Sales and Sales Management Blog

January 31, 2013

The Myth of the Nobility of Failure

I’m a failure.  I’ve had two failed businesses in the past.  I agonized over them.  I lost lots of money trying to build and eventually save them.  I lost sleep over them.  I lost self respect over them.  My failure hurt other people—people who worked for me or whose business my business helped support. 

I learned a great deal from those experiences—although my initial lessons learned were false lessons.

Friends, family, acquaintances, and business “gurus” assured me that my efforts to build something were quite noble and that I really hadn’t failed, I simply came up a bit short of my goal.

I was told that I should take pride in my effort as I was one of the few who had the courage to take the risk–and that itself was a magnificent reward.

I was told that failure wasn’t my fault—I was a victim of the marketplace, seeking to compete against a system that was stacked against the little guy where I could only succeed through luck.

I was told to shrug it off as simply a learning experience; that the only failure was failure to learn.

At the time, I bought into that BS.  Because I wanted to believe it.  Because I didn’t want to admit that I had failed. 

Because I wanted—needed—reassurance that I still had value, that I wasn’t worthless. 

Over time I came to realize a painful truth, one that to some extent is still a bit difficult to admit—I failed.

And there’s nothing noble about failing.

There’s no magnificent reward in failure.

I wasn’t a victim of the system—I failed because I didn’t do the right things.

My failure wasn’t someone else’s fault or the economy’s fault or the “man’s” fault or my employee’s fault.  It rested completely and totally on my shoulders.

While buying into all of the excuses provided me for failing, I believed I had learned a good deal from those failures.

It wasn’t until after I came to the realization that all of those supposed reasons for my failure were nothing other than feel good excuses did I really learn some valuable lessons from my failures.

Only after I was willing to take responsibility for what happened and recognize how I was the architect of my failure did I learn the real lessons to be learned.

We live in an era where there’s a great deal of excuse making for failure.  When you fail there are people everywhere willing to give you a reason why it wasn’t your fault.  In today’s culture—even our business culture—everyone is given the victim excuse.

When you fail—and you will, whether it be big or small—don’t allow yourself the luxury of being fooled by family, friends, and supposed gurus.  They’ll try to make you feel better by letting you off the hook.  It’s an attractive but deceptive lie.  It’s a lie that will prevent you from learning the real lessons to be learned from failure.  It’s a lie that will set you up for further failure.

Rather than falling for the kind lie, face up to the harsh truth of your responsibility for your failure. 

There is no nobility in failure.

You weren’t a victim of anything other than yourself.

Failure isn’t a reward in itself.

Yes, it’s much harder than the alternative.

The weight of that realization is far greater than when others try to lift the weight of failure through their lies.

But the lessons learned will serve you well—and most importantly, wage war against future failure.

 

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August 13, 2012

Guest Article: “Our Motives: Affirmation or Contribution?” by Doug Rice

Filed under: goals,motivation — Paul McCord @ 9:17 am
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Our Motives: Affirmation or Contribution?
by Doug Rice

I’m going to get a little philosophical on you today. A couple of weeks ago, a friend and I were having a discussion about art and why people create it. I, being the optimistically naive idealist that I am, suggested that artists produce art in order to make a contribution to the world. He disagreed–suggesting instead that artists produce art in order to affirm their own self-worth. Even though they may say they want to make a contribution to bettering humanity, they really just want to validate the quality of their work. Which theory is true?

You are an artist. Did you ever think of yourself that way? Well, it’s true. If you are in business–if you are producing something to be consumed by others–you are an artist. Your product, your service, whatever it is you sell–that is your art. So, why do YOU make what you make?

Are you in business to validate the quality of your work. Do you sell what you sell so that people will find value and worth in your brand? Or, do you sell what you sell to make your customers, your community, and your world better off than they were when they found you? Are you seeking affirmation or contribution?

Why Not Both?

I think that the discussion my friend and I were having is kind of silly. It rests on the rather hefty assumption that seeking affirmation and seeking contribution are mutually exclusive. They aren’t. They can coexist. You can have your cake and eat it too. We were making a false dichotomy.

You see, I think that the reason we create art (or the reason that we’re in business)–at its base–is to offer something to the world. We want to leave this place better off than it was when we got here. But, we do crave affirmation of the value we provide. The affirmation, though, isn’t selfish in nature. It serves only to inform us that we really have made a contribution.

Think about it, if you ever make something that no one appreciates, can you really say that you’ve done them any good? No, I don’t think so. The validation of our work is important, not for making us feel better, but rather for showing us that we have truthfully made a difference in the life of another.

You want people to fall in love with your brand. You want people to attach meaning and value to it. And it’s not about your ego. It’s not about affirming that you are a great business person putting out great product. No, it’s about signaling to you that you’ve adequately contributed something to your customers. You’ve really made a difference.

Affirmation or contribution? Silly question. Affirmation is merely proof that you’ve made a contribution.

Doug Rice is the creator of the Small Business Storyteller blog which is dedicated to helping small business owners tell their stories on the web.

July 16, 2012

The Value of Fear

Filed under: career development,motivation,success — Paul McCord @ 12:08 pm
Tags: ,

“I’m not afraid of anything,” goes the boast so often heard from sellers who are trying to impress their manager. 

