planetakingoff 2015-Nov18
If you recall my last post, you know that I met this amazing sales manager, Tom, who sat next to me on a recent flight. Like I said, I’ve never in my entire career sat next to a sales manager. It was one of the most enlightening and gratifying professional conversations I’ve ever had.
Gosh, was he a talker! Before I could get a question out, it’s like he had read my mind, anticipating what I was going to ask. He said to me, “Jeff, do you know what I’ve found is the number one reason for success in sales?” Before I could answer he said, “keeping these good people in line. No, no… I don’t mean punishing them; I mean providing them a framework or structure to work within. Then I hold them accountable to make sure they do what they said they were going to do. That’s what I mean by keeping them in line.”
I said, “You sound exactly like me and my business partner, Richard, when we talk about success in major gift fundraising. We’re preaching the same thing. It’s validating to know this is the same reason for success in sales.”
Then Tom started recalling stories of the sales people he’s managed. I was enthralled. “Jeff,” he said (notice how he always says my name before he makes a point), “I would say that in almost every case where I started working with a new salesperson they are at first really irritated with me. They don’t like that I make them work within a structure. They get upset with me. They think I’m trying to control them. I’ve had many threaten to quit. But I tell them to hang in there with me.”
Then Tom leaned in towards me and said, “This is what I tell them at that point, when they are most frustrated. ‘I want you to know that I’m here to make you successful. If you follow my plan for you, you are going to be successful and make a lot of money. I will not fail to make you successful.’”
At that moment I thought, what it would be like to have some manager tell me that when I was young in my career? To have someone come alongside me, put his arm around me and say, “I’m going to help you be great, and I will not let you down.” In that moment, right there on the plane with Tom, tears began streaming down my face. Tom smiled because he knew why.
“Yeah, I know why you’re crying, Jeff. Not many people come into your life that will tell you they will not let you fail. That is the gift I was given: to assure people that I have the ability to make them successful. This is why I’m so happy – I get to do what I love every day.”
Tom went on: “So I give them this structure, because you know these sales guys, if left on their own, will be all over the place and never get anywhere. Then, I talk to the whole team every morning at 8am.” What? That seems like hovering to me, but Tom says, “Look, everyone calls in from wherever they are. I give them a little pep talk, discuss what is happening in the company, then ask each of them about their hot leads. Then, we actually help each other close sales. This is where being a team comes into play. We’re a sales team, but most salespeople act independently. I find that even the most independent salespeople work better when they feel part of a team. I force them to become a team. Over time, they start acting like one. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.”
By now, I’m feeling like a young Buddhist monk sitting at the feet of The Buddha. Tom goes on, “I know that salespeople love to be on their own and do their own thing. But when they can start helping each other win and they see how it has positive effects on their own results, it’s quite incredible.”
I asked him to tell me one story of someone that he managed that seemed to have no hope of working out and what he did to help make them successful. He said he had many, but then he said this:
“Jeff, I had a middle-aged salesperson who had been with the company 30+ years. I was hired to be the sales manager of this company. I saw his performance numbers; they were ‘just getting by.’ The CEO said that I probably should figure out a way to let him go. The company had been ‘carrying’ him for too long, the CEO said.
“So, I sat with him and I realized that for 30 years no one had ever, ever given this poor guy any direction. No one had spent any real time with him figuring out what makes him tick. So I spent three days with him. I took him out over the weekend and we went fishing, because I found out that is what he likes to do. We spent 72 hours together. I found out so much about him.
“This allowed me to figure out a plan to help him win. I was able to figure out what his strengths were – who he really was – and I created a structure for him to work within. Jeff, after six months this guy was our top salesperson. He exceeded everyone’s expectations, including mine. At our monthly salesperson meeting, he got the salesperson of the month award – something he had never achieved in 30 years. He was happier than I’ve ever seen him.
“That night I went to bed. At 2am, I got a call from his wife. Jeff, he died that night from a massive heart attack. At the funeral his wife came up to me,” (Tom’s voice is quivering as he’s telling me this and I’m already a basket case) “and said that she was so thankful to me because I was the first person who ever took the time to really get to know her husband. She said he was the most fulfilled and happiest he’d ever been in the last six months, and she has total peace about his passing. ‘Tom,’ she said, ‘you made him feel loved.’”
Now there were two grown men on a plane weeping. Why? Because in that moment we knew that everyone has worth, and that really taking the time to know a person and working to help him succeed is really a spiritual endeavor.
What can you take away from this story? What can you do to be a better manager? What can you do to be a better MGO? What can you do to be a better person?