Is there a Sales Stereotype?

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As a sales professional, has a prospect ever treated you rudely for no reason?  Maybe she hung up on you when you called.  Or maybe she was condescending during a sales call.  And you thought to yourself, “why am I being treated with disrespect? She doesn’t treat other professionals like this.  It’s almost as if people subconsciously distrust salespeople.

Could this be true?  Daniel Pink performed a study of this in 2012.  In the first part, he sent out survey and asked, “When you think of ‘sales’ or ‘selling,’ what’s the first word that comes to mind?”  He then looked at the responses, and eliminated the nouns, most of which were value-neutral.  He then ranked the resulting adjectives by the frequency with which respondents used them.  The results provide some unmistakable insights into the perceptions of salespeople.

For example, the most common adjective used was the word “Pushy” followed by “yuck,” “ugh,” “hard,” “difficult,” “annoying,” “sleazy,” “slimy,” and “manipulative”.  This doesn’t paint a rosy picture of the average salesperson.  In fact, of the top 25 adjectives, only 5 can be considered somewhat positive (example are “necessary” and “essential”).  The rest are all negative and reflect the distaste that people associate with salespeople.

The second part of Pink’s study was similar to the first.  This time participants were asked to describe the picture that came to their mind when they thought of sales and selling.  In the words of Pink, “The top five responses, by a wide margin, were: “car salesman,” “suit,” “used-car salesman,” “man in a suit,” and… “pushy.” (The top ten also included both ‘car’ and ‘used car’ on their own.)

This is an amazing result.  Even though, according to the 2012 Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 15 millions people make their living in sales, and the vast majority of these salespeople do NOT sell cars, consumers still associate salespeople with the image of a slick, pushy, deceitful used-car salesman.   Someone that they don’t trust and don’t want to spend time with.

So what this mean for salespeople?

First, it means that we all have an uphill battle to climb when it comes to building trust and establishing credibility.  Whether or not your prospect admits it to you, he probably has a negative impression of salespeople, you included.  So you have to go above and beyond to prove your trustworthiness, even when you don’t think you have to.  As Pink says, it used to be “buyer beware” but now it’s changed to “seller beware”.

Second, the fact that there’s such a strong stereotype of salespeople means that you differentiate yourself by breaking the mold.

For example, if you act over-eager or are willing to bend the truth a little, then you will feed into the stereotype and your prospect will start to treat you like a sleazy used-car salesman.  But if  you act like a professional and work hard to help your prospect identify and solve his true underlying problem, then he’ll disassociate your from the stereotype and treat you with more respect

Make Each Pitch a Masterpiece

Jennie-Finch-Pitching-STACK

Several years ago I heard a pitching coach give some sage advice to an athlete that also applies to business, sales, and leadership.  “Make each pitch a masterpiece”.  Translation: don’t let any effort of yours be mediocre; make every effort your best.  With every pitch, the athlete must perform a masterpiece of a pitch, or the batter will perform a masterpiece of a hit.  Don’t allow yourself to give in on any day to any project during any hour.  Be relaxed later.  For now, give it your best shot.

Sometimes our work life gets…well…ordinary.  We slip into routines that can last for weeks or years.  You might not have any incentive for giving 100% every time.  Maybe nobody seems to care if you perform well or not.  Or maybe they care but you don’t.  You don’t see any reason to make every effort your best.

Well the truth is that every effort counts more than is immediately obvious.  In the major leagues, they count every pitch and evaluate them individually.  A major league pitcher may pitch 100 pitches per game in about 30 games per year.  Let’s see…that’s 300 pitches per year at $3M per year salary makes each pitch worth about $10,000.  Now we know they are aren’t equally valuable.  Some pitches are superb.   Others are mistakes and some are just mediocre efforts that produce disastrous consequences to their team and their careers.

So how can we apply this?  Our excellence is diluted by our mediocre efforts.  We can’t get an “A” on our work at the end of the quarter unless we do “A” work every day.  We cannot be deluded into thinking otherwise.  As much as we are tempted to give less than 100% during mid-term, that is a luxury we probably won’t want to pay for when the final score is posted.  I’m not talking about perfection here, just excellence.