The idea that a top seller is so confident, so cool, so well prepared that they’re not afraid of anyone or anything, including failure, seems to be more prevalent now than in the past.  Maybe I’m just more attuned to it now than I had been. 

Whichever it is, I’m hearing it more and more often and most of the time it seems to be coming from young sellers who grew up being told that they not only could do anything they put their minds to but they deserve success because they are the most educated and admirable generation ever.

It seems that the coddling has bleached out all sense of fear and anxiety—and a great deal of hardness and determination—from the up and coming generation of sellers.

And although this isn’t universal, of course, it seems we’ve done them a mighty disservice. 

To pervert one of Gordon Gekko’s quotes, “Fear is good.”  Fear is, in fact, the stuff that success is made of.  Fear of failure.  Fear of losing one’s job or status or position or respect.  Fear of disappointing oneself and others.  Fear of not achieving.  Fear of not living out one’s dream.

Fear is more powerful than the lure of success.  It puts more demands on you than the want of things.  Fear is a motivator like no other.  For most of us it isn’t the carrot as much as the stick that is the base motivating factor.

And we have a generation that has been force fed unwarranted success through the elimination of the potential for failure and, thus, the purging of the sense of fear of failure.

I’ve yet to find a highly successful person who doesn’t respect fear—and if you haven’t had the opportunity to taste it in big chunks you can’t respect it.  It is so simple and terrible, yet so powerful.  Don’t allow yourself or your sales team to live with the illusion that success can be acquired without the help of fear.

If you’re a sales leader who has sellers who voice a lack of fear, encourage them to go out and get a really good taste of failure.

January 12, 2012

Are You Too Fat and Happy to be Successful?

It may surprise you to learn that I speak to a number of sellers and sales leaders every month who although they mouth the right words, their actions say they’re fat and happy and way too contented to become successful.

What I hear most often in today’s economy, of course, is the complaint of not enough business, no one is buying, the competition is cutting prices to the bare bone or some other form of the statement that business is tough and in order to be successful you have to be sharp, aggressive and willing to put in long, tough hours.

But that’s not the only message I’m hearing.  A few times a month I’ll hear how a seller or company is doing just fine, that although business is down from before the recession, they feel they are doing better than most and they’re still making money.  From others I’ll hear that although their income is down and a new home or new car isn’t in the cards, they’re still doing OK, meaning they’re quite  evcomfortable.

I’m always curious when I hear a seller or a company express comfort and/or satisfaction with their situation when, at the same time, they’re admitting that sales are down, income or profits aren’t where they were, and they don’t expect to see a significant change in the next year or even two.

Really?

Comfortable?

Satisfied?

No sense of loss or itching desire to get back where they were?

Inevitably I find that they either have reached the peak where they have no desire to exert the energy to move beyond or they have accepted the recession as the new norm and believe that their current level of success is all they can expect in this new reality.

Seldom do I get this response from the top sellers and the top companies.  Most often this attitude is expressed by average and even below average sellers and companies, ones that were probably looking for the path of least resistance even prior to the economic downturn.

My experience from years of working with and speaking with thousands of top sellers and top companies is they are never satisfied.  And when they find themselves moving backwards—even if the cause is something out of their hands such as a major economic downturn—they fight even harder to get back to where they were and then beyond.

Once you have reached a point where you’re fat and happy, you’ve peaked; you’ve reached a point where you will not—you cannot—become more successful.

Success demands discontent with where one is at.  It requires a level of dissatisfaction and discomfort.  For top sellers and companies success is an ever elusive goal that can never be reached—and it isn’t quelled and extinguished by an outside force such as a recession.  In fact, those outside forces that seek to kill their desire to succeed only fuel their fire.

Have you reached a point where you’re comfortable and can relax knowing you’re successful?  I hope not, for if you have, you’ve probably reached your peak, and if you have, where can you go from there other than back down?

January 4, 2012

Having a Tough Time Getting Started? You Need a Ritual

Filed under: attitude,career development,motivation,sales,selling,success — Paul McCord @ 3:47 pm
Tags: ,

Do you, like many others, have a difficult time getting yourself mentally, emotionally, and physically prepared to begin certain tasks?  Some have a hard time getting “in the mood” to make cold calls while others have trouble getting themselves geared up for a face-to-face meeting.

Certainly we can force ourselves to make the cold call even though we’re not prepared or we can make ourselves go through the motions of the job interview or sales presentation even though we know we’re neither mentally or emotionally in the right frame of mind.

And what usually happens when we simply go through the motions in order to fulfill an obligation or check off a task to be done?

Most of the time the cold call is crap, we don’t get a second interview, or the sales call was a total bust.

Many a cold caller confronts the phone every day with the same lack of focus, the same mental and emotional dread of what is about to happen.  And they fail time after time.

Many a job seeker goes into job interview after job interview unfocused, stomach churning, brow sweating—and comes out feeling that they couldn’t have made a worse impression if they had tried.

Thousands of sellers hit the streets to make presentations and go into them with nerves on end, thoughts blurred, tongue tied and they know they’ve lost the sale before they’re half way through.

These are not incompetent or lazy folks.  These are not cold callers who have no idea of what they going to say, or job applicants that are in over their head, or sellers who don’t know their products and markets.

Most of the time these are simply men and women who haven’t learned how to slow the process down, to de-stress themselves before the event, to create some action that signals their mind and body to focus for a very specific purpose.

