Category Archives: Sales leadership

“But Wait, There’s More!” Seven Great Salespeople Who Continue to Inspire

Companies are rightly proud of their top sales producers. The men and women who grind out quotas and close crucial deals—month-to-month, quarter-to-quarter, year-to-year. Consistently, reliably, predictably. The go-to people who bring home the revenue bacon. You know who they are. Let us talk no more of them.

Occasionally we learn of salespeople so exceptional, so remarkable and gifted, that they have become inexorably associated with the product they sell. Each member of the remarkable group you’re about to meet died recently, and each ably fits that description.

Unlike the group I wrote about in Part I, these individuals are demographically similar. All are white. All are male. All were born before 1937. But there are profound differences. Some were born into wealth, while others experienced wrenching economic hardship growing up. Not all went to college. One overcame severe mental and physical disabilities.

Yet, all possessed the same incredible gift to help them through good times, as well as through bad. A gift so unique that it can’t be bestowed from a peppy sales keynote address, training video, or Powerpoint slide: passion!

Hans Riegel, 90, creator of Gummi Bears. “I love children,” he said. “They are my customers. I have to be informed about what they want to nibble, what they think, what language they speak.” Some of his product ideas flopped miserably. A gummi version of the Holy Family intended for release during the Christmas season was not embraced by the Catholic Church. A similar outcome resulted from marketing gummi images of German politicians. Nonetheless, his company, Haribo, grew to become one of the world’s top producers of gummi candy and other confection.

Ray Dolby, 80, inventor, marketer of Dolby Noise Reduction. “If it was cheaper for manufacturers to license from us than clone us, why not stick with the Dolby technique?” he said in 1992. The rest is history. At the 2012 Academy Awards, Oscar-winning sound editor Walter Murch said, “You could divide film sound in half: There is BD, Before Dolby, and there is AD, After Dolby.” “Ray’s pioneering work in sound played a pivotal role in allowing Star Wars to be the truly immersive experience I had always dreamed it would be,” said George Lucas, the film’s director.

Dolby resented being called a tinkerer, favoring the more results-focused term inventor. “An inventor knows what he wants to do,” he said.

Robert Taylor, 77, inventor of Softsoap. “I thought how ugly bar soap is, and how it usually messes up the bathroom. I thought, ‘why not a high-quality liquid soap that comes in an attractive bottle?’” He also developed the hit fragrance, Obsession, made even more popular through a Saturday Night Live parody of its slogan, “between love and madness lies obsession.”

“He showed an early gift for salesmanship when he sold a homing pigeon to a pet store,” Emily Langer wrote in his August 29, 2013 obituary in The Washington Post. Taylor had a flair for changing the prosaic to the unusual. One of his companies, Village Bath Products, upended the conventional ingot-shaped bar soap producers by manufacturing soap shaped like fruit and candy bars.

Cal Worthington, 92, car salesman. “You won’t find better prices anywhere!” By his own estimates, he sold more than one million cars. “He performed stunts such as headstands and airplane wing-walks. In at least one ad, he suspended himself by his feet from a flying plane—anything to spark the interest of a prospective buyer,” according to The Washington Post. In another ad, he accompanied himself on banjo as he sang his version of If You’re Happy and You Know It:

If you need a getter car, go see Cal.
He’s the greatest one by far, go see Cal.
Give a new car to your wife, she will love you all your life,
Go see Cal, go see Cal, go see Cal!

Worthington played himself in Save the Tiger, a 1973 movie starring Jack Lemmon. In 1993, he inspired the car salesman played by Ted Danson in Made in America. “My purpose was not to become a celebrity,” Worthington said in a USA Today interview. “I was selling cars.”

Bill Porter, 81, salesman for J. R. Watkins. Porter suffered from cerebral palsy, and the state of Oregon deemed him unemployable. But he refused the disability payments they offered. Instead, he made a career as a salesman for J. R. Watkins Company, selling food and household products door-to-door in Oregon, often walking up to eight miles per day.

At first, J. R. Watkins refused to hire him, but he persisted, eventually rising to become their top producer in the region. Unlike his colleagues who could carry samples in a heavy briefcase, Porter, who had the use of one hand, relied on pictures in a notebook as his primary sales tool. After he was hit by a car while making sales calls, he adapted by using the phone.

