Exactly what kinds of experiences award an individual entrance into the wisdom club? Now there’s a question that stops the creative process with the finality of the word end on the last page of a book. So, where to from here? According to Wikipedia wisdom in the Western tradition is one of the cardinal virtues. As a virtue, it is a habit or disposition to perform the right action under given circumstances. This translation I like better. Wisdom is a disposition to find the truth coupled with an optimum judgment as to right actions. A decent synonym is insight. (According to this my 7-year-old grandson has wisdom. He looked at me the other day and said, “Grandpa you have big ears”! Thanks kid. Always good to have the ego stroked. 😉

Usually, parents have wisdom. My father did not necessarily prove that out. In all the years I knew him he gave me one bit of sage advice, which was ‘go into sales’. As it turned out that was a brilliant bit of truth that came at the right time. But that was it. Apparently, Harry decided that he wasn’t going to offer any other truths; he wanted to offer one humdinger of a truth and then rest on his laurels. Harry was also a shy individual who did not want to impose his will on anyone. My mother would disagree but that’s for another day and venue.

Whatever shortage of wisdom my father offered I made up for in spades by offering more than people needed. That’s where ego and wisdom intersect. If people think they are wise and they have a larger than required ego they believe that they need to dispense their wisdom freely to everyone. Really a bad idea! I don’t think that I fell into that category although my kids and wife may disagree. How you deliver wisdom, when you do it and to whom are the real keys to this virtue.

I freely dispensed (some might say dictated) suggestions under the guise of wisdom. There was a better way to do it. Making a query as in “Mind if I share an opinion on….” is better. My intentions were good but the delivery sucked. When you offer wisdom (if it really is that) non-stop people get really annoyed and before you know it they tune you out. Kids tend to model their parents anyway so if the modeling is good then how much ‘wisdom’ needs to be dispensed? Probably not as much as most parents think.

One of my bosses offered this pearl to me when I became a first time manager. “If you need help or have questions give me a call”. Okay. The sign on his desk could have read Wisdom will be dispensed upon request. His theory was that if I had a problem or question I was smart enough to know that I needed help and that he was a phone call away. Either that or he didn’t know what to tell me because no one had ever taught him how to manage. He basically winged life anyway and I suspect that’s how he handled sales management.

Past the age of 16 (my own very arbitrary number) wisdom should be delivered with some finesse as in a tactful, diplomatic maneuver. Why the touchy feely approach? Maybe the person already knows the best way to approach a problem. Maybe they have already proven they can handle tough situations. Maybe they enjoy the process of learning from their own mistakes. Maybe they’re stubborn SOB’s. Maybe they’re tired of listening to you. Regardless, not everyone is anxiously awaiting the next pearl to escape your frontal lobe. Offering wisdom that might actually have a lasting impact on a person or situation should be offered upon request, humorously, in a metaphor mixed with humor, with permission or to sell a book. 😉 And isn’t wisdom akin to advice?

George Carlin was one of the funniest humans on the planet. He had a classic one liner jam-packed with wisdom. Don’t let your ego write a check your body can’t cash! Or something like that. Not a bad bit of wisdom.


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.

Adversity Is The Forge of Courage

I am a voracious reader. For more than a few years I did not admit to many people that science fiction was my genre of choice. What can I say, I grew up on Robert Heinlein and once you’ve read him the addiction to SF is entrenched. The adage above came from a book I’m currently reading. The saying stopped me cold because it so aptly connects to almost every part of life.

But like so many of these sayings I run across it needs to be altered a bit. It could just as well read “Adversity Is The Forge Of Success.” How many times has adversity affected you? And how many times has something good come from it? Adversity is defined as a condition marked by misfortune, calamity, or distress. Doesn’t adversity forge many of the best characteristics in people-leadership, knowledge, experience, achievement, fortitude, patience, mental toughness etc.? Working through misfortune or any other obstacle builds toughness.

Do you ever know how really good you are without some version of adversity? Prior to going into the army in 1968 I had experienced little in the way of adversity, other than flunking out of a couple of schools. Did I have the right stuff to survive? Basic training, advanced infantry training, OCS, airborne, Ranger schools, and a year in southeast Asia did the job of “forging” an individual who understood how adversity prepares you to not just survive but grow! I was able to learn about leadership, thinking on your feet, risking, examining options, preparation, courage and much more.