Simply, these are men and women who haven’t learned the power of ritual.

What is a ritual?  Put simply a ritual is a specific action that when performed prior to an event has a calming effect on the individual and helps them focus for the task at hand.

Let me give a couple of examples:

Mike Adams is a pitcher for the Texas Rangers.  Pitching is a high stress occupation that demands a great deal of mental and emotional focus and control.  During a game a pitcher will have to find a way to be able to control his emotions and focus his undivided attention on throwing a baseball accurately anywhere from a few to over 100 times a game.  To make things a bit more difficult, after every pitch there is a break in the pitcher’s action as the ball is fielded, thrown back to the pitcher, and the team gets set for the next pitch.  You focus 100% of your mental and emotional energy on making a great pitch, then you have nothing of consequence going on for a minute or two, and then once again you have to find a way to focus 100% of your mental and emotional energy on making a great pitch.  Try to do that time after time without losing your focus every now and then.

Any way you look at it, that’s a tough, tough job.

How does Adams maintain his high level of focus over an extended period of time?  He does it by using a simple ritual to get his mind and body ready to focus only on making the next pitch.  Mike’s ritual is that after each pitch, after the catcher or an infielder has thrown him the ball, he lifts his cap off and then perches it lightly on top of his head.  He leaves the cap that way while he is waiting for the batter and the fielders to get ready.  Once things are settled and it is time for him to make his next pitch he will lift the cap up and adjust it on his head in its final position.  That adjustment is his ritual signal to his mind and body to focus, to concentrate on the job at hand, to block out everything else and focus only on making the pitch.

Such a simple action, but one that he has practiced to the point that the action alone automatically puts him in the frame of mind and prepares his body to give attention to only making the best pitch possible.

Now Mike is not alone.  If you pay attention during the baseball season you’ll find that many pitchers use their cap in one way or another as a ritual action to settle their mind and body into the work at hand.  Likewise, many batters will use the bat or their batting gloves to do the same.

But it isn’t only athletes that use rituals.  Back many years ago, when smoking wasn’t yet a social criminal offense, I had a salesperson, Wes, who was a heavy smoker.  On occasion I’d do ride alongs with him and I eventually came to recognize the ritual he went through before going in to meet with a prospect or client.

As we were pulling up to the office building where Wes’ sales prospect was located, he’d inevitably light a cigarette.  He would take two or three puffs of the cigarette, open his door and get out, close the door, take one final puff and then forcefully throw the cigarette down, take the toe of his shoe and smash the cigarette butt into the ground putting it out.  That forceful grinding of the cigarette butt was his ritual action telling his mind and body what was about to happen and to get ready.  Like Mike’s adjusting of the cap, Wes’ action was very simple, so simple that it could be easily ignored by an observer.  But it was there—and was important for Wes to go through that motion to prepare himself for the minutes ahead.

I’ve known a great many sellers who had some form of ritual action they performed, whether in preparation for hitting the phones, making presentations, giving large group presentations and speeches, or putting sales proposals together.  For that matter, I’ve known a couple of salespeople who seemed to have to go through some kind of ritual before doing anything,

I’ve also noticed that humans aren’t the only ones who rely on ritual behavior.  Our Golden Retriever, Lola, goes through a ritual every time she is greeted by someone.  When she approaches someone or when someone approaches her, before she allows herself to be touched she must reach her front legs out as far as she can and she then bends down and out in a huge stretch.  Once she has stretched, she’s ready to greet the person and get petted.  If anyone else walks up, before they touch her, she has to go through her stretch once more.  I’m not really sure what her stretch does for her, but it is certainly a ritual she has to go through before she’s ready to be greeted.

Although simple, rituals really work.  If you’re having a difficult time with a particular task such as cold calling, conducting face to face meetings, public speaking, or any other task that you do often and need to find a way to help you really relax and focus, try creating a ritual that once ingrained will automatically put you in the right mental and emotional frame to perform at your peak.

December 6, 2011

Eating with the Big Dogs–Taking the Next Big Step in Your Sales Career

Filed under: career development,goals,motivation,sales,selling,success — Paul McCord @ 11:56 am
Tags: , ,

Last summer I received an email from Beth, a pharmaceutical salesperson with slightly more than two years of experience, asking me what she should be doing in order to take the next big step in her career.  She is a slightly above average seller in her company—actually one of the better sophomore performers.  Since joining the company she has taken her manager’s advice and only compared her performance and numbers against the other salespeople with less than three years experience (her manager told her not to try to compare herself to the more experienced sellers as she would likely become discouraged).

I sent her an email asking a number of questions, one of which was what her short-term and long-term goals were.  She responded that her short-term goal was to be the top seller in her company in her “class,” and her long-term goal was to become one of the top 5% producers in the company.

In response to my question as to what she was currently doing to improve her sales she responded that she was taking advantage of all the training her company provided, was an avid reader of sales books, and constantly talking to her colleagues about what they found worked and what didn’t.  As we continued to communicate it became obvious that she considered her colleagues to be the other sellers in the company that were either selling at the same volume or had about the same amount of experience.

Although of excellent quality, unfortunately the vast majority of training her company provided was product training, not sales training.  Consequently, Beth was becoming extremely proficient at discussing her products but wasn’t getting the training she needed in the various aspect of selling.  In a very real sense she was more of a walking product brochure than a salesperson.

