Do What Others Will Not

It is quite clear that we usually know the right thing to do. It becomes more about the choice we make when we ignore that which we know. Recently, I was whining to my family physician that my only problem was my inability to shed the pounds. Her response was to ask if I would like to speak to the nutritionist on staff. My response? “I know what I am supposed to do; I just don’t do it.”

I got me thinking about why it is difficult to do what we know is the right thing to do. Often, it is not a question of right or wrong. Rather, if we make a choice to do something we know works, it will provide us with success. Yet, for some unknown reason, we still continue to knowingly practice the less successful action.

We know that if we eat Chicken, Fish and Vegetables, we will manage our weight. Why is it that Macaroni and Cheese, Bar-B-Q Ribs and Hot Fudge Sundaes end up on our plate?

We know that if we spend time in the field riding with and coaching our sales people, they will succeed. Why, then do we find ourselves creating power points, excel spread sheets and handling coaching over the phone?

We know that if we follow a linked sequential sales process that we will close the sales almost twice as often. Why then do we show up ill-prepared, talk too much and close too early?

A few years ago, I learned this lesson first hand. As the AVP of sales, I was charged with creating an innovative sales training. I hired a firm to create training tapes using their sales staff in the videos. During the day of taping, it became clear that the sales people selling the sales program were not comfortable using the system. Had they been using the sales system they were promoting, it should have been second nature.

There are of course many reasons for this but the most obvious is it is hard, very hard to make the right decision. It is easier to stay in the office, to eat what we like or to slide back to our old sales systems. It requires dedication, discipline and focus to do those things that everyone else will not do!

Art or Science

“He could sell ice to an Eskimo.”

Why do we think that the propensity to talk equates to the ability to sell? By the very virtue of the process, the ability to listen is the natural gift that transcends the good to the great. Without that basic skill, the sales person has no foundation upon which to build his presentation.

In my years spent on the customer side of the table, I have had only one sales person meet my expectations of great. We’ll call him Mark. Before we get to meet Mark, let’s talk about the twenty years of sales interactions before he walked into my office.

If you manage sales people, no matter your title, Manager, Director or VP, you’re tasked with setting sales goals, coaching your team to excellence and assessing progress. That is why I am still amazed at the number of sales people who miss the mark.

There is the initial contact, usually by phone or letter. Eventually it became a sort of game for me, in which I would become an unwilling participant. The phone rings; it’s an outside line; a good clue it’s a sales person. “Good afternoon. Mrs. Fogelman?” Yes. “My name is Neeta Closs. I’m with ABC Company and we are doing a survey. Do you have a few minutes to answer some questions?” No. Or my personal favorites, “Hi, Veronica, Dave here. I understand you are the woman in charge.” Really? “Yes, and I’m the one who will help you save the day.” click. I wasn’t aware my day needed to be saved.

The unsolicited mailing can be equally offensive because it makes assumptions. Even though they may be true, I was perturbed that I had no input into the decision about what I needed. It usually went in the trash.

However, the most regrettable was when the person actually gained the appointment and had an opportunity to sell to me. They were so often ill-prepared and tried to wing a sales call. This usually led to me asking all the questions and ended in frustration for both of us. Even worse was the over-confident person who came with the problem identified and solved. This usually ended with me creating the next blog in my head while they pompously displayed full color service brochures in which I had no interest.

Then one day, I received a phone call that went like this:

Ann (my secretary): “Roni, there is a man calling who would like to speak to you when you have a few minutes. He is from Strategy Inc.; he talked to me for a few minutes to see if I thought you might be interested. I like his style; he is genuine. Want to talk to him or shall I schedule a better time?” (He went through the most trusted confidant-my secretary)

Me: “Put him through, Ann.”

Mark: “Mrs. Fogelman, thank you for taking my call. My name is Mark Smith from Strategy Inc. Ann said you have a few minutes; I promise to only take 5 minutes. Is that OK?” (He thanked me, identified himself and promised a timeline)

Me: “That’s fine Mark. What can I do for you?”

Mark: “I understand that in your role at XYZ Company you have implemented a new sales training and a new hiring system that has been fully integrated throughout the company. At my company that is exactly who we want to work with…successful sales teams that have the support of operations.” (flattery will get you everywhere)

Probably no need to go on…you get the point.

