




Angela Ahrendts, the CEO at Burberry, created the following thought.  The message of the quote got to me, so much so that I just kept on reading it over and over. ‘Passionate, positive human energy can provide a counterbalance to the disruptive negative forces of an age of unprecedented change. Through it comes confidence, inspiration and the power to transform things for the better.’

There is so much power in this statement that you wonder where most of the power dwells. Confidence? Inspiration? Transformation? Your head starts to spin when you think of what is the most important component. Let’s face it, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all component that is the base upon which the rest of the statement sits. The beauty of Ahrendt’s comment is that every person can pick out the important factor that means the most to them.

Mine? Passion! I’ve been spending a significant amount of time thinking about how I want to spend the next 5 years of my life and how much money I want to generate within that time. The process seemed almost painful. Ever passed a stone? That painful! Then I read this quote and whacked my forehead with the heel of my hand. Duh! What’s my passion? Easy. Developing people.

How many people are buried in jobs that don’t challenge them, don’t pay crap, and leave them exhausted every night? I’d wager to say that over 60% of today’s workers. How many of that number know what their passion is? I’d say over half. If my math is correct we’re looking at 30% as the number of people sucking in air who know what their passion is.

Does everyone find their passion at the same time? No. A good friend of mine became passionate about “quality” in the workplace in his middle years. Now he practically sleeps with the Malcolm Baldridge award. A one-time client of mine found real estate sales and she routinely brings in over $300K annually. Don’t get her into a discussion on the topic unless you want to spend the day.

What is your passion and how can you bring it front and center in your life? Are you too fearful to even give it life? Have you really thought through what it will take to breathe life into the passion? Do you want to be on your death-bed, look back on your life and regret that you did not give your passion free rein? Don’t let it happen.

Join The 10% Who Do

Jim Rohn was a business philosopher who brought insight to ordinary events, people and principles. According to Mr. Rohn 90% of the people on the planet are not worth following. So, what exactly does that mean? I think Jim and I are on the same page so here is my version of the 90% you do not want to follow. Since I’m weary of looking for the percent sign let’s just say the majority.

The majority of people will say “I should do it” instead of “I’ll make that happen”. No, I am not splitting hairs. Should and will are as different as night is from day. Should implies perhaps I will or it’s on my to-do list or I have to quit procrastinating and get that done; it is by its nature wishy-washy. The word “will” is assertive, it’s can-do, it’s immediate, it’s confident, it’s brimming with “completion”. People who use the word will are people worth following. The will-users sense that time is not on their side, they know that they have priorities in their life, they realize that if they don’t do ______ someone else will get to it first and that will really piss them off! Some people want to excel and they are disappointed when they do not achieve that, for whatever reason.

So, how do you know which person is in a perpetual position of striving and which person is waiting for the moons to align before they make their move? Listen to how they say things. When my daughter and son-in-law had a one pound ten ounce baby boy she turned to her husband and said “we will be Jackson’s advocates”. There was an exclamation point after that statement! Every doctor and nurse in the NICU knew that Jackson’s parents and in particular his mother were to be reckoned with. In other words, do not screw with our kid or there will be hell to pay.

Our son interviewed for a job with a company that he was returning to after an employment misadventure. The CEO asked how badly he wanted to come back. Our son said, “I’ll do anything and if that means cleaning bathrooms I’ll do it”. That is commitment! The point here is not to paint glowing pictures of our kids. The point is these are prime examples of people who you would like to follow, they are the ten percenters who instinctively know what they have to do and say to move toward a goal.

Also watch how people say things. Do they look you in the eye while they talk with conviction? People who look you in the eye while they speak are good people to follow. They are confident but not arrogant, chances are good they want to get a read from your eyes relative to what they are saying, they understand how to communicate and they do not have fear. I’m not going to waffle on these two characteristics. People who have them are the people who lead others, they assume responsibility and in fact they cherish responsibility. They are worth following!