I learned perhaps the most significant lessons low crawling through the red clay of Fort Benning, Georgia. What is a mistake other than choosing the wrong option? So you fail? Making bad decisions can lead to adversity but people can survive adversity. What’s worse than adversity? Never putting yourself under the gun making important decisions or executing tough business decisions. How will anyone know what they’re made of if they don’t put themselves in the way of adversity?

I want to take just a minute to thank all of the people who serve our country, many of whom are in harm’s way. Recently a Chinook helicopter went down in Afghanistan with 30 soldiers aboard. Their deaths left a trail of sorrow across the country. The men and women in the armed services are true heroes. Often times their version of adversity will leave them mentally or physically challenged or dead! Keep them and their families in your prayers. Thanks!

A Ten Minute Military Lesson Used As A Guide To Sales!

Almost everyone I know has had an “Ahah” moment. Sometimes we don’t know that they are ahah moments until later. One of these happened to me in 1970 when I was a young, very wet-behind-the-ears 2nd Lieutenant stationed with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

I drew the short straw one Saturday night so I was the Battalion officer in charge. I had just graduated from Office Candidate School so I was long on military tactics but short on experience. As the Battalion officer you are the go-to person if anything out of the ordinary happens to anyone or anything in the Battalion. On this particular Saturday evening about 2AM I was called to Battalion headquarters where two privates from one of the platoons were being held after they starred in a bar fight off base. As the two nimrods were being processed another fight broke out between them.

Instead of intervening I stood there like the Rock of Gibraltar and let the MP’s take charge. End of situation or so I thought. Monday morning I was called into Lt. Colonel Casey’s (Battalion Commander) office. Casey was five foot nine inches of  hard core military-buzz cut, steely eyes, and combat experience. Physically I was five inches taller than Casey but mentally I was a boy scout! For ten harrowing (at the time) minutes Casey wreaked havoc on me about my failure to react properly to a leadership situation, which of course was my frozen statue imitation of the previous Saturday night.

At the end of the ten minute tirade Casey told me to stand at ease. He said to me, “Son, you will be faced with situations in your life where you have to take action quickly and with confidence. The lesson to be learned from Saturday night’s fiasco is when in doubt take action-do something. Life passes people by who stand and watch.” He spoke these three sentences slowly and with great mentoring force. I didn’t just hear them; they were seared into my brain!

And so to sales. How many times have all of us been in situations that required action and where we had a mental hiccup? Those hiccups tend to abate as we gain experience but they still occur. The rule of thumb is DO SOMETHING with a very strong emphasis on the thing! Doing something has even more meaning for sales managers. The longer a sales manager allows a bad situation to continue the larger the mess will be. The longer a salesperson allows his or her fears to rule their lives the poorer they will be, both in money and self image.

The Final Thought: “Take Action”. Lieutenant Colonel Casey, First of the 325 Battalion.

Watch Out For Head Trash!

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how so many salespeople find it so difficult to move out of their comfort zones. I may have mentioned head trash but doubt whether I spent much time on it. H.T. comes in lots of shapes and sizes; most of the trash roaming around in our brain comes courtesy of all the people who have and are impacting our lives. Here is a wondrous list of some of the more insidious bits of head trash:

  1. You can’t do that!
  2. Don’t talk about money.
  3. Don’t talk to strangers. (Absolutely great advice if you’re a kid; lousy advice if you’re in sales.)
  4. You’re lazy.
  5. Math is not your cup of tea.
  6. You have a short attention span.
  7. That’s too risky.
  8. You’ll never make it…
  9. Are you sure you want to do that?
  10. No one has ever done that before…

Now, before you think that I am about to indict all parents, teachers, coaches etc. let me say that with a few exceptions the people who raised us and effected our lives are good people. Their hearts were and are in the right place. They didn’t consciously try to mess with our brains. (OK, so there were a few times when I deliberately messed with my kid’s heads but they weathered the storm!)

Each one of the above “well-intentioned” comments, if said enough times, become lodged in our brain. They become negative mantras, reminders of limitations, and precursors of failure. You’re familiar with the acronym GIGO as it relates to computers-Garbage In, Garbage Out. The same is true with head trash. If the garbage doesn’t get tossed it begins to affect how we act and what we are willing to do.