Unfortunately, many leaders fail to communicate the benefits of excellence.  They assume their followers get it.  But they have been brainwashed into mediocrity.  Schools, entertainment, religious organizations, civic organizations, and others have “taught” us that good enough is…good enough.  We’ve all seen this in families and sports.  Why are some sports teams perennial favorites?  They expect excellence.  Why do some families produce all good students?  They expect excellence.  Why do some companies and some individuals exceed the norm?  They make each pitch a masterpiece.  Every project, every meeting, every report, every part.  Make your life and your organization great by making every effort great.  And you will become a success.

Choosing to be Accountable

JA kitchen tsk tsk 1-page-001Accountability is a key ingredient of success.  But we avoid it because it makes us uncomfortable.  It takes guts and humility to be held accountable but the results are so amazing that it’s worth it!

We’ve all been held accountable for our words and deeds by our parents when we were younger.  Our parents may have been kind or they may have been tyrannical but it’s the disciplines we created that made us better.  Unfortunately, some parents never hold their children accountable.  That is failing as a parent.

Let’s look at its effect on adults in the workplace.  There it’s your boss or co-workers who hold you accountable for the good of the organization. The boss has historically been the one who holds people accountable at work, but joint accountability is much better if you can do it.  Team members must CHOOSE to be held accountable for this to work well.    When teams choose to be held accountable by each other, it respects everyone and creates better teamwork.

Accountability works because people are creatures of habit.  And some of their habits work against their own goals they care very much about!!  Some of their habits work against the goals of the organization.

At our house we take turns cleaning the kitchen.  Tuesdays are my night.  As you can see by the above note, my 21-year-old daughter (who still lives at home) held me accountable for my failing the team last week.  At first I was resentful because I do a lot more housework than she does.  But then I realized the humble and team oriented thing to do was to choose to be accountable for not cleaning the kitchen.  And I suffered the consequences we had previously agreed on for this infraction.

Why does joint accountability work?  Because we would all rather be accountable to each other than be accountable to the boss.  Years ago, I was my daughter’s boss.  Now we are team members; sort of.  In my career I have had many bosses who held me accountable but I usually held a little bit of resentment for it.  I felt “bossed around”.  Only one former boss created a culture of joint accountability.  His team was very good at holding each other accountable for what needed to be done.  That was very empowering  and produced better results than he could have gotten the old way.

I’ve seen joint accountability work in sports teams too.  Those teams are usually very successful.

So, how does a leader create this?

1. The first step is to create trust in the team.  People are reluctant to choose accountability if they don’t trust.  And trust isn’t on or off.  There are varying degrees of trust and you need to create as much as possible.

2. The next step is to ask for commitments.  If the boss makes the commitment for his direct reports that is much weaker than if the team members commit themselves.

3. Finally, ask team to hold each other accountable and set the example by being accountable yourself.  Since this takes considerable courage, it may not happen immediately or smoothly.  Keep at it!

This is a great goal to work towards, however and very doable.  In fact, it might be the greatest thing you can do for your team for their sake, for the organization, and for society as a whole.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s Tuesday night and I have a kitchen to clean.

Conflict and Conflict Management

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Conflict and conflict management is a common problem in the workplace.  Unresolved conflicts cause lower productivity because it’s very difficult to work with someone who has done an injustice to you.  Quiet rebellion or outright sabotage sometimes follow.  Not to mention the discouraging effect it has on other good employees who may leave based on unresolved open wounds surrounding them.

Not all conflict is equal.  Some conflict is good and even necessary.  Let’s distinguish between good conflict and bad conflict.

Good conflict is the debate of ideas.  Two conflicting agendas that spark a conflict can be very good for several reasons.  Testing your idea or the current system against a new idea is very healthy.  Challenging our beliefs cause either a new vigor for those beliefs or the change to a new, better belief.  This kind of conflict is good and should be encouraged.  It really is rare though because it takes so much courage to invite this kind of conflict.  And it takes skill to keep it from moving into bad conflict.

Bad conflict is the intense, persistent tension between co-workers.  It sometimes revolves around a “bad apple” type of person.

First, use prudence to discern when to get involved and when not to.  Usually, it takes courage to do either.  That said, one of  the biggest faults of managers is to be disengaged in workplace struggles.  Conflicts often escalate because the manager did nothing for too long.  Don’t be naive or weak.  Part of the manager’s job is to keep aggressive people in their place and on task.

If you do decide management involvement is necessary, be sure to be quick to hear and slow to judge.  Keep your own emotions out of it and be like the “blind justice” on the supreme court building.  Keep justice and the company goals higher than anyone’s personal desire or even anyone’s job.  Remember, you’re likely setting  precedence that could set direction (or even the company’s destiny) for years.  Be mindful to obey all laws involved.  Do research and get counsel before addressing the situation.