Jim Rohn’s suggestion was to “walk away from the 90% who don’t and join the 10% who do”. There is a lot of room under the don’t umbrella but not much under the do umbrella. Find the “dos”.

When Are We Going To Grow!!!!!

I don’t know about you but I believe that the title of this post will be repeated thousands of times this week! I also believe that the size of the company will not make a difference as to whether that line is used. It might sound different, like maybe “our sales are flat” or “we are not consistent, one month we’re up the next month flat…”. Per usual this has a lot to do with sales or the lack thereof.

Sales is kind of funny. You own a company or are the CEO of the company and you make the assumption that the sales organization is in decent shape. The VP of sales or sales manager seems to know what they’re doing. He or she has been in the industry and/or with the company for a number of years and growth has been OK. If the company is smaller then the owner manages the salespeople he or she inherited. Maybe the owner has even hired several sales reps and things have moved along decently. Regardless of the situation the sales are flat lining.

So, what do you do? For sure one thing not to do is panic and jump into drastic changes. Oh brother, that happens a lot. Why? Because whomever has the power needs to look like they are doing something about the problem. Like my battalion commander once said to me after I had royally screwed up during a people problem I witnessed. He delivered his advice loudly enough so brigade headquarters heard it “take action even if it’s not the right action”. Good advice but will the advice work for the leader? Not necessarily if the actions are drastic. The theory that “for every action there is a reaction” applies. The more drastic the action the more emotional and haphazard the reaction.

K.I.S.S. Do you have the right salesperson or salespeople? Do they really know how to sell? Are they seeing the right people? Do they have a territory plan? Are they doing the right sales behaviors? Do they have a sales process? How are they being managed? Are they mentally and emotionally tough?

There are many questions within those questions that need answers but the answers are available if the owner/CEO/leader pursues the answers in a constructive and  organized manner. And each of those questions can be fixed if they are broken.

Hiring Your First Sales Rep

This is one of those frustrating events that drive small business owners nuts! Picture this. You own a company and you are the main salesperson. Of course you also do the books, clean the bathroom, take orders and anything else that keeps the company moving forward. And you have had it! Your doctor says that another year of this and you’ll be pushing up daisies. Your wife and kids would like to see you more often than Xmas, New Years, and major holidays.

So you decide to take the leap. You’ve never hired a salesperson before so where do you start? Part of this decision depends on the type of industry and product(s) you have. Do you get an order from a customer and hardly ever see them again? Do you get an order and the process demands constant follow-up on that order and future ones? Should the rep have X number of years of sale experience and/or experience in the industry? Is the sale technical? What can you afford? Do you provide a salary and commission or commission only?

As a sales manager I routinely hired people but it was still challenging to find the right people. One of the problems is that owners don’t prepare for the hiring process. It’s like the thought process from I’m overworked to I need a rep to hiring happens over a two-week period. Don’t rush into hiring even though your brain is screaming at you to get someone on board.

I’d look at the these as a to-do list:

  • What are the qualities that make you successful as a salesperson?
  • What do your customers expect from the person representing your company?
  • Research comp plans in your industry.
  • Should you hire the highest quality rep for the money or hire one that has experience in your industry?
  • Age has a way of fine tuning skill sets. Should you hire someone in their 30’s or 40’s or go after the mid-twenty rep?
  • Prepare how you want to interview candidates.
  • Document what you will need in order for the rep to be prepared to sell.

One final bit of wisdom. Never just settle for anyone because you’re flat-out tired and bored with the process. If you hire someone because you want to get it done that rep will not last more than 3 months.

Common Sense Rule (CSR) # 4: Prospects Buy The Salesperson First

There are countless sales training programs available and I’m guessing that most of them touch on how important the salesperson is to the sales process. I’m not so sure, however, that enough emphasis is put on the importance. One of the very best salespeople I ever met was a chameleon and he understood the importance of adapting his style to that of the prospect.