My recommendations to Beth were threefold:

  1. Start Eating with the Big Dogs:  Rather than hang out and discuss ideas with others in the company who are at or below her production level, she needed to be interacting and learning from the top producers in the company.  The only thing others at her level can teach her is how to stay at the production level she is currently at—worse, those below her can only teach her how to fail.  If she wants to grow she needs to learn from those who are where she wants to be. I encouraged her to start inviting those big producers to lunch.  She should look at them as mentors and teachers—and as colleagues.  Spend as much time as she could learning everything she can.  Listen to them on the phone; hitch a ride as they make sales calls if possible; find out what they read and who they value as teachers and mentors.  Emulate success, not mediocrity.
  2. Take Control of Her Training:  Since the company is primarily concerned with investing their money training their sales staff on their products, she will have to take control of her sales education.  She’ll have to invest her time and money in learning how to be a top notch seller. Beth’s situation is hardly unique.  In fact, a great many companies—probably the vast majority–neglect sales training in favor of product training.  Many companies (and sellers) mistakenly believe they are the same thing.  Not only are they not the same thing, neither is very effective without the other. At first Beth wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about spending her money attending on-line and live training seminars and workshops.  After all, she argued, her company should be paying since her skills were going to be used to sell their products.  True, I agreed—except her skills were going to be with her for life, not just while she was selling for the company she currently works for.  Her product knowledge is to a large extent company specific, her sales skills will be universal and benefiting her for life.  With that explanation she agreed—reluctantly—to make the investment in herself.
  3. Compete Against The Best, Not the Easiest:  I encouraged her to stop comparing her production and progress only against those with the same amount of experience but to compare herself against the best in her company and her industry.  If she wants to be a top dog she has to compare herself against the top dogs—even if at the moment that comparison isn’t comfortable. If she is only competing against others at her level she is giving herself a false trophy.  Her goal isn’t to be one of the best mediocre producers but rather to be one of the top producers in her company—and ultimately her industry.  With that in mind, certainly she can take some pride in the steps she makes, but she really can’t allow herself to bask in glory just because she out sold a bunch of other middle of the road sellers.  She has to keep her eye on the ultimate goal and only compare herself against that goal. Does that mean she’ll be ever frustrated—and possibly become discouraged and quit as her manager suggested—by comparing herself against a goal she isn’t close to achieving?  Not at all.  She should be able to see her progress as she continues to close in on that goal.  Like a long-distance runner, she might click off the landmarks as she passes them, but she must know how she stacks up with where she wants to be and keep her eye on the ultimate goal.

It has been almost a half year since my interaction with Beth.  I received a call from her last week.  She has implemented all three suggestions.  She feels she still has a lot of sales training to go through.  She still hasn’t made her goal of being in the top 5% of her company’s sales force.  But she has progressed from being in the top 40% to closing this year in the top 25%–with a very realistic opportunity of being in the top 10% next year.

Beth ain’t there yet—but she’s making great progress very quickly.  She says that so far the biggest impact has been eating with the big dogs—she had no idea how differently they did things than the way she and her fellow mediocre sellers did them.  The sales training is paying off.  Knowing how she stacks up against the big dogs gives her new motivation to make big steps, not just the little ones that she previously thought were reachable.

If you’re looking to take the next big step in your career do the same as Beth—start eating with the big dogs and leave the other average sellers behind; take control of your own sales training; and compare yourself with the big producers, not just the ones you think you can compete with easily.  It will make a difference—and like Beth, you might find the difference comes pretty quickly.

August 13, 2011

Ancestory.sales: Do You Know Where You Came From?

McCord Family Crest

I really haven’t been too into researching my family tree, but recently I decided to do a bit of research and made some interesting discoveries about both my father’s and my mother’s families.

I always believed my father’s family came from Ireland—part of the potato famine exodus.  Wrong.  We came almost directly from Scotland with a very brief, less than one generation, stopover in Belfast.  I discovered that in 1689 my great-grandfather 9 generations ago, who was the chieftain of a clan on the Isle Skye, was killed at the Battle of Killiecrankie Pass in Scotland while fighting for Charles II even though he and the clan were strict Scot Presbyterians.  Who could have guessed that? 

I discovered that my great-grandfather 7 generations ago was an original founder of Derry Township Pennsylvania (Hershey, PA today—Mmm, chocolate!).  Lancaster County Pennsylvania?  Really?  Would never have thought that.

The family eventually moved to Tennessee and then onto southern Illinois for several generations.  Ah, McCord wanderlust from Scotland to Ireland to Pennsylvania to Tennessee to Illinois—now that’s a family trait I recognize since we then migrated to Ohio to Kansas back to Ohio for a bit and then on to Texas.

I discovered we have a family coat of arms (and from the looks of it, it appears my ancestors who designed it were as artistically challenged as are the current generation of McCord’s). We have a family motto: “One Way, One Heart” (certainly the implied unity of the family didn’t transfer down to the 20th and 21st centuries).  We even have a tartan design of our own—you could be wearing my family’s plaid right this minute.

On my mother’s side I discovered the Dunn’s were really from England–like they were supposed to be.  But again to my surprise, I discovered that my great-grandfather 8 generations ago, Hugh Dunn, was one of the four founders of Piscataway, New Jersey in 1666.  Later one was the mayor of Lockland, Ohio during part of the Civil War. 