He inspired the award-winning movie, Door-to-door, starring Helen Mirren and Kyra Sedgwick. He also was the subject of a book released in 2002, Ten Things I Learned from Bill Porter.

Al Fritz, 88, sold the Sting-Ray bicycle to millions of kids. “It gave kids too young to have a driver’s license the opportunity to have the Corvette of bicycles,” said his son, Mike Fritz, a bicycle industry consultant. “When Mr. Fritz was research and development director [for Schwinn] in the early 1960’s, he heard from one of his salesmen about teenagers around Los Angeles customizing short-frame bikes to look a little Harley, a little hot rod—a little something exciting on the quietest suburban cul-de-sacs,” according to his obituary in The Washington Post. “The people who looked at his prototypes thought it was a stupid idea, but he pushed it on through. There were 60 different permutations on the theme, and each was more successful than the last,” his son said. Between 1963 and 1968, Schwinn sold more than 2 million of his bikes.

Fred Turner, 80, father of Chicken McNuggets. “He had an important role in the creation of the Chicken McNugget, which he conceived during an elevator conversation with a company test chef,” wrote Stephen Miller in his Wall Street Journal remembrance. Turner, who was CEO of McDonalds from 1974 to 1987 had an early career in sales. He worked as a Fuller Brush salesman before he took his first job at McDonald’s in 1957.

Some will argue that a few of these outstanding individuals were not, in fact, salespeople, but inventors and entrepreneurs. But I adhere to the definition of salesperson as a person who sells, and these top producers have earned the right to be included among the greatest salespeople of all time.

“People just don’t like to deal with salespeople . . .”   The next time I hear someone say that, I promise not to raise my hackles. Instead, I’ll draw a deep breath, and ask, “Would you mind if I shared a story about Bill Porter . . .?”

Six Ways Companies Promote Sales Failure

Every now and then, a senior executive describes a funky selling practice at his or her company. One that prompts me to ask, “. . . and how’s that working for you?”

If you prefer to avoid the pain that someone else has experienced, I present to you six practices that earned a top spot on my list titled, We Have Met The Enemy And It Is Us.

#1. Create commission incentives that reward the wrong results.

This winner comes from a software company that used a declining commission reward for increased revenue levels. Stick with me, because I am not making this up.

Here’s the schedule from the company plan:

Up to $60 K revenue = 6% commission
$60 K to $100 K = 4% commission
$100 K + = 3% commission

By now, you’ve done the math and realize that closing a $50K deal will net a salesperson $200 more income than he would make from a $70K deal. I can hear a salesperson saying to a customer, “I know you plan to spend $70,000, but Christmas is coming up—can you make it $50,000?”

When I asked the company’s VP of Sales about this absurdity, she remarked “Our view is that it takes a village to close larger-sized deals. We pay less commission to reflect that.” Translation: A CXO at her company doesn’t want salespeople driving a newer Lexus than he drives.

Solution: If meeting quarterly revenue objectives is important to your business strategy, buy the salesperson a Lexus as soon as he’s earned it–and park if for him! Whatever your strategy, build your sales incentives around achieving it.

#2. Provide no-value “special offers” for prospective clients
This company offered purchase incentives that were plainly hollow. The company compounded their own misery by insisting their sales force push the incentive to every prospect every month—even though the monthly deadlines didn’t conform to the prospect’s buying pattern. Prospects resisted, and the more astute salespeople covertly abandoned the promotion. The company committed what author Tony Parinello calls a “reload.” Shoot yourself in the foot, reload, then shoot yourself in the other foot.

Solution: Listen to your customer and to your sales force. If customers aren’t buying the promotion, there’s a reason for it.

#3. Measure and manage unproductive sales activities.
By holding steadfast to the view that sales is a “numbers game,” this company rated salespeople on how many prospecting calls they made and how many software demonstrations they provided to them. Since efficiency wasn’t part of the measurement, it’s worth pausing a moment to think about what behavior they encouraged—and got—from their sales team: indiscriminate prospecting. Jennifer’s numbers looked great because she averaged 70 calls a day last month. Steve was a bum because he averaged 38. Steve’s revenue is 3% lower. But who is working smarter?

