August 31, 2022

Shooting Yourself in the Foot

I previously posted an article about how to tap into what motivates each sales rep on your team. In this article I’m going to talk about things that owners do, often unintentionally, that de-motivate their sellers.

When I graduated from college, I had planned to go to law school but needed to earn some money first. Both my parents were in sales so that seemed like the most logical thing. I remember my mom distinctly saying that she thought the world would be a better place if everyone had to spend at least some time in a sales position. My mom, like Thomas Watson Sr., an early president of IBM, believed “nothing happens in business until something gets sold.”
Thomas Watson was right but despite their need for sales, I still run into owners who have little respect for professional selling. There are lots of reasons this happens but it could very well be a “chicken and an egg” thing. Do they think poorly of sellers because theirs have been bad? or do they have bad sellers because they don’t respect the position?

I tend to think it’s the latter. Because they have a bad or incorrect perception of professional selling, they don’t hire correctly and end up with reps who fulfill their prophecy.

Lacking respect for selling comes in different forms. Owners don’t like to be sold to and they don’t realize that those bad sales experiences are because the rep isn’t using a professional sales process. It’s not enjoyable when a rep pitches products that you don’t think you need, doesn’t help you understand why it makes sense for your business or badgers you to make a decision. Professional selling is about finding people with the problems that your solution can fix, not selling people something they don’t need.

“She’s a Good Talker”

Some owners think that selling is easy. A lot of owners think a good sales rep just has to be able to talk to people. This can’t be farther from the truth. There are more extroverts in sales for sure but I think this is often because they didn’t have another career choice. Since they were talkative and personable, others who didn’t understand what professional selling was about, told them that selling would be a good career choice. This is probably the reason that 55% of the people making their living in sales don’t have the right skills to be successful. (Brevet Group) In reality, introverts are just as successful, if not more, than extroverts in selling positions.

Owners who think that selling success comes from just getting out there and talking to people, often get just that. They get reps who waste time “popping in” to see customers who don’t have time to talk to them, reps who drive two hours to meet with a customer with no specific objective in mind, and reps who end up selling on price because they are just peddling products. This type of rep can also deliver a “double whammy” to their companies because the rep talks the ears off of their colleagues. Not only are they unproductive sellers, but they also have a negative impact on the productivity of their colleagues. Selling success is not about being a good talker or a people person.
Professional selling requires a high degree of business acumen, research, and a plan. The best sellers will spend more time thinking and planning than doing. Thinking and planning make their “doing” more productive. A lot of owners don’t see the value in the thinking and planning part so they say things like “why don’t you get out of the office and go see some customers?” A poor rep just takes their lack of a plan on the road which racks up expenses and often annoys potential customers. When an owner or manager tells a good rep to get out of the office, the rep feels their process isn’t respected, their skills are unappreciated and they become an attrition risk.

Not Noticing the Little Things

The other thing that great sellers do is see beyond what’s in front of them. When I’m coaching reps and we’re discussing a new opportunity, I always ask them what they see beyond this first opportunity. Mid-range or poor reps never see the account’s full potential. I’ll get answers like “they buy a lot of print”. Great reps see beyond the here and now to what could be and they start to methodically do the things necessary to make the larger opportunity materialize. They answer my question with more specificity. They see programs, branded print portals, and more and bigger opportunities. They often understand how their customer is connected in the marketplace and understand how success with that customer will help them get into other accounts.
Big deals and large revenue accounts don’t happen easily. They are the culmination of many little steps leading to the big opportunity. If the owner or manager doesn’t respect the rep’s methodical approach to developing bigger opportunities, they tend to think the rep is too focused on small stuff or that the rep should leave the small stuff to others in the company so they “can back out and sell”. For a great rep who is doing those little things with a purpose, it’s demotivating to have an owner who doesn’t understand. All the owner needs to do is ask the rep about their plan. A great rep will have one and be able to share the “why” behind the little things they are doing which may not look big at the moment. The owner in many cases just doesn’t ask.
The reason this happens may well be how the business started. If it started as a retail quick print shop, the owner will likely think with a retail mentality. The owner may still believe that all the rep has to do is bring the first job in and the internal team will ensure customer loyalty. In today’s competitive environment, this just isn’t the case. While it’s important for the internal team to deliver a great customer experience, that alone will not maximize customer lifetime value. A professional sales approach is needed to find the right types of customers, develop bigger and more lucrative opportunities and close them.