When Mark came in for his sales appointment he asked me so many questions, that I felt he was a part of our team. Not insignificant questions; questions that were built on my answers. In that way he swiftly developed a picture of our culture, our successes and our challenges. He never pulled out anything other than a small pad to take notes, for which he asked my permission. In what seemed like ten minutes, he asked if he could make a few suggestions, pulled out his small pad and began to draw. Only now did he begin to talk as he drew his simple diagram. It clearly depicted our challenges with structure and he introduced his services to create how their team could help us solve the problem. I have never forgotten how skillfully he directed the questions, did not over sell or over promise. The science of a skilled sales system moved him through the process and the art of a talented communicator created a memorable sales experience.

I have moved on from that company but still carry Marks card with me and when the opportunity arises, I will call him and hope I handle it as well.


watermelonImagine that you own a business that produces a product loved by the consumer; a product easy to produce and relatively easy to sell. Your market is wide open and your product should be in great demand …except for one small detail, its shape simply doesn’t work for your major retailer who has sadly canceled all orders. What do you do?

Several years ago, the Japanese people who loved the taste of watermelon found the shelves bare of the tasty fruit. Japanese retailers had cut off the supply because of available space. Apparently the large round delicacy took up way too much space in a country where space is at a minimum; orders were canceled and growers lost their rich market. What to do?

For years, Detroit’s automobile industry continued to focus on larger more luxurious products with streamlined, beautiful cars. Then along came the Volkswagen. The Beetle was anything but beautiful or streamlined; it was the exact opposite. “Think Small”, was their message; a message born from thinking differently.

While the American watermelon growers scratched their heads perplexed by the seemingly unsolvable challenge; they did not simply say, the market has changed, we are not competitive or place blame on the available space in Japan. What did they do?

The solution to the problem of round watermelons wasn’t nearly as difficult to solve for those who didn’t assume the problem was impossible to begin with and simply asked how it could be done. It turns out that all you need to do is place them into a square box when they are growing and the watermelon will take on the shape of the box.

Did the Volkswagen people ask different questions? Perhaps. Had the watermelon growers assumed that square watermelons were impossible before even thinking about the question, they would have never found the solution.

Here is a quote from the recent published story on square watermelons. “If you begin with the notion that something is impossible, then it obviously will be for you. If, on the other hand, you decide to see if something is possible or not, you will find out through trial and error.”

If you are exasperated hearing, “We’ve tried that before” or “That won’t work here in our company”. If the responses to problems in the sales department are explained away with “statements such as, “The market has changed” or “We aren’t competitive anymore”, perhaps a discussion about square watermelons will generate fresh thinking and innovative ideas.

Sir Ernest Shackleton and The Endurance

In 1914 the following ad ran in the London newspapers: “Men wanted for Hazardous Journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.”

Imagine the type of person Ernest Shackleton was in search of? And we think we have recruiting problems. Who would want to do this type of work? But many did, in fact, thousands applied for one of the most treacherous expeditions ever attempted. On December 5, 1914 The Endurance set sail from South Georgia for a 634 day expedition of Antarctica.

The journey of the Endurance is the well known story of Earnest Shackleton and his 27 man crew. It goes a bit like this:

12/5(Day 1) The excited team of experienced seamen left the whaling station in rugged South Georgia

1/19 (Day 45) The first disaster struck. The Weddell Sea froze and closed around them like a vise.

• Two attempts to free The Endurance failed moving only 150 yards in two days.

2/24(Day 84) The crew resigned themselves to spending the winter on board; there they stayed until mid-July.

7/20 (Day 232) Ice pressure tightened, pumps failed, water poured into the ship, timbers began to crack. They were undeterred.

10/27(Day 332) Masts tumbled and the ice ripped through the timbers. It was time to leave the safety of the ship and camp on the frozen ice.

  • They attempted to march across hundreds of miles of frozen ice.
  • They endured the grueling task of pulling hundred pound sleds and life boats.
  • After two days they had gone less than two miles.

10/30(Day 335) They made camp on the ice floe for 49 days.

12/18 (Day 384) They made one more attempt to drag the boats to open water.

  • Another unsuccessful attempt
  • Food was low, eating local seals to survive and there they remained until spring.

4/ 9 (Day 491) Finally, the ice cracked beneath them and opened the sea to travel.

  • They spent the next five days in freezing water as it tumbled over them it and froze to their clothes.
  • They were weak, sick and craving fresh water and food. Imagine the coldest moment of your life, if you can and the day you were the most hungry and so sick with diarrhea you could barely move and imagine that you now must build shelter.