Solution: Measure and manage efficiency. Ask yourself whether you want to reward more activity, or better activity.

#4. Maintain a long, painful, agonizing exit strategy for under-performing salespeople
Under the guise of a “Performance Improvement Plan,” this company mandated underperforming sales people hold monthly meetings with a manager so they could receive instruction on how to improve. Absent from this remedial program was any attempt to mine insight from the salesperson’s point of view. The Plan didn’t require a manager to even learn about any difficulties the salesperson might be experiencing. And there was a lot of it—the company churned almost 30% of its sales force every year. When I asked a sales manager if any sales person ever was saved after being on The Plan, which averaged four months, the answer was, “Well . . . no.”

Solution: If your company has no resources to elevate the performance of the bottom of your sales staff, make the exit short and sweet. Also, remember that you can learn as much from your under performing reps as they can learn from you. Ask yourself “what was missed in the hiring process? Did we provide the right sales support? How can we avoid making similar mistakes again.”

#5. Uncouple your new account capture team from your installed account team
This company took “silo” to a new dysfunctional height because management felt that New Account reps would become complacent if they received an annuity for renewals. When a software subscriber failed to renew, the account was considered “lapsed,” which meant that after four months, it reverted to a “new account” status for sales credit purposes. The result? This company’s new account sales team craved “lapsed” accounts, because they were easier to sell to than cold call leads. In fact, members of the New Accounts team continually trolled subscriber activity for such “low hanging sales fruit.” You can be sure that no New Account salesperson ever called Inside Sales to share information.

Solution: Encourage your sales force to sell to valuable customers, not just to many customers. Employee complacency is a risk that’s not limited to salespeople. When salespeople can reap rewards for establishing long-term relationships, they will not only seek better prospects, they will remain valuable to them long after they have signed on as customers.

#6 Build rapport-breaking statements right into your sales scripts.
This company found a way make prospect alienation repeatable and scalable. When asked for a reference, telemarketers were scripted to advise a prospect that they were obligated to protect their client’s time, and they couldn’t provide reference information.

Solution: Take your sales scripts on a trial run before you distribute them to your national sales team. Most important, ask yourself “how will our communication be perceived?” If the answer is “poorly,” revise the script.

Goofus and Gallant Make CRM Decisions

Originally published 02/07/08

For those who may not be familiar with Goofus and Gallant, the Highlights Magazine feature contrasts how two children—Goofus, who is bad, and Gallant, who is good—make divergent ethical choices when faced with the same set of circumstances. The text is presented as captions below simple drawings that illustrate the action. (A quote from a 1960 Highlights: “Goofus turns on the television when there are guests; whenever guests arrive, Gallant turns off the television at once.”)

Reading Goofus and Gallant is a great dose of reality on days when I’m feeling totally ethical. I always ask myself “What would I do?” While I don’t think I’m as flagrantly selfish as Goofus, I’m clearly socially and ethically maladjusted next to Gallant’s consistent kindness, thoughtfulness, and sense of fair play.

What if Goofus and Gallant outgrew their permanently juvenile forms and became grown-up executives faced with contemporary ethical decisions? How might they decide when they aren’t guided by flowcharts, formulas, and sophisticated software, but rather when answering the question, “what is the right thing to do?”

Here are some examples:

“Goofus believes that only frequent passengers on his airline have the right to expect good service. Gallant believes all passengers are entitled to a good flying experience.”

“Goofus markets his products as ‘green’ even though he buys many materials from unregulated offshore factories; Gallant only sells products that meet rigorous standards for responsible environmental stewardship.”

“Goofus licenses his company’s logo to other companies whose practices and motives are unknown so that he can make an extra profit; Gallant values the trust that his customers place in his company.”

“Goofus uses direct mail to circumvent regulations so he can get senior citizens to accept telemarketing pitches; Gallant complies with the FTC’s vendor guidelines for no-call lists.”

“Goofus saves IT costs by not updating infrastructure and information security software; Gallant believes the privacy of his customers’ transaction information is a strategic priority.”

“Goofus optimizes his personal exit strategy when making CRM decisions; Gallant thinks about what’s best for his employees and customers.”