The best sales call I ever went on was with “Jim”. We came face to face with a prospect most salespeople have nightmares about. This guy made a corpse look animated! He was the antithesis of “chatty Kathy”. If the room was silent enough you could hear the synapses clicking in his brain. There were times in the call that were honestly unnerving. It brought a whole new meaning to the phrase  “silence is deadly”.

Faced with a prospect like this most salespeople go into talk overdrive. Not ole Jim. This guy had mastered the ability to adapt to prospects. He let people dictate to him how he should act during the sales call. Do you know how hard that is to do? All of us tend to act as if we have one gear. You’ve seen most of them in sales. The person who always has a smile, the glib word smith, the technical genius, the hard closer, the joke teller, mister shifty. These are the gears and God help anyone who gets in the way.

During the sales call Jim’s prospect mulled every statement over like his life depended on it. Through all this Jim sat and waited for the prospect to make a statement. There were situations where minutes passed between interchanges. Try going 180 seconds without uttering something! Jim did. What happened was extraordinary. About 30 minutes into the call the prospect opened up. Hold onto your hats, folks, there was an actual dialogue taking place! Why? The prospect bought into Jim. There was trust!

Jim and the prospect were on the same communication page. The prospect had found a comfort level with Jim. In essence the prospect made a decision that Jim was like him and therefore he could let down his guarded method of communication. Both had reached a point where there was a bond between them and that bond allowed an openness that did not exist at the beginning of the call.

Mastering this takes time and the ability to accept being uncomfortable with people who are different styles. Enormous amounts of knowledge does not built trust; a sales methodology does not alone build trust; the ability to maneuver through a company’s decision hierarchy does not build trust; being mentally quick does not build trust.

Bonding happens for those people who have the gift of reading people quickly and adapting their style to the style of the other person.

Common Sense Rules about Sales, Salespeople, Sales Managers and Life-Rule # 1

A friend of mine commented that ‘getting old is about as much fun as putting your mouth over the exhaust of a bus’! I think he was having a bad day or maybe a bad year. Getting older or seeing the bright light at the end of the tunnel will never be fun at least not fun in my lexicon but it can be interesting, filled with opportunities, and a learning experience. My father failed at aging. The man was 80 and he continued to put on a white shirt, a tie, and a suit coat every day. Mind you, he was not working! I think he did it because he did not know what else to do.

Since I flunked retirement in 2010 it dawned on me that I needed to be productive during my remaining X number of years. One of the things I always wanted to do was share a list of common sense rules covering sales, salespeople, sales managers, family, and life. I very definitely do not want these CSR’s to be heavy and humorless. Good Lord, there’s enough of that crap emanating from D.C. and the media. I don’t need to add more negativity. So here goes. There’s about 100 of them so, well, enjoy ’em.

If you can’t accept “NO” then get out of sales. The answer no starts early in life. No touching the stove, cookie jar, drugs, cigarettes (I wasn’t listening that day). I mean really, aren’t we programmed from an early age to “not do” certain things? Don’t bother me, I’m busy. Don’t hang around with….he’s not a nice boy.

Wilbur and Orville Wright really didn’t pay any attention to people who laughed at them. The candle manufacturer’s were having a good belly laugh when Edison talked about electric lights. Successful people do not take the word ‘No” seriously! There is something in their gene pool that dreams louder than the spoken “no”.

So why do salespeople have problems with the word No? One, they take it personally. Two, they have been programmed since diapers that the word “No” was bad, bad, bad! They don’t prepare an initial message that may yield a yes; instead they go into many sales calls on a wing and a prayer. Not enough people reinforced the concept that a no today did not mean a no for all time. And last. With the volume of potential prospects that most salespeople have what difference do nos make in the scheme of things?

If the word No truly makes you sweat through your freshly starched shirt then don’t go into sales! It’s not worth it and you won’t make enough moolah to keep the bank from foreclosing. Do you really want to wake up everyday to fear that someone will say no to you? There is no shame in admitting that a career in sales isn’t the right career path for you.