Wow, original founders of Derry Township, PA on one side and Piscataway, New Jersey on the other.  Real honest to goodness American pioneers.  We must have lost that spirit since it doesn’t look like any of us has helped found another town in the last 350 years.

I found direct ancestors who had been killed by Indians when their settlement was raided, at least two who had fought in the Revolutionary War, another had been killed in the French and Indian War, and others who had been farmers, foremen for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, wagon makers, lawyers, and weavers.

I felt like Steve Martin’s character in The Jerk when while at work one day he opened the just delivered phonebook and there on page 73 he found his name.  With great pride he proclaimed, “I’m somebody now! Millions of people look at this book everyday!  This is the kind of spontaneous publicity – your name in print – that makes people.  I’m in print!!”   I felt like I had ancestors; that I came from someplace—finally, I’m somebody now.

All of this warm and fuzzy discovery got me to thinking about all the salespeople that I’d met over the years that felt that they weren’t really anybody—that there wasn’t anything that grounded them in an honorable and noble profession.  These were men and women who simply woke up one morning and found themselves in the unfortunate position of selling for a living while wishing they had a “real” job, one that demanded respect and honor like Marketing and HR and Finance—positions that business schools recognize and educators write real thick textbooks that cost lots of money and are as boring as hell about but that give the jobs a sense of dignity and a respected place within the business hierarchy. 

The more I thought about this assumed lack of a family history, the more I realized that we sellers have an incredible history filled with some of the greatest minds and most important people that ever walked the land.

I suspect that there’s been a good share of scoundrels in both the McCord and Dunn families over the centuries.  And we all know there’s been more than a fair share of them selling all kinds of stuff over the last thousands of years.  I’m sure the first flimflam man appeared about the same time the first real transaction between humans took place.  For all I know the first transaction would have made a modern day scammer proud.

But we sellers do come from a long, long line of great sales men and women.  We can’t review thousands of years of sales history, but let me point out just a couple of my favorite sellers:

Moses:  Moses may have invented the concept of identifying prospect pain points and then helping to resolve that pain—very effectively bringing to Pharaoh’s attention the intensity of the pain that Pharaoh didn’t realize he and his country were feeling prior to Moses pointing it out through a series of attention getting demonstrations.  Although it took a bit of time, Moses was quite successful in getting Pharaoh to buy the idea that if he let the Israelites go the pain would stop. Shortly after Pharaoh’s wise decision, Moses had to successfully deal with Pharaoh’s unfortunate case of buyer’s remorse.

Winston Churchill:  The world today might be a very different place if Winston Churchill hadn’t sold his countrymen—and the rest of the free world—on the idea that they could defeat Nazi Germany.  Shortly after Chamberlin’s massively disastrous trip to meet Hitler, Germany attacked Poland with the consequent chain reaction that turned into World War II.  In relatively short order Britain was on the verge of falling to the Germans, having been pushed by them back to the home island–and they weren’t  doing much better in Africa.  Despite what appeared to be certain defeat, Churchill’s defiance and determination helped inspire the british people to hold on against overwhelming odds.    He sold his countrymen on the idea that they could win when few thought it even remotely possible that they could survive for much longer—and by doing so changed the course of history (with a bit of help from a few other countries).

Lamar Hunt:  What, you don’t think of Lamar Hunt as a salesperson?  Well, he was such an accomplished salesperson that he changed the whole nature of professional sports—almost singlehandedly.  He didn’t set out to change it all.  All he wanted was an NFL franchise for Dallas.  But the NFL wouldn’t give him one.  So what did he do?  He sold a few other men on a new organization he envisioned—the American Football League which began play in 1960.  Hunt wasn’t willing to take ‘no’ for an answer.  Instead of just accepting no, he decided to find a way to turn no into yes.  And he certainly did—and eventually made the guys who had said no wish they’d said yes because he ended up costing them a fortune (and then later making them an even bigger fortune).  Hunt not only sold the franchises, he convinced the owners of those franchises that they could compete with the NFL—which they did by quickly drafting and signing Billy Cannon, the 1959 Heisman Trophy winner.  Within short order they had signed half of the top college crop of 1959 to play for them instead of the NFL.  Then they had the audacity to steal NFL stars too.  Then wonder of wonders they signed a TV contract to televise games which guaranteed the league’s success.  Finally, after years of costing the NFL a ton of money, robbing them of great talent, and simply outplaying them in salesmanship and marketing, Hunt turned his new league into a merger with the NFL, creating unimagined fortunes for the owners and the players.  If you’re a fan of professional football as it is today (actually any professional sport), you owe it to Lamar Hunt’s ability to sell dreams.  On the other hand, if you hate the way professional sports are managed and played today–you may not a big Lamar Hunt fan.

Mary Kay Ash:  Mary Kay was a lady that didn’t know how to quit—and she helped give tens of thousands of other women a sense of freedom and honor when they represented the Mary Kay Cosmetics line at parties and one-on-one with their friends and neighbors.  Mary Kay had a unique view of business.  Although her company was incredibly successful and profitable, she always measured the company’s performance based on her own P&L formula—People and Love.  Millions of women grew to love Mary Kay because of the freedom and dignity she helped them achieve, the great products she sold, and the emphasis she placed on people rather than on profits.  Not surprisingly, by working so hard to help others succeed, her own success was far beyond anything she could have dreamt.  Mary Kay was a humble lady from humble beginnings who changed the lives of millions.  And she was one of us.