“He’s so lazy”

Another way owners show disrespect is by talking about their sellers in negative ways to others in the company. This is not something you see when the sales rep is good but you see it all the time when reps are mid-range or lower performers. I was visiting a company recently and overheard an owner telling a customer service rep that the sales rep was lazy. The rep may, in fact, be lazy but undermining their credibility with their co-workers is not the best way to motivate them to change. In this case, it may not have been the rep’s fault at all. The company was lacking in solid processes, the rep hadn’t been trained and wasn’t being given good direction about where to focus. It’s entirely possible the rep isn’t lazy at all but simply doesn’t know what to do or how to do it. If this is the case, the rep’s credibility has been undermined and their efforts to change likely will be too.

Snide Remarks About Compensation

Casting aspirations on a rep’s compensation is another way that owners show disrespect to their reps. This is of critical importance for a high-performing rep. As I mentioned in last month’s article, great reps don’t do it for the money. The money is a manifestation of their intrinsic motivation to solve problems, have an impact, help their company grow, accomplish goals, and win or not lose. When an owner questions their compensation, it’s like saying “I don’t see or respect what you are doing.” A surefire way to create an attrition risk with a great rep is to nit-pick their compensation or make snide remarks about how much the rep is being paid. Even if the owner thinks they are saying it in jest, the rep will hear it as disrespect.
Years ago, I went to work for a value-added reseller of mini-computers. The company was a higher ed software solution company but had a legacy division that sold hardware to general markets. I was the only rep in that area. The plan was for me to learn about computers and then move into the division selling software and hardware to colleges. The manager who hired me was great. She respected how hard I worked and the processes I used to sell. She helped me grow as a rep and couldn’t have been happier when I got big commission checks. I flourished and even though I was in an obscure division of the company, was one of the top sellers in the whole company.

My great manager eventually left the company and I ended up reporting to someone with a primary operations background. He didn’t spend a lot of time talking to me so didn’t really understand how I continued to exceed my goals. Every time he had to sign off on a commission check, he would make a snide comment about how I made more than him. I don’t know if he actually respected what I did or not, but I didn’t think he did. I just remember walking out of his office multiple times angry and thinking I needed to find another job. That’s exactly what I did do. When I resigned, he tried to talk me into staying but I was leaving him more than I was leaving the company.
Mediocre reps spend their time going through company sales reports trying to put their name on things they had little to do with in order to get a commission. Great reps may have small jobs too but they are the groundwork for larger opportunities and the small commission is, for them, the beginning of a larger plan coming together. Owners have to know the difference or they risk reinforcing bad behaviors with poor reps and demonstrating a lack of respect for good reps who have a long-term plan.

Lack of Feedback

The last thing owners can do to de-motivate their best reps and those in the middle, who could be good, is to ignore them. Great reps and reps who are trying to improve need feedback to grow. They need to brainstorm and they need reinforcement that their managers see the things they are doing that may not have borne fruit yet but will one day. Managers who don’t give reps time or reinforcement, look like they don’t care. Reps who don’t think their managers care about them leave. On the other hand, bad reps like to fly under the radar so if their managers aren’t talking to them, they are happy because no one is holding them accountable. Without feedback, bad behaviors fester, good behaviors go unrecognized and performance isn’t maximized.
Understanding what motivates your sales team is critical to getting the best out of each person. But it is equally as important to avoid shooting yourself in the foot with negligent behaviors that de-motivate your sales team. I find that much of this happens inadvertently because owners are distracted by running their business and just can’t find the time to invest in developing their sales rep or sales team. Your “to-do” list will never be complete and if you find yourself in this situation, get help. You risk losing the reps who can help your company grow or worse, keeping the ones who are in the way of your growth.

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