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Can you expect to survive the recession if your salespeople are mired in the mindsets of the past?

by Dave Kahle

Last week, one of the distributors in my home town closed the doors and went out of business. His was an 80 year old, third generation distributor of building materials. At one time, they were very well respected, employed well over 100 people and about 30 salespeople, and were the leaders in their market. Today their building is empty, their employees no longer employed, their owner staring at the walls of an abandoned office.

While I am not privy to all the variables that came together to bring about their demise, I expect that one of the major contributing factors was the mindsets of the salespeople -- too many salespeople, hindered by too much mental baggage, unaware of their own limitations, not knowing what to change into, nor how to do so.

If the salespeople are hindered by their mindsets, they are not nearly as effective as they could be. And, the cost to your business of these unseen, invisible lapses can be so great that it could topple 80 years of significant existence. Iím talking about the invisible costs to your company of opportunities not captured, customers not created, value not communicated, margin not gained Ė all the result of salespeople burdened by mindsets of the past.

The world of distribution sales is rife with salespeople whose mindsets Ė those mental images of what their job entails and how to do it Ė were appropriate a few years ago, but today are woefully inadequate. Itís not their fault. They donít know. Youíve probably never clearly communicated the vision of what it means to be a professional distributor salesperson.

In our Top Gun Seminars, we identify one such defective mindset Ė the idea that a distributor salesperson is a "mobile customer service representative," whose vision of a sales call goes like this:

"How are you?"
"How was the weekend?"
"Howís the family?"
"Need anything?"
"Hereís my price."
"See you next time."

While that was OK a few years ago, today that type of sales call, and others of similar superficiality, are more and more commonly an irritant to the customer and a cost to you. They are particularly costly in what does not happen rather than what does.

What didnít happen...
1. There was no attempt to identify the customerís needs and interests at a level deeper than just ďNeed anything?Ē No attempt to discover real problems or objectives that the customer may be working on, no attempt to uncover any significant pain or gain on which to build a proposed solution.

2. There was no presentation of anything of value to the customer. No product information, no ideas about how to run a more effective business or do some aspect of his job a little differently, no discussion of the companyís capabilities, or what they have done for others.

3. There was no deepening of the relationship to a discussion of more important things, no broadening of the relationship to extend to others in your organization.

Now, I can go on and on with these litany of lapses, but you get the idea. Want to get a real good idea of the impact wrong sales mindsets can have on your business? Try to quantify the economic impact of these things:

  • the opportunities that should have been uncovered but were not.
  • the presentations that should have been made but were not.
  • the relationships that should have been deepened and broadened but were not.
  • the margin that should have been captured but was given away.
  • the prospects that should have been called on, but were not.

The numbers, as subjective as they may be, become staggering; the impact of the exercise, disquieting. It doesnít take much to realize that the economic impact of what the salespeople donít do is one of the greatest economic factors in your business. It may be one of the big reasons that the 80 year old, third generation distributor closed its doors.

So, what to do?

I have spent the past three decades of my life, in part, training salespeople to be more effective in the new economy. Over the years, Iíve made some critical observations. One of them is this: The world is full of sales trainers who teach sales techniques, with some, but limited, effectiveness. The salespersonsí mindsets will always trump the new technique. In other words, you can have the local guy in to teach "sales techniques," but that time and energy will be mostly wasted if you donít change the mindsets of the people who are to use those techniques.

If you want to change the personís behavior, change the personís paradigms and mindsets Ė impact how they think about themselves and their jobs.

Transformation, real transformation, comes from the inside out.

Create and communicate a vision of what it means to be a professional distributor salesperson. Reinforce that vision with measurements and management practices. When you hire a new salesperson, hire those whose mindsets are closer to the vision. Make that vision an integral part of your organization, as specific, weighty and binding as your mission statement.

Then you will have given your organization a better shot at surviving and thriving in this economy.

Dave Kahle offers a variety of resources that can help your business stay competitive in changing times. To learn you can reach Dave by phone at 800-331-1287 or send him an email request.

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