Paul Harvey:  It is said that Paul Harvey was the most listened to voice in radio history—and one of the most trusted.  Harvey was also one of the most successful at selling—if he sold your product on his show, you were virtually guaranteed record sales.  I’ve known of Paul Harvey since I can remember—even as a little kid I remember hearing him on the radio in the car—who could forget his voice?  Everything he sold he made sound so doggone good that you wanted to buy it even if you didn’t need it or didn’t even know what to do with it after you bought it. When he read the news you didn’t question if it really happened the way he said it did—you knew it did or if it didn’t, it damn well should have.  I have a Bose radio because of him.  I know I bought other things because of Harvey, I just don’t remember what they were—but they were good because after all Paul Harvey endorsed them and said they were good.  He was just a voice on the radio, but one that could make your company overnight if he believed in it.

George Washington:  Washington was, of course, a surveyor, planter, statesman, General, President, and brewer.  But his most important job was that of salesman.  If he hadn’t been as great a salesman as he was, there probably wouldn’t be a United States of America today.  He sold his men on sticking around and fulfilling their obligations during the Revolutionary War.  Sure, he lost lots of men who just walked off and went back home.  He had to institute some pretty tough penalties for any caught deserting.  But it was his ability to sell his men on staying and fighting, for sacrificing for a dream of freedom and independence that really won the freedom of America.  And we all know it was a tough sale—and not just because of no money, no food, no shoes.  Yes, he had to overcome the effects of the great physical sacrifice his men had to endure, but he also had to overcome the incredible mental and emotional impact losing almost every engagement his army entered had on both him and his men.  The Continental Army didn’t win many battles—it just won some key ones.  No shoes, no money, no food, not many winning battles—and he still sold his men on sticking around and fighting.  I’m proud to be a salesman with him as an example.

In fact, I’m proud to be a salesman who can look on these great sellers—and many, many more like them—as examples and mentors.  Just like my McCord and Dunn lineage, I have a professional family tree that anchors me in time and space that fills me with pride and a sense of honor.  I don’t need some stuffy university to tell me that selling is important (although at long last many schools now have sales and sales management as a recognized course of study leading to a degree) or a slick business magazine dedicating a section to sales just as it does to other business disciplines (don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen anytime soon).

I can look back at my sales family tree and recognize the massive changes in society and history that my sales ancestors have brought about.  And I can strive to carry on that tradition. 

Don’t ever think that sales is the red-headed stepchild of business even if many supposed experts, gurus and educators choose to stroke their egos by acting as though it is. It isn’t.  As a matter of fact, it is the foundation of business—and society–that all the other disciplines owe their existence to.  Always remember that you can very comfortably and successfully live without those business schools, professors, gurus, and business magazines–but they could’t exist for a minute without you.

February 22, 2011

Process: Can Success Really Be Just Mechanical?

Today you hear some version of the same message almost everywhere you turn:

“What makes a company successful is process . . . . [successful companies] find a formula that works.”

“You simply cannot be successful in complex sales unless you have a solid process.  A proven process is more important than anything and everything else.”

“If you want to be successful, you must concentrate on developing an effective sales process that produces the results you want because that IS the secret of success.”

“Top producers have a repeatable process.  Everyone else has only unfounded hope.”

All of the above were picked from things I have read in just the past week.  And these are far from the only ones, I could go on and on with statements in the same vein from recent articles and forum discussions. 

Process is the concept du jour. 

Process=Success

No process=Fail 

Everyone’s on the bandwagon promoting the current hot topic.

Now, don’t me wrong, I’m a firm believer in process.  I have a process for almost everything I do and I’m a strong promoter of process.  I’ve written numerous articles and two books that are centered on process.  I firmly believe that a proven, effective, repeatable process is one of the foundations to a successful sales career or a successful business.

I don’t, however, think it is the most important ingredient or the one that determines whether or not one is successful.

Important, yes.  Absolutely, positively, 100% critical?  No, not really.

Success in sales or business is far more than simply turning the right mechanical knobs or punching the right buttons.

Don’t we wish it were that easy?  Simply create a formula that seems to work and success is guaranteed.

We can all think of companies who have a formula that works and appears to be the cornerstone of their success.  Let’s take three examples that we all know: McDonald’s, Disney, and Kentucky Fried Chicken.  I’m taking these because they are familiar to everyone and the real reason for their success is easy to identify.  We could take examples from any industry and any selling situation, but these three are very simple, straightforward examples of where the cornerstone of success for them lay.  In each instance their business formula helped, but it wasn’t the thing that exploded these companies.

What made McDonald’s, McDonald’s?  Was it Ronald or the Hamburglar?  Not at all.  Was it the machine like efficiency demanded of each franchise and the requirement that the food taste exactly the same no matter what franchise one visited?  No, that came later. 

McDonald’s success lay in the heart and soul of Ray Kroc.  Kroc was a never tiring evangelist for McDonald’s.  He lived and breathed McDonald’s.  In a sense, Kroc forced McDonald’s success because he wouldn’t settle for anything less. 