I strongly advise younger salespeople to do a “head check” to determine what kinds of head trash they have. And if they find some determine how it affects their sales abilities. Getting rid of H.T. isn’t as hard as you think. Apply this to all situations where you think head trash might be lurking-WTWTTCHTM-or What’s The Worst Thing That Can Happen To Me if I do an intimidating or uncomfortable activity. The worst thing rarely is that bad.

The Final Thought: Most successful men have not achieved their distinction by having some new talent or opportunity presented to them. They have developed the opportunity that was at hand.” Bruce Marton

Sales Management or the Art of Mental Feng Shui

Do you ever wonder why things just pop into your brain? I was in my office last night thinking of something fresh and completely off the wall to write about sales management. Nothin’, absolutely nothin’ passed through that caught my interest. So I planted the idea and this morning checked in on that cob webby part of my brain where I store things for later reference. Sure enough, “mental feng shui” was sitting there like an 80 mile an hour fastball waiting for Justin Morneau to hammer it.

Yes there is something to this but it’s just not evident. Let’s get a definition of feng shui out of the way first. It is a complex body of knowledge that reveals how to balance the energies of any given space to assure the health and good fortune for people inhabiting it. Or, the more funky one. Feng shui is improving life by receiving positive Qi. (Maybe that’s what was wrong with the idiots at AIG. The negative Qi made them do it!)

When you manage salespeople you are, in essence, managing the area between their ears. (As Ben Hogan so accurately put it “Golf is played on a six inch course”.) At any given time a salesperson’s brain might be dealing with any of the following thoughts:

  • I really hate this job but I’m trapped
  • I wish my boss understood me better
  • My wife and I spent way too much on that flat screen TV
  • If I lose the Thompson account there goes my year and the bonus
  • Should I consider the marketing job that will be opening up
  • I wonder why the VP of Sales is coming out to work with me

And these examples represent only a fraction of what’s roaming through the brain of any salesperson at any given time. I maintain that a good sales manager should be aware of some of the unnecessary junk that floats through a rep’s brain and that the manager needs to help the salesperson focus on what’s important and what’s not. Put another way, people need to live in the present. A good manager knows what the “present” looks like to a salesperson so why not help them focus on that rather than the situations that are past or future?

Is this not similar to “balancing the energies of any given space”?

The Final Thought:  “Present-moment living, getting in touch with your now, is at the heart of effective living. When you think about it, there really is no other moment you can live. Now is all there is, and the future is just another present moment to live when it arrives.” Wayne Dyer

Don’t You Think It’s Time To Reinvent Yourself?

My wife hates the phrase “reinvent yourself”. When she hears that from me she goes pale and rushes for some antacid relief! What it usually means to Cath is that I am about to embark on a new life path, which is filled with uncertainty. Personally, I love uncertainty; my wife does not. Here’s an example from the distant past.

At one point during my military years I had a three week time period between schools. I had just finished Advanced Infantry Training (that could be an oxymoron) and Officer Candidate School. The powers that be gave me and a host of other grunts the choice of doing KP for three weeks or going to jump school for three weeks, you know where you leave perfectly safe airplanes and trust your life to a piece of silk! Of course I went! Adventure, exhiliration, heart pumping excitement won out over peeling spuds for 21 days.

Of course when you’re 24 what can happen to you? By my count that was the fifth time I had reinvented myself. Why do some people find it so easy to reinvent or change who they are? I can tell you that my parents weren’t like that so throw the gene pool idea out the window. People change or reinvent themselves because they have no fear of leaving their comfort zones. Comfort zones kill creativity, progress, and forward movement. They waste dreams and time. They sap people of energy and inflict enormous amounts of emotional pain!

And here is the main reason why people like the snugness of their comfort zones. They don’t have to worry about disappointing themselves and/or others by not meeting expectations. Think about this. Each of us was raised and influenced by people who had expectations for us. If we did not meet those expectations then we disappointed people. Here’s what my mother said when she found out I was going Airborne. “Tom, why do you insist on worrying your father and me’? That my friends is a salvo of guilt that only a mother could deliver! But there it is. The clear message was-stay in your comfort zone, son, and everyone will be happy! N-O-T.

More next week on this.

The Final Thought: “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” T S Eliot