As sales, marketing, and business development professionals, we have at our disposal unprecedented power to create positive outcomes for many people, or to turn that power toward tactics that exploit trust and erode value. The overwhelming majority of the decisions we make are not constrained by laws and regulations. Even if Gallant’s decisions represent an unattainable ethical purity, isn’t it worth asking “what is the right thing to do?”

Is Sales Necessary – Or Necessarily Evil?

Originally published 02/18/08

Salespeople fight a “guilty until proven innocent” reputation when working with customers. I know, because as a salesperson I’ve battled it for over 20 years. The customer reaction isn’t surprising. Sales people are on the customer-relationship front line, and they absorb the brunt of buyer vitriol. In fact, a survey that DDI International recently conducted with 2,705 corporate buyers worldwide, “2007-2008 Global Sales Perceptions Report,” documented the problem with painful clarity. The report reveals how salespeople are perceived, and over 47% of US survey respondents indicated that they “would not be proud to be called a salesperson.” According to the report, “the most common description across all countries was that Sales is ‘a necessary evil.”

Given the billions of dollars that are spent annually on sales effectiveness training and CRM systems, this sentiment is an indictment on the sales profession, and it says we’re failing at our efforts to improve our face-to-face experiences with our customers. Not all is bad, however. Tremendous opportunities exist for enterprises that strategically change how their sales forces engage with customers.

Why do buyers have antipathy for sales people?

To answer this question, it’s necessary to look beyond salespeople themselves and to the culture and systems under which salespeople have worked for several generations. First, ever since sales became a distinct entity in commercial enterprises, the tactical objectives of the sales force have been dictated by corporate revenue goals. A closely-watched metric by investment analysts, revenue goals are developed in the board room, and trickle down to the individual sales representative through a sometimes-perverse and inherently flawed calculus, the end-point of which is called a quota. This all-important number represents the salesperson’s revenue commitment to the organization, and it carries ponderous weight. With revenue as the focal point of sales-performance discussions, quota over-achievement often means significant financial rewards; under-achievement compromises a salesperson’s ever-tenuous job stability.

As any quota-carrying salesperson or sales manager can attest, the assignment of sales quotas frequently involve rancorous negotiations. Some quotas are completely arbitrary, based on the direction fairy dust blows when it is thrown up in the air. Others are based on conditions that are outside of the salesperson’s control—market and economic forecasts, product and pricing forecasts, assumptions, and growth factors.

Quotas are half the story. The other half is how revenue is credited against sales quotas. This exercise often results in a smoke-and-mirrors game that is as much political as it is the application of accounting debits and credits. The result is an unwieldy multi-page document, sometimes called a Commission Plan, which can require a lawyer’s expertise to decipher for all the ambiguity. Such complexity prompted one Vice President of Sales at a company I worked for to envision a commission plan that could fit on one side of a business card—a noble goal he never implemented.

So every day under this basic system of illogical quota calculation and revenue accrual, legions of salespeople engage with millions of customers worldwide. Lost in all the shouting and confusion are the answers to these questions: “What is valuable to the people and organizations that use our products?” And the corollary question, “How will our salespeople behave given the financial “ecosystem” we have created?” No wonder so many buyers decry their sales experiences. Any moniker purporting “customer-centricity” only serves to put lipstick on this big, ugly pig.

Second, many organizations have not applied thought to the question, “what value must sales contribute to our organization in order for us to meet our strategic objectives?” Yet, companies invest in recruiting, hiring, managing, training, and compensating their sales forces in spite of such vagueness, and without a coherent way to measure efficacy.

When I ask my clients what value their sales force must provide to their organization, the immediate answer I often hear is “revenue.” “OK,” I say, “but if there are no profits associated with the revenue, is that valuable?” My clients respond “Of course not, we must make a profit.” Taking this idea further, I ask “If you make a profit, but your customers aren’t satisfied with your product and wouldn’t recommend your company—is that valuable?” And the inevitable answer: “No, of course not.” Finally, I ask “What if your organization achieved profitable revenue targets, and had satisfied clients, but didn’t gain any market insight for future strategy—would that be valuable?” The answer: “No, our planners and strategists depend on our sales force to provide valuable feedback from the field!” Then the light bulb turns on: the sales force must deliver value beyond top-line revenue! Unfortunately, we’re stuck in a cycle of value-chain discord until organizations stop demanding multiple outcomes from their sales force, but understand only one dimension—revenue.