McDonald’s successful formula was built and perfected over time.  Kroc’s drive and determination gave him the time needed to refine and improve the system that the original founders of the McDonald’s concept had begun to devise.  It took Kroc three years and a bunch of money to develop his successful process—a process that is still being perfected today.  If Ray Kroc hadn’t had the passion to demand success, there wouldn’t be a McDonald’s, at least not as we know it today.

In the same manner, Mickey, Minnie, and Pluto didn’t create Disney.  Disney was more a creation of Walt Disney’s drive and passion than Mickey’s popularity.  Long before Mickey was born, Walt had to overcome lost contracts, a former buyer of his cartoons stealing his entire staff of artists save one and his at that time one original cartoon character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.  Oswald might have been lucky, but Walt wasn’t.  Most would have folded their tent and given up after having everything they’d built torn down—especially by someone they had worked with and trusted.

But like Kroc, Walt had passion and unlimited drive.  He believed in himself and he believed that success was right around the corner—if he just continued to sell his passion.  His dedication and drive paid off.  Shortly after losing his staff and Oswald, he found Mickey.  Although Mickey was a success, he still wasn’t the success formula that “made” Disney—Mickey gave Walt the money and time necessary to find his ultimate mega success formula which was turning cartoons into feature length animated movies and the spinoffs from them that continue to this day.

Likewise, Colonel Harland Sanders and Kentucky Fried Chicken’s success isn’t due to a business formula but rather to a man who believed so passionately in his product and his vision that retired and broke, he hit the road to sell his chicken formula to cafes and restaurants across the country—and his share if they used his secret recipe?  A nickel for every chicken they sold using it.  It’s hard to make a living at a nickel a chicken—even in 1955.

Process is a tool for a salesperson just as a paintbrush is a tool for an artist.  Put a paintbrush in the hands of an artist with the passion and drive of a Leonardo and it becomes an instrument to create beauty; put it in the hands of someone one who is only looking to make a buck and it is nothing more than a tool used to paint a wall.

The same is true with sales.  Put an effective process in the hands of someone with the passion and drive of Harland Sanders and it becomes an instrument for changing lives; put it in the hands of someone who is disconnected and only interested in making money and it becomes nothing more than a way to make a sale every once in awhile.

By all means, find a predictable and effective process; it will help you make sales.  If you want success, you must marry that process to deep, heartfelt passion and drive because whether we like it or not, success isn’t mechanical; success is nothing more than the outward expression of one’s passion, drive, and vision.

November 4, 2010

Guest Article: “Questions to Lead By,” by Keith Rosen

Questions to Lead By
by Keith Rosen

Let your employees tell you how to motivate them

Motivating employees is often exhausting and time consuming work. Managers provide incentives, set goals, acknowledge top producers, even use consequences or threats. They use these tactics in an attempt to stimulate some level of interest in their staff, trying to push them into action.

Yet, when that external stimulation is no longer present, people have tendency to slip back into their old ways; not moving unless someone is there to push.

Although worn out from this exercise, business owners tell me they believe their primary role is “problem solver” to their employee’s challenges- a role probably learned from their predecessors and mentors. Many attempt to control their environment, working within the limits of what they already have. Some spend their time extinguishing fires. Others derive their energy by keeping certain challenges alive, providing them with some sense of purpose.

Perhaps the real issue is not tapping into what might drive employees to motivate themselves.

Seth Hallen, owner of Home Security Inc., discovered this. His 25-person staff had a tendency to deviate from company procedures that continually resulted in production delays. Deciding it was because they were unclear about their responsibilities, Hallen had his staff write up their own job descriptions and career goals.

The results were surprising. Telemarketers wanted flextime and opportunities for career growth. Salespeople cared more about job stability and receiving positive acknowledgment for good performance rather than commission. In response, Hallen adjusted the job descriptions and procedures, creating individualized incentive programs geared to each employee’s goals and strengths. He empowered his staff by seeing and acknowledging their natural abilities, while supporting their personal vision of what was important to them.

Hallen found this simple exercise made a dramatic difference in how his staff approaches their career. “There’s less friction or communication breakdowns. People are taking ownership of their responsibilities, providing a greater sense of accountability and direction,” Hallen says. “I also find they are much more responsive to changes in our company that support the corporate vision we can all be pulled towards, rather than pushed to achieve.”

Continually providing employees with solutions can train employees not to be accountable. It will likely result in the lackluster performance you are working so diligently to avoid. It creates an environment of dependency, preventing employees from sharpening problem solving skills or discovering their own solutions.

Today’s enlightened leaders instead are coaching, more than managing their staff. The difference is that you give strength or inspiration by uncovering what internally motivates them based on their beliefs and values, as opposed to stimulating interest externally based on your beliefs. Tapping into a person’s previously unused talents advances personal growth, challenging people to discover their best.

Coaching utilizes a process of inquiry which allows your staff to articulate what they want, then access their own energy to achieve it. Otherwise, you’re using your energy to get someone else in motion. To uncover each person’s internal drive, ask questions. Invest the time uncovering what is truly important to your staff in order to improve performance and align their efforts with the company’s vision and direction.

Here are some suggested questions:

  What do you want in your career that you don’t currently have?

  What do you want to be doing that you aren’t currently doing?

  What are you doing now that you don’t want to be doing?