4/15(Day 497) They camped on Elephant Island on the first solid ground in 497 days.

  • Snow was a mixture of frozen penguin guano which melted producing a foul smelling yellow mud
  • There was little food and outlook was bleak. What would they we do now?

4/23(Day 506) Shackleton sent a rescue team to find help leaving them hopelessly abandoned on the island.

5/10(Day 523) 16 days later over treacherous waters, the small band of exhausted sailors landed on the wrong side of South Georgia.

8/30 (Day 634) It took three attempts to rescue the crew.

Final Journal entry reads: Rescued! August 30, 1916 All well! At last! All ahead Full.

In the same time period another crew, The Karluk launched a similar expedition to the North and all perished. What made the difference? Many have speculated about both tales and the conclusion is usually the same…leadership and team work.

As we approach our challenging goals, one can only conclude that our task is miniscule compared to Shackleton and his crew, but none the less important.

Each member of his crew took ownership of every task assigned them, no matter how unimportant it seemed against the gargantuan hope of making it home. Each team member saw their role as critical.

One of the greatest lessons from the expedition of The Endurance is to never lose sight of the ultimate goal but focus your energy on the short term objectives.

What Are You Waiting For?

If the time to focus and drive is the when you are doing great…then this is the time!

One day, a wise Administrator told me, “If you are waiting for someone to tap you on the shoulder to make something happen, you will be sitting in that chair for a very long time.” Jane and Charlie Miller successfully operated a small nursing center in Jersey Shore PA for many years. Though, they are both retired now, I still think of Jane’s message often.

As leaders, are we waiting for someone else’s idea? Are we confident in our knowledge and experience to recommend the steps necessary to grow our market share? As managers are we stepping up and leading those in our charge?

Bill Belichick, coach of the New England Patriots rarely tells his special team coaches what to do; why? He expects they know how to be a defensive coach. He expects that the offensive coaches know how to lead their players and motivate them to practice the basics of the game: the block and tackle. Our leaders are expecting that as managers, we have a handle on our areas of responsibility, that we are coaching our teams; that we are instilling the basics of our game. But, it is more than that. Manning and Brady, Drew and Reggie call their team members in the middle of the night….want to guess what they talk about? They talk offense! They talk defense! It is a love and commitment to our game that matters most.

Nancy Pelosi is already known as having the smile of galvanized steel, why, because she promised in the first 100 days to make things happen. As speaker of the house, she was asked what one word she would use to describe her first 30 days. She answered, accountable. She successfully pressed through some six bills in that short month, unheard of in our slow political system.

The New Orleans Saints should never have been on their way to the Super bowl but they were… why? Because they didn’t wait for someone to tap them on the shoulder and tell them they could!

Whether or not you voted for Nancy Pelosi’s party or routed for Bill Bellecheck’s team, there is no denying their impact as leaders….they wait for no one else, they are not afraid to stand up and be counted when they are confident in their position…no matter how big the guy is! They make things happen! Every day, I try to remember those words from Jane Miller….

“If you are waiting for someone to tap you on the shoulder to make something happen, you will be sitting in that chair for a very long time.”

Embracing Resistance

The German poet Heinrich Heine once noted that a person “only profits from praise” when he “values criticism.” The ability to value criticism plays an enormous role in embracing resistance. In most industries, you face resistance daily, even hourly. That finely honed skill enables you to create opportunity when confronted with skepticism, irritation, complaints and negativity.

Nothing in nature grows without resistance. The tiny rabbit faces resistance as well as the majestic elephant

If you have not had the opportunity to read a little book called “The Starbucks Experience”, may I suggest it for your next easy read. There is a fascinating chapter entitled Embracing Resistance from which I have extracted some interesting facts. Starbucks only purchases around 4% of the coffee sold world wide; yet they typically draw greater public scrutiny than the far larger buyers like supermarkets. They are front page when fair-trade markets are mentioned; they are often noted in news articles for monitoring websites which receive about 5000 visitors a day…which they deny. The leadership has taken a relaxed approach choosing to listen rather than react. Successful leaders choose to not hide from challenges but rather take the resistance as another reason to adjust.

So where is your greatest resistance coming from? How can you listen and adjust?