One of the best ways to understand all sides and build credibility is to be a careful listener.  Sometimes just this one discipline can stabilize and calm a situation.  It almost never has negative consequences.  Staying calm and compassionate without taking sides helps one learn all the “history” of the conflict and understand the breadth of the situation.  Frequently, just letting someone air their complaints is therapy enough to put the matter to rest.  Don’t move too slowly, however.

Asking for compromise is often best.  Parents have been asking their children to get along for thousands of years and some of your people have experienced that in their youth.  If you ask tactfully and appeal to fairness, you might help them resolve the situation by each one giving something.  Adding a small, practical administrative change might enhance the fairness of the resolution.  Follow up regularly to hold all parties accountable.

If you get to the point of actually making a judgement, it probably won’t be easy or popular.  Your decision needs to be compliant with company policy and maybe solely dictated by it.   In any case keep your supervisor, human resources, and any affected parties informed. Your judgement may be in favor of one party or the other or possibly against everyone.

Remember that sometimes decisions aren’t necessarily “good” but just the least of the “bads”.  Leaders are called on to make these tough calls but that’s your job.  And also remember that everyone is watching you.  Keep your integrity throughout the process.

Are we on the right path?

mountain trail

I went hiking with friends over the weekend on some unfamiliar trails in the mountains.  The trail was exciting but a little obscure in places.  Luckily for us there was a trail marker about every 15 minutes.  Their silent presence kept telling us: “you’re on the right path”.

Wouldn’t it be great if everything in our life and business was like that?  Just knowing whether or not we are doing things that can lead to success can be very comforting and motivating.  Knowing we’re on the right path can help us create efficiency and avoid wrong turns.  Unfortunately, receiving that feedback is not always so straight forward.  Sometimes we hope, plan, and calculate the choices we have.  We read every book, map, and site about a particular course we’re following but we ignore the one who’s been there before.  We disregard the markers on the tree.  Or maybe the previous traveler didn’t care to share the wisdom they’ve obtained.  Possibly they decided to keep their discoveries private or they purposely chose to hoard their hard won information.  Too bad.

A big role of leaders whether in business, institutions, families, sports, churches, or communities is to provide that kind of feedback.  When companies start mentoring programs, what are they hoping for?  Aren’t they hoping for some people to tell others “You’re on the right path”?

Having been there before gives one unique perspective not easily duplicated.  They’ve been where I am now.  They’ve been where I am headed next.  They may have been completely down the trail to its end.  If this trail is relatively stable – meaning it hasn’t changed much since the former traveler explored it, then they’re feedback is incredibly valuable.

Leaders:  Keep giving valuable feedback to those in your group.  Humbly.  You don’t have to be perfect.  Your thoughts are probably more valuable than you think. Be vulnerable.

Everyone: Keep receiving feedback from others.  Ask for it and verify it’s source and value before you apply it.  None of us is so smart or accomplished they can’t learn from others.

Many years ago I was very troubled by a problem I was experiencing.  A wise man gave me some advice with the caveat: “This will cause major conflict in your life but it’s the right thing to do”.  A couple months later I called him back and told him about the major conflict.  He  listened very kindly then said:  “Keep doing what you’re doing”  “Right now it’s difficult but some day it will get easier”

That wise friend died a few years later but I think about him often.  His words helped me stay on course and really taught me the whole value of weathering the storm of doing the right thing.  I can still hear him say “You’re on the right path”.

Keep planting

tiny zepherin drouin

 

I am a corporate trainer, consultant, and executive coach.  I’m also a gardener.  Today is a beautiful day in April and I just discovered some animal – probably a rabbit – has chewed off the leaves of my newly planted climbing rose.

I am so disappointed because I ordered that rose during the winter and have been looking forward to it for months.  Now, it’s just a leafless stick.  Will it still grow?  Maybe.  I also planted snow peas and onions two weeks ago but still no sign of life from them.  We’ve had a very cold spring here and it has snowed a few times since I planted.  They might grow – they might not.  I used to get upset when what I planted failed.  Then I learned a new truth about gardens, business, and life – I can replant.

Replanting my failed garden greatly increases my odds of success.  To keep planting with sales calls and new business initiatives also increases my odds.  Replanting with damaged relationships does too.