  What areas do you want to strengthen, improve or develop?

  What is most important to you in your life/career? (What does a successful career/life look like?)

  What is the legacy you want to leave behind when you are gone?

  What are the three most important things you would like to accomplish right now?

  What is your action plan to achieve those goals?

  What do you need that’s missing which is preventing you from reaching those goals?

  How can I best support you to achieve these goals? (Uncover how each employee wants to be managed/supported.)

Invest the time asking your staff questions, listening for their responses and asking more questions as you uncover what they most want. Sure, you need the right answers to stay in business. However, to get ahead, you need the right questions. Allow questions to become the cornerstone for effortless leadership that generates long-term results.

Keith Rosen is fanatical about increasing your sales and helping you achieve what matters most to you. That’s why almost half of the Fortune 1000 Companies and the top companies in six major industries chose his training and coaching solutions. He is the Executive Sales Coach that top salespeople and managers call first to attract more prospects, close more sales and develop a team of top performers. Visit his website.

August 19, 2010

On Being an Optimistic Realist

Filed under: attitude,motivation,success — Paul McCord @ 11:02 am
Tags: , ,

Pessimists.  I don’t understand them.  My wife is a pessimist.  At times she drives me crazy.  I get calls and emails from far too many sellers and sales leaders who are pessimists.  I don’t understand why they persist in selling, a vocation that will drive an optimist nuts, much a pessimist. 

I’m an optimist—an unadulterated, unapologetic optimist.  But I’m also a realist.   

That realism part sometimes comes across as pessimism to some.  As I was speaking to a sales leader of a mid-size wholesale company last week, I pointed out that his sales team was failing to take advantage of one of their company’s primary strengths and even though they were on target to chalk up a nice increase in year over year, they were leaving far too much money on the table..

Instead of trying to figure out how his team could take advantage of a significant competitive strength, my sales manager friend became defensive.  He accused me of discounting the achievement he and his team had made. There was no way he said, that he would let my “negative” point of view poison his team members.

I’ve run across many a seller who either accepted personal responsibility for everything that happened to them or refused to accept any responsibility for anything negative that happened in their life.  One group’s attitude is, “I must have complete control of my life.  If I don’t close the sale it must have been my fault; that way I can correct it and guarantee it won’t happen again.” 

The other group’s attitude is, “I’m a winner and if I lose it’s because something out of my control prevented me from winning.  If it weren’t for that, I’d have closed the sale.”

I believe both of these attitudes are attempts to maintain optimism.  I also believe they are unhealthy and detrimental to success.

In fact, I’ve had more than one seller tell me that what I call reality, they call pessimism.  If I point out a potential danger or issue that a client must look out for, to some I’m being pessimistic.  If I include a warning that a particular strategy or tactic might not be appropriate for all or in a given situation, to some I’m being pessimistic.  If I reprimand, to some I’m being pessimistic.  If I point out failure, I may as well have just shot them.

In other words, for some sellers and sales leaders, those of us who don’t wear rose colored glasses or live in la la land are pessimists, bringing them down, stifling their enthusiasm.  There is no room in their life for anything that isn’t upbeat and “positive,” including reality.

Of course, the opposite is also true.  True pessimists have little or no room in their life for reality either.  For them, if it isn’t doom and gloom, they want no part of it.  They simply aren’t happy unless miserable.  If I point out opportunity, they counter with the obstacles to achieving success.  If I give encouragement, they complain about yesterday’s rejection.  If I suggest a new strategy, they point out the failure of their last strategy.

For one group there is no such thing as failure; for the other, nothing but failure.  For one group, hope is the strategy; for the other, there’s never hope.  For both groups, reality is the enemy.

In my world there are positives and negatives.  There is hope and expectation—based on preparation and training.  There is success and failure.

I expect good things to happen, but take proper precautions to deal with the possibility that the results won’t be everything I hope for.

I acknowledge and learn from my failures (yes, there is such a thing as failure). 

I rejoice in and learn from my successes.

I recognize danger—and opportunity.

I control what I can—and acknowledge what I can’t.

I know my limits—and reach beyond them—and willingly and knowingly accept the risk.

Unfortunately, I know of some managers and trainers who wear rose colored glasses; who refuse to acknowledge to themselves or others that reality exits; who are doing a terrible disservice to the sellers they train, coach, and mentor by intentionally or unintentionally teaching them that optimism is a denial of anything negative or not “positive.”

These rose colored glasses optimists tend to be poor to average producers—but always “on the verge” of a big month.  They just need a little more time.  They always have a prospect who is about to make the giant purchase.  Their big deal is always just around the corner.

They aren’t very teachable (after all, there are no problems to be overcome).  They aren’t well prepared (they’re already prepared, everything’s great). Many don’t work very hard (don’t worry, I got everything under control).

Although I’m sure this perverted view of optimism has been with humans since time immemorial, I do wonder if the “there is no such thing as failure, “everyone’s a winner and gets a trophy,” and “I’m OK, you’re OK” attitude of the past three or four decades has infected more than in past generations?

Although you might not be able to eliminate this perversion from your existing sales staff that has it, I’d certainly advise any sales leader to actively seek to avoid hiring salespeople in the future who have a perverted sense of optimism.  It may seem gung-ho during the interview, but it won’t produce the results you want in the end.

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