Happily, some organizations have taken important steps to break free from the revenue-at-all-cost myopia. One company I work with penalizes a salesperson if a customer has purchased its software, but does not use the capabilities the software provides. Why has the vendor taken this position when nearly all of its competitors are focused on pushing new licenses and version upgrades? Because their senior management recognizes that nothing puts a company’s logo into a customer’s budget-cutting crosshairs faster than a known wasted IT investment. Other examples abound in which organizations have taken a progressive stance on rewarding salespeople for activities that are valuable to the organization beyond revenue generation. Such changes are important because they serve as steps to mitigate the discord described in the DDI survey.

But if we can’t change the economic system, how can we find a better way for sellers and buyers interact?

Probably the more fundamental question is “do we need to find a better way?” Are you content with the status quo? The DDI survey clearly says buyers are not. Your answer likely depends on whether you view sales as necessary—or necessarily evil.

Does Your Company Differentiate By Offering Good Products With Virtue?

Originally published 04/23/08

If you want to become wealthy, “create good products with virtue.” The man who made that recommendation, Ted Leonsis, should know. As co-founder of America Online, he has repeatedly used that idea to build a financial empire.

But today’s world is so full of non-virtuous products and customer experiences that there are websites, blogs, and government agencies dedicated to sharing information about the perpetrators. Given that, could simply creating good products with virtue provide a major differentiator for a high-performance brand?

As Mr. Leonsis observes, with the unparalleled amount of customer sentiment available to producers today, “there is no reason to have bad products or services.” If only it were so easy. Companies spend many billions of dollars in pursuit silver bullets in the name of Sustainable Differentiation—often with little results to show for the effort. So whenever I uncover a “good product with virtue,” it seems awesomely different.

Do we chronically have examples of non-virtuous products because managers and investors don’t care about having virtuous ones? Because companies don’t know how to produce good products? Because many really smart people simply talk too much? What makes a product “good and virtuous” in the first place? And how can an enterprise exploit such differentiation through its sales and operational strategies?

An example provides help toward answering these questions. I thought back—before Web 2.0, viral marketing, email, data warehouses, even before Internet itself—and remembered how a grocery retailer, Giant Food Corporation of Maryland—deployed “good and virtuous” as a formidable competitive weapon for over thirty years. What differentiated the company? Consistent delivery of quality, value, and service to every customer. More than mere words, these differentiators created complex operational challenges in a demanding, highly competitive business serving a wide demographic.

One highly-effective resource the company used was a Consumer Board, a low-technology tool that was radical and controversial during the early ‘80’s, when I served as a board member for two years. As remarkable as it was at the time for a retailer to provide consumers a voice, I learned what was more significant was how Giant delivered its “good and virtuous” differentiation, gaining the largest share of the grocery market in the Washington DC area in the process.

Four important tactics stand out most in my mind:

1. Bring the consumer’s voice to the executive suite. Before any of its rivals did so, Giant not only recognized the primacy of the consumer, but organized its management and operations accordingly. The Giant consumer executive at the time, Odonna Mathews, had the authority to enact recommendations that the board made. Other boards simply provided information to a corporate representative who lacked decision-making authority.
2. Direct senior management involvement with consumers. Izzy Cohen, the Giant CEO at the time, regularly attended our meetings.
3. Tight focus on the needs of individuals and communities. In creating “good and virtuous” differentiation, Giant understood that short-term profits were worth exchanging for customer loyalty. One prominent example was the Consumer Board’s recommendation for Giant to offer tabloid- and candy-free checkout lines, which the chain implemented well before the rest of the industry.
4. Independence between quality initiatives and store-level financial performance measurements. For example, if an ailing freezer needed replacement, the store’s manager wasn’t penalized with the cost of the equipment. Giant’s expenses toward quality differentiation never impacted a store’s profitability. Internal conflicts were eliminated.

The esteem that Giant Food held in the communities it served cannot be overstated. The most compelling story occurred during the riots in Washington, DC following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. When hundreds of other businesses were destroyed or damaged, community activists protected the Giant Food stores, all of which survived unscathed. That relationship and commitment could not have been achieved without creating “good products with virtue.” The financial rewards speak for themselves.

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