Keep planting means you’re not giving up.  It takes optimism and energy to keep planting.  It takes courage.  And we are usually smarter by the time we replant.  We learn from the first planting how to do it differently.  We gain knowledge and experience even when we fail.  Old gardeners, old business people, and old people usually have lots of experience because they’ve failed a lot.

So the key idea is this:  Set your goals, determine your plan to achieve those goals, and execute your plans.  Then don’t be surprised if your efforts don’t immediately produce results.  There may be a rabbit at work.  Keep up your efforts.  Keep making calls.  Keep calling, or keep building, or keep producing, or keep doing whatever creates success for you.  Keep planting until you achieve the goal you’ve set and you’re smelling the roses or eating the veggies.

And here’s another great thing about planting; the more I plant, the more I harvest.  If I sow 50 feet of seeds I’m going to get much more than if plant 10 feet of seeds.  This has saved my garden from mediocrity many times.  It’s also saved my life and business from mediocrity.  If you don’t like the results you’re getting, keep planting.  If you’re doing good things that should produce results, maybe you’re doing them too small or your timing is off.  Do it again and see what happens.  Keep planting is one strategy to success in business, sales, relationships, …and gardening.

Sales: Hard work brings good luck

sales people

Sales is a great profession.  Our society needs good sales people because  marketing – as good as it is – doesn’t quite have the energy that the salesperson can provide to deliver the goods.  Sales is also a good profession for people who enjoy the freedom to meet their customers’ needs and who are willing to stick with buyers with “issues”.  Sales people are often given lots of freedom to meet their customers’ peculiarities.  But with that freedom also comes the responsibility to hold their own feet to the fire when it comes to their activity.

In every sales organization that I know of, no two sales people have the same results.  In fact, often the distance from the top performer to the lowest performer is double, triple, or more!  Curiously,  sometimes very talented, educated, and  pretty people rank consistently at the bottom while seemingly unattractive or untalented sales people rank consistently at the top.  What’s going on here?

Well the truth is that hard work brings good luck in selling.  You can have all the advantages but unless you work hard you cannot be successful except in very rare circumstances.  If you ease off your activity goals, your sales will decline.  If you pick up your activity, your sales will increase.  Not immediately, but soon.  This is true for several reasons.

Being at the right place at the right time is golden.  Sometimes you just happen to show up when the prospect has decided they want what you have to sell.  And you are the person sitting in front of them.  It’s seems like dumb luck.  But undisciplined people rarely experience this.  It takes lots of activity to be lucky enough to be there when prospects turn themselves into buyers!  Early birds really do get more worms!  Covering more ground puts you in this position.

Another reason that hard work brings luck is when you keep your activity level up, you become more attractive.  What is less attractive than a lazy person or more attractive than an ambitious person?  Create the habit of hard work and it will show up on your face and in your voice.  People like to buy from ambitious person.  They want to buy from the successful person.

Finally, hard work brings luck because when you’re working hard, you get more support from above.  It’s rare when the owners and management make exceptions for the lowest producing sales people.  But the top people just seem to enjoy (earn?) extra accommodations from management and they often ask for those accommodations for their customers.  Do their customers like this?  Yes! and sometimes tell 100 people!  No wonder hard working people are lucky!

If you’re in sales, work hard.  Your company is counting on you, your customers are counting on you, and your country is counting on you.  Work hard and work smart.  It’s really a lot less painful than you think and the rewards are bigger than you think.  You will find that you will find better ways to serve your customers and get luckier all the time.

Why Corporate Training?

In a word: productivity.

Productivity is the key to every organization’s success. It is the golden thread that binds together all businesses regardless of their industry, corporate culture, or business model. Without productivity, everyone will fail.

And productivity is exactly what corporate training improves.

As companies fight to maintain and grow market share, they are faced with the classic problem of business: where to allocate resources. We live in a world of limited resources and every decision requires a tradeoff. There are a thousand things that would be nice to do, but what if you can only do 5?

This is where corporate training can increase your options.

Imagine a company with 100 employees that wants to increase their strategic scope. Traditional thinking says that they will need to hire a new team of, say, 5 people to handle the new work.

But what if you could increase the productivity of your existing workers instead? What if, instead of hiring 5 new employees you increased the productivity of your existing 100? If you increased each employees productivity by just 10% over the course of the year, that would equate to hiring 10 new employees.

But the reality is even better.

