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.



OK, Everybody, Just Calm Down!

Here is some very sound advice for all you sales managers heading to airports, renting cars, working with salespeople, or just plain putting up with corporate bravo sierra. (Any military people out there?) Your job in the light of all the recession talk (should we doff our hats to the media on this one?) is to stay calm and stay the course. (back to this in a second).

Last night I had an enjoyable evening with six other business professionals all of whom have been through some interesting business challenges. We all call on people who make decisions, i.e. C-level folks. All of us have heard our customers and/or prospects talk about the business climate and its uncertainty. It hasn’t gotten to the point where the CEO is foaming at the mouth wondering if he or she should close the doors, sell the company and retire to Aruba. But news about the economy is a topic and there is a certain wariness about the economic climate.

So, back to our intrepid sales manager. Your job is to block out a lot of the white noise about recessions, downturns, poor economic climate or whatever else you hear. If you stay calm your salespeople will stay calm; if you show signs of strain your salespeople will start caroming off the walls wondering what they should do next to avert disaster! So, how do you do that? You do that by staying with the “sales behavior plan” that you and your salespeople created when the year began. You may be tired of hearing me talk about behavior plans but, frankly, if those plans work during good times then why won’t they work in other times?

Think about this. Sales managers and salespeople sooner or later will live through the following:

  1. Dramatic competitive pushes with either new products or new pricing.
  2. Product recalls.
  3. Crazy or bizarre marketing strategies.
  4. Management/salespeople turnover.
  5. Bad hires.
  6. Upper management folly.
  7. Industry changes.

What any sane person (particularly sales managers) does during these times is call for a moratorium on panic! Ask yourself this question, what did I do in the past when business obstacles arose? You helped salespeople stay focused and disciplined on behaviors like prospecting, getting appointments, going on sales calls, handling objections, asking for business and referrals, selling value instead of price. Stay with this plan! My other suggestion is to meet with your salespeople for half a day. Go to a bowling alley, a driving range or treat everyone to a nice dinner. In a subtle way get feedback from these folks about their business, the industry or whatever. If they have concerns deal with them by using the same tactics you would have used the last time they had concerns. There is no need to change tactics, approaches to the business, sales methods because doing so only heightens the sense that something is wrong. Business is a fluid environment and there will always be challenges. Challenges don’t always imply that actions have to change.

The Final Thought: The greatest challenge to any thinker is stating the problem in a way that will allow a solution. Bertrand Russell

Be Careful Who You Vote For (Or Choose)

It is not hard to figure out that this is an election year. The networks are already going crazy, the candidates are spewing forth more promises than they can keep and the voters are bleary eyed wondering who is telling the truth. Welcome to politics 2008.

Do any of you see an analogy here with interviewing for a job with a company? Well, there won’t be any networks, that’s for sure but there will be the sales manager (candidate) and the voter (salesperson). Your job, Mr Phelps, will be to choose who is telling the truth.

We’ve all interviewed for new jobs and it isn’t easy to do. Interviewers (sales managers) want to sell the company program; interviewees (salespeople) want to show their mettle and their skills. Both people have a goal but sometimes the goal is counter to the objective, which is hire or be hired for the right position.

If you are a salesperson interviewing look for this:

  • Has there been high salesperson turnover in the company?
  • What are the specific sales characteristics that the company wants? They may not be your strengths.
  • How often has the comp plan changed in the last 5 years?
  • Has the same sales manager been in the position for over 3 years?
  • Where does the company stand in terms of competition?
  • Are there new products in the pipeline?
  • What are the admin responsibilities of the salespeople?
  • What do the top salespeople earn and how long have they earned this income?

If you are a sales manager interviewing look for this:

  • Why did the salesperson leave their prior position?
  • How well does this person sell based on an impromptu sales presentation during the interview?
  • Would their old sales manager want this rep back?
  • How well does this rep describe how they will do business in the first month of being in the territory?
  • What questions does the rep ask relative to compensation, product development, market penetration, turnover and other key questions?
  • What is their personal presence like?

Neither of these sets of questions are in any way complete. The goal of interviewing, regardless of what side of the table you are on, is to tell the truth about either the company or yourself. Magnifying the potential of the company lays the sales manager open for criticism if the future does not pan out. Magnifying the abilities of the salesperson lays the individual open for criticism if the rep does not achieve superior results.

Interviewing is not that big a challenge but both sales managers and salespeople make it a challenge. Lay the cards on the table so there is no doubt or second guessing about the potential of the company/territory or the skills and abilities of the salesperson. If there is a match the two people will figure it out; if the match isn’t there they’ll figure that out as well, as long as truth rules the day.

