Is the Solution Them, or is it Me?
By Dave Kahle
In this economy, everyone is looking for a simple fix to survive and arrive on the other side intact. Some even occasionally entertain dreams of growing just a little bit. Few are happy with their situations. And all but a few point their fingers at the economy as the source of their dismay.
The comments I overheard at one of my recent Top Gun seminars were representative. One sales person complained that his customers were shrinking and going out of business. Several complained about customers’ pressure to lower prices. Still others complained about desperate competitors’ feverish attempts to generate cash flow by dramatically discounting.
There must be a genetic inclination in the human race to look outside ourselves and blame those things that are outside of our control for our situations. We lament the conditions outside of ourselves, and cast ourselves as victims. If only someone else would fix it. Maybe the government will make everything good again.
Unfortunately, as long as our gaze is directed at “them” – those conditions in the market that have changed and are outside of our ability to control – we will never free ourselves from the constraints on our income and prosperity. We can’t do anything about “them.”
The real secret to improving our conditions is to work on “us.” James Allen said:
“Men are often interested in improving their circumstance, but are unwilling to improve themselves, they therefore remain bound.”
Sales people, sales managers, and sales executives need to look inward -- at themselves and their sales teams -- for the solution to their problems.
Sales people must understand that it was OK just a few years ago, to “have your own style of selling,” to never invest in your own improvement, to make your living off of your existing relationships. Today, all of these are obsolete ideas that must be changed. It’s time to look inward, and fix yourself.
To effectively deal with the changing economy, sales people must become more strategic and thoughtful about the investment of their sales time, and they must bring value both to the customer and to their employers in every sales call. They must view their jobs as professions, not just jobs, and become serious about improving themselves. In a world where it is blatantly obvious that good sales people sell more than mediocre sales people, they must decide to become better. That means investing in their own improvement, and striving to achieve higher levels of competency and thus, better results.
Those sales people who survive and thrive in this climate will be those who understand the path to their prosperity lies not in the outside world, but in themselves.
Likewise, sales managers have to stop coddling those sales people who aren’t interested in, or committed to, continuous improvement and greater levels of productivity. They need to put in place practices and disciplines that call for quantifiable expectations on the part of their sales team, regular measurements, and greater thoughtfulness and strategic planning.
They must demand continuous improvement and thoughtful efforts to increase market share.
Sales managers must look inward, understanding that their chances of success are dependent on them, not the market. That they can do it better, and that doing it better brings better results.
They must examine their sales forces, and use this window of opportunity to weed out those sales people who have no interest in developing, who don’t have the capability to succeed as a professional sales person, and who aren’t committed to their own personal success. Now is the time to review the bottom third of their sales forces and aggressively seek to upgrade.
CEOs, and CSOs (Chief Sales Officers) need to recognize that the current state of the economy, and the resulting impact on the attitudes and perspectives of employees, has delivered a once in a lifetime opportunity to make significant changes in the structure of the sales force.
Recall just a little over a year ago. To make wholesales changes in sales territories, account responsibilities, the role of the inside and outside sales person, sales management practices, compensation plans, and expectations for continuous improvement – all of these initiatives would have been met with resistance from the majority of the sales force. Today, most sales people are willingly cooperative, acutely aware that they can be easily replaced if they don’t follow your lead.
Those CEOs and CSOs who look inward and use this window of opportunity to streamline and rationalize their sales systems will increase their productivity and lay the groundwork for disproportional growth when the economy turns up.
The world is full of victims who lament their condition and blame their fate on sources outside of their control. Leaders accept their responsibility to look inward and improve themselves.