So, has Starbucks faced this type of resistance? Their first attempt in Beijing was met with a “corporate America rolling its tanks into town” mentality. Two months into the contract and after significant expense, the local officials considered revoking the business license. The leadership did not panic, rather listened to the criticism and adjusted. Since the usual 80% to go/20% to stay was reversed in the Chinese culture; they needed to change how they did business. The Beijing Starbucks would become a “destination restaurant” as opposed to a beverage provider. In our own American city of Pittsburgh, the Starbucks in Squirrel Hill a highly populated Jewish community, met with customer resistance. They quickly changed how they delivered their products adding kosher coffee, replacing red and green decorations with blue and silver and changing Christmas music to meet the needs of a specialized community.

Resistance? Have you looked at it and changed how you do business every day. Have you listened and changed how you deliver your service?

Three Tips for Hiring Great Sales People

The article:
In the best-selling book Good to Great, author James Collins states, “get the right people on the bus and get them in the right seats.” Few people disagree with that statement. As the Marketing Manager, Administrator or Director of Operations, we all long to place the best person in the right position. The challenge is that it is easier said than done. There are many reasons for this, of course and they are important to note.

In 2008, NetSuites CEO, Zach Nelson was faced with a dilemma. 100 of his 450 sales people left within the first year of employment. Their top executives were questioning why ten top sales people were bringing in most of the revenue. CEO Nelson turned it around by implementing our number one tip. Use a system- So, here is the first reason we often hire the wrong person. Many of us have a tendency to enjoy being around people like ourselves. It is how we choose our friends and very often …who we hire. It may be imperceptible or we may be quite aware of this weakness in our hiring process. By implementing a hiring system that is based on matching the strengths needed to be successful in the position with the values and attributes possessed by each candidate, the personal preference is eliminated or at least reduced. There are many assessment tools available but few have the depth and credibility needed to be convincing. Be sure it offers the following:

Validation studies
Ease of understanding (some have complicated analysis).
Depth and dimension which include not just a personality profile but values, behaviors and core skills.

This brings us to the second reason we often hire the wrong person, listening!
Use your ears and not your mouth- The interview process is stressful for both the candidate and the interviewer but for very different reasons. The candidate is understandably nervous, worried and on edge. He wants to be viewed as confident, knowledgeable and experienced even though he may be none of these. The interviewer is balancing the meeting with her numerous other crucial tasks, many of which have been put on hold until this person is hired. She wants this applicant to be a super star so the position can be filled and she can move on. The perfect storm has just been created. After a few obligatory questions like, “tell me about yourself” and “where do you see yourself in 5 years”, the most comfortable route for the interviewer is to begin talking…bad decision for both! The discussion becomes an opportunity for the interviewer to explain the job, the company, the culture, her successes and her expectations. It enables the candidate, in turn to adjust his answers and comments to meet her desired outcome. The ability to truly stay in the moment, put your ego aside, actively observe and listen gives you a decidedly better chance to peel back the onion of your candidate. This then brings us to the third tip.

Question intelligently- There are many schools of thought on the best hiring questions. I subscribe to them all. Actually, just doing it is the most important step! This is where the three tips collide. The systematic approach to using an assessment tool provides the interviewer with areas to pursue. A skilled manager will observe the candidate closely as he answers carefully calculated questions. Let me offer an example.

Sam has completed a hiring assessment. His profile indicates that he loves to be with people and is non-confrontational. He has a low energy score but high enthusiasm. He is not competitive and has a lower than average score in urgency. He had a broad smile and a strong hand shake. You liked him instantly and his references are strong. You like many of his attributes but his resume doesn’t show any great results and this is a business development position. This is where intelligent questioning comes into play. With the assessment tool to guide you, the questions are fairly simple. Tell me about a time you have been challenged to complete a critical task quickly and succeeded? What did you do?( low energy & low urgency) What awards have you won? How did you accomplish that?(low competitive) Share with me a time you disagreed with a co-worker and how did you handle it?(nonconfrontational)

These are not the standard questions for which the applicant has prepared answers. With a strong assessment tool and the ability to really listen and observe you can target your questions, watch for reaction time, assess his level of comfort and identify inaccuracies.

It is commonly accepted that on average it costs a company 14 times a person’s salary for a poor hire. Though we have all heard the old adage, “Hire slow; fire fast” the pressures to fill a position and the busy 10-12 hour days force us into making poor choices. These three recommendations (1) begin with a scientific tool,(2)craft intelligent questions to delve deeper into the candidates true abilities, (3)observe and listen rather than talk will result in success similar to NetSuites; they lost only 5 sales people in the last year.

1) Good To Great; author James Collins
2) Fortune Magazine article on NetSuites CEO Zack Nelson