The Final Thought: Never wear a backward baseball cap to an interview unless applying for the job of umpire. Dan Zevin

(Monday Morning Manager) MMM-Where Have The Salespeople Gone?

I attended an event this last weekend where I rubbed elbows with an interesting variety of people. As I chatted with this one person, she relayed a story that was truly frightening. Her husband told her that his sales manager was considering cutting the comp plan back because one of the salespeople was making too much money! My jaw dropped, the world spun, planets collided and my arteries slowly constricted. What absolute and utter nonsense!

I can tell you from experience that this is not an isolated example. Companies do some weird stuff to their sales organizations. Here are a few other examples of corporate lunacy:

  1. Impose needless restrictions on entertainment because one or two people abuse the privilege.
  2. Under the guise of better communication, make salespeople submit long and too detailed call reports.
  3. Split territories without considering the effect of short-term, lowered commissions.
  4. Make bonuses dependent on the sales organization reaching goal.
  5. Revise the comp plan so a nuclear physicist couldn’t understand it.

Regardless of whether you are a sales manager or a company owner managing salespeople the key is-be consistent. I always rely on this simple approach-what makes the most sense? Salespeople are very savvy. They understand their commission plan, their customers, their time (at least most do), their priorities and last but not least they understand when people (upper management) are playing games with them. I like one approach I read in an Ezine article. The author keeps it simple. An organization’s viability depends on the success of the sales force is another of the author’s philosophies that I encourage companies to pursue. Why make a salesperson’s life complicated? Salespeople have enough to do dealing with prospects, customers, crazy economies, traffic and a host of other issues. Remove the roadblocks and shackles from a salesperson’s life and you will see them succeed.

Of course there is always a caveat, right? I am not saying that you should hire a bunch of swash buckling crazies that never contact the home office, conveniently never return calls, avoid sales meetings and generally travel to only their own drum beat. Sales is a team game. Salespeople require discipline, routine, support and the other items mentioned in the Ezine article. Treat salespeople with respect and honesty and they will bring in the numbers for you.

One last comment. If you are interviewing for a sales job you might want to look at the history of the company to make sure that they have stayed away from corporate lunacy.

The Final Thought: There must be consistency in direction. W. Edwards Deming

The Easiest Way To Grow Business

This morning I attended a Professional Sales Association meeting in Minneapolis where the speaker touched on something near and dear to my heart-referrals. For twenty years as a salesperson and sales manager in the medical device industry I found it almost impossible to ask a physician if he or she knew of another physician who might like to use my product. Doctors only refer to other doctors in different specialties. They really don’t want the doc down the street using a product that might improve their practice. (Typically, as kids, these would-be doctors also wanted the sand box to themselves.)

As I moved into sales training and consulting, asking for referrals became an important practice. That’s why I so enjoyed the presentation given by Michael Roby. Check out his website for some interesting ideas. If you cannot locate information on asking for referrals ask Michael for it. (It’s the presentation he gave on February 1st, 2008 at the PSA meeting in Minneapolis.)

What I liked most about the presentation was the way that he asked clients for referrals. And that brings me to the main part of this post. Why don’t salespeople routinely ask for referrals? Here are a couple of reasons:

  1. No one ever taught them the right way to ask for referrals.
  2. Salespeople are fearful of asking, due mainly to the possibility of being rejected.
  3. Salespeople may not consider themselves worthy of asking. Believe it or not they may not see value in what they are selling or they may not value themselves sufficiently. (Scary thought!)
  4. A salesperson asked a couple of times but received nothing except an angry look from the customer.

Think about this. If you have 50 good customers who are happy with you, your company and the products why wouldn’t they be willing to give you a referral? I learned this lesson the hard way. Several years ago I received a call from a past customer and he suggested I call an acquaintance of his who was having trouble keeping his salespeople. I made the call and closed the deal. When I called the referring customer he said, “I’m shocked that you never asked me for referrals when you were working with us.” Ba-Da-Ding! Talk about a rap over the knuckles with a 2 pound ruler!

The quickest way to get over the fear of asking for referrals is to offer them first. (Another no-brainer!) When you’re talking with a customer, a friend, business associate ask them what a good prospect looks like for them. Once they recover from the shock of being asked this question they’ll give you some ideas. Match them up with some decent contacts who may need their service or product. Most people will want to return the favor. Don’t ya just love capitalism!

The Final Thought: Ask and you shall receive!