Think of all the things that you avoid when you choose corporate training over hiring new people.

  • You don’t need to pay taxes or health insurance
  • You don’t have anyone new to manage
  • You can fire your corporate training firm at any time

Best of all, rather than paying the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to assimilate your new people, you can pay a fraction of that to contract out to a training firm.

In short, corporate training firms increase your strategic options by increasing the productivity of your talent pool.

  • We can help you enter new markets by equipping you people with new skills
  • We can cut your costs by reducing waste and conflicts among your workers
  • We can increase your revenues by increasing the output of your sales staff

There’s a reason that all the Fortune 500 companies use corporate training. There are too many benefits for it to be ignored.

If you’re interested in learning how Bob Ramsey Seminars can help you, contact us. We would love to put together a training package that increases your productivity and helps you achieve your strategic imperatives.

Leaders: Engage!

There is one critical action that every leader must do; engage their followers. One can have great skills, decades of experience, be the industry expert, and be published in all the elite journals but if they won’t engage their followers, they’re not leading well.

Engaging people is being connected to those you lead and meeting their needs.  Taking time, listening, understanding, and caring for them.  Just telling them what to do isn’t enough.  If they can do their jobs without you, they still need leadership.  People need someone to be invested in their success.  That is the essence of leadership.  That’s why mom and dad are such powerful leaders.  They generally are invested in your success.  At least you wish they were.

I think most leaders fall into 2 major categories.  The first are those who believe they’re job is to manage systems.  They use people to make those systems work well.  This group sometimes neglects people except as a means to an end.  Big mistake.  The other category are those who understand they’re job is to lead people who will work the systems.  This second group understands people are key.

Can this be learned?  Can leaders be trained to engage people more?  I think making a decision then having a system to engage people are two important steps to leading people.  Decide now to treat people better than they deserve.  Be a giver and be patient with people. If you are in a position to be a positive influence in someone’s life-do it.  Then develop a system (using a calendar) to make sure you don’t neglect people.

I was in a leadership position years ago and subtly but noticeably started giving less, especially to the “problem” people.  I just gave less than my best if I gave at all.  The results were insidious and damaging.

Decide now to be a better leader.  Absolutely be the expert about your field and on the systems.  Also know that the people on your team can make or break all your success in the future.

High Performing Teams are like Chocolate Brownies (Kind of)

Here’s my best recipe for chocolate brownies: 3 eggs beaten, add 1/2 cup of canola oil, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1 1/3 cup sugar and beat well. Blend in 1/2 cocoa then 1 1/4 cup flour. Mix well and add about 1/3 cup of pecan halves. Then pour into an oiled glass 9″ pie pan and bake at 350 degrees for 24 minutes. Cool slightly, dust the top with powdered sugar, and eat them warm. They’re great! (Just don’t eat too many)

How are they like teams? Well, the wonderful combination of fat, eggs, sugar, cocoa, flour, and nuts make a yummy treat that surpasses any 1 or 2 of them by themselves.  It’s the unique combination of very different foods that create something very unlike any single ingredient.  Try eating any one alone and I prove my point!

High performing teams are a wonderful combination of people with very different skills and abilities who combine to make something special.  But few teams intentionally combine people like that.  Most managers are tempted to hire people with a very narrow criteria – people like themselves.  They think they can do fine with that philosophy. The truth is they just can’t get extraordinary results when everybody is exactly like them.  They think they’re making brownies and they end up with noodles or chocolate candy or scrambled eggs!

I can’t blame them.  I’m also tempted to team up with people like myself and enjoy the comfort I have with like-minded individuals.  It’s uncomfortable to work with people who communicate and think differently than I do.  And if you’re the boss, why bother!?  Who needs the stress and miscommunications that come from hiring like that?  All we need are talented, ethical, hard-working people, right?  Who needs people who are…different?

Well, if you want good brownies you need to combine some unlike ingredients.  Cocoa doesn’t really want to blend with that egg/sugar/vanilla mixture.  It resists.  Then when adding the flour there’s more resistance.  Keep stirring!  When it heats up, don’t give up!

Have the courage and wisdom to assemble teams that combine people who are skilled but very different.  Don’t trust the results that come from just your type.  That will limit your success.  Adding different ingredients may be a difficult task, but your results will reward your patience and persistence.  Enjoy!

Bob

P.S.  If you ever want to talk about high performing teams, give me a call.  If you give me some notice, I’ll bring the brownies.