Like many boys, I played in dirt a lot when I was young. Guess that was a harbinger of things to come 'cuz I love dirt. Not enough to be a farmer, you see, but enough so that I want to deal with sticky problems. More importantly, I am attracted to people who have messy problems. Sales management problems. Selling problems. Communication problems. I love helping people who are dealing with those sticky, dirty business problems that plague us each day.
Many of you may have seen a change from me in the last few weeks. I've been much more "far forward" (to pull a publishing layout term) regarding my views and thoughts. I've created more content in the past two weeks on Twitter than I have in my previous years combined (and I've been on that platform since 1998!). ;-)
And, I'm using this blogging platform here more frequently too. (Let's not forget my hall-of-fame monthly newsletter, Selling.2.YES, soon heading in to its second year of publishing reaching a global audience!) All of my increased activity is thanks to a wonderful and smart, smart, smart social marketer named Jeanne Sachs (@jlsachs and here on LinkedIn). Jeanne taught me a few tricks and helped me utilize tools - including my brain - in ways that are necessary for success as a sole-proprietor. Jeanne's smart (did I mention that?), and I'm now back in charge of my voice.
Bottom line, I eat what I kill. Wouldn't have it any other way. I work in the dirt.
During my big coming out party on social media of late, I've been reminded there are many folks out there who are fantastically smart and do wonderful things. And I'm in awe of their achievements. Mostly I'm in awe of how sharp folks are in framing their talents, skills, and accomplishments. And promoting themselves. Many of them post beautiful poster headers on LinkedIn or Twitter of them in front of throngs of people, delivering content and inspirations that are, no doubt, provocative and valuable.
I can do that too.
But I love working in the dirt. Got a problem? Know someone in your org with a problem? I'm available.
How 'bout just for today we refer to me as Dr. Dirt. Love that!
Impossible, you say? I would have said the same thing awhile ago but I've been chipping away at this and will share my plan. (I'm not saying I've cracked the code, but it'd be great to have something against which to measure progress and growth other than the baseline revenue tracks we chart: "hey Cindy, did ya hit your number this quarter? By how much??")
Just as I have general rules of engagement for how I conduct skill development exercises (must be fun, relevant to the challenge/problem, regular/consistent, accountable, and measurable), I have thought of how I need to set up the Lightbulb Popping Formula....just made that up moments ago but let's see if it, and the acronym LPF stick. (Sounds good so far, of course I reserve all rights to it, and the right to change it, and the rights to what I change it to.)
How 'bout this to start:
1. the Pop has to be enduring. Rep learns a new technique, starts using it, KEEPS using it for...hmmm, how 'bout a month? Gets good results. (Of course, said rep wouldn't keep doing it if he/she wasn't getting good results.) 1 point for that but only if the technique is utilized over a sustained period.
2. the Pop has to be aligned with the behaviors the company establishes. This means, of course, that sales management has to define those good behaviors in order to credit them. 1 point for that.
3. the Pop has to truly be something new that the rep is doing. Can't credit reps for things they know. I don't like the invitation for ambiguity here any more than you do, but again, we gotta start somewhere on this.
4. Benchmarking: it only makes sense for an organization if you are rating everything inside of the company, and, against a point scheme that is assigned for each skill development session. So you'd say something like this, "...today we're going to study obstacle handling, and because that particular skill is so important, there are THREE points in play today to measure progress." At the end of the session, you grade everyone and keep your tally running for the measuring period - no less than a month, no more than a quarter.
Mind racing right now? Mine too. It introduces some sticky things to consider, but it's worth the conversation, no?
My Dad passed away a couple of years ago from a long battle with Parkinsons. The end was painful. The middle was painful. Obviously I want to remember my Dad in his prime, not of his struggles with a body that failed him in his latter years. He was stoic and proud to the end, which was admirable given the hell he was going through.
Dad was a proud businessman who built a nice life for himself. He was born with next to nothing and no support: a Mom who passed when he was 2, and a Dad who was a drunk and gone before 50. Dad could have drifted down the wrong road, but he did not. He claimed aunts, uncles, cousins, and a Jesuit education saved him.
Edwin Henry Hess, Jr., sold group health insurance plans to businesses for Connecticut General for 25 years before they merged with a company called Independent Northern Annuity. The C and G and I, N, A became...you go it, CIGNA. (That's how that stuff comes to be, btw.)
He claimed my Mom stunted some of his career growth and bigger "corner offices" by derailing his drive to get to HQ in Hartford, CT. She didn't want to leave San Francisco, he wanted to climb. Either way, a 25 year career in San Francisco wasn't bad..most of it was running the office there and calling the shots. The company moved him to Los Angeles for 5 years at the end so he could hit all his pension plan targets - yes, pension plans! It's a thing of the past but was pretty cool when it worked. The down side, of course, was illustrated by Dad's final years of "pain"...he hated being stuck and was bored for FIVE LONG YEARS waiting for his time to max out. Yuck. (Five years is a long time to waste being unhappy in your job, isn't it?) At least a few decades earlier he averted a move to Houston to "fix" that region...otherwise, I would have been an Oilers and Astros fan.....ewwwwww!!!!
Dad had some wins, and as we all do, some losses. He claims he sold the first ever group medical plan to these guys named William Hewlett and David Packard down in the Valley who were working on some tech thingie. Dad showed me a picture of the three of them together at a business function so I guess it was true. Dad even laughed many times over when re-telling the story of his buddy Donald Fisher who asked him for some money to invest in his new store on Ocean Avenue in the late '60s. Don told Dad he wanted to sell Levi's and LP records....LP stands for Long Play...look it up. (THOSE were cool.) Eh, what good would founders shares of The Gap have done anyway? (Fisher is only worth $3.3.....BILLION.)
During his 'out-to-pasture' LA years, Dad had me over quite a bit at his house in Calabasas, CA a short trip from my UCLA campus. He was obviously trying to repair a lot of damage caused by his MadMen years...apparently there are a lot of similarities between the lives/times of Don Draper and the guys who ran around selling group medical plans to the likes of H-P and Intel.
Just months after graduation, while sitting on his patio after a nice dinner, Dad shot the zinger across the bow.
"That was always the difference between me and you." Out of nowhere it came.
"Huh? Come again, Dad?"
"The difference....between us. (Long pause.) I was always the guy who WENT FOR IT HARD....REALLY GOT AFTER IT. (pause) You just aren't that guy."
Whoa. I sat motionless, wondering if my ears had betrayed me. His wife was off in the kitchen, but she couldn't help anyway. I was alone with an asshole who, while just starting to re-gain my trust after a nasty divorce and prolonged absenteeism during my high school years, shot me in the face. It might not seem like a heavy moment to you, but at the time, fresh out of college trying to find my way, I was traumatized.
At 21, I wasn't familiar with pyscho-babble sales manager motivation gimmicks. Decades later, I still wonder if this was a move by a resentful, bitter man of early career promise who had consumed 6 or 7 glasses of Cab and just let it rip, or from someone who was just trying to find the right message.
Either way, I can tell you this: today, I am ten times the achiever that man ever was. Ten times as professionally fulfilled as that man ever was. Ten times as successful (as measured by MY criteria) than that man ever was. And, ten times as capable of motivating and inspiring with grace, humility and respect. I am ten times the leader that man ever was.
But towards the end, he knew it. And he was really, really proud.
Happy Father's Day, Eddie. Thanks for the lesson. RIP.
While visiting with a client this morning, she told the tale of a Regional VP who had been recruiting new sales executives while representing the company as "a fair, just, great place to work where there are no surprises and goals are always set democratically and with management participation".
Well guess what happened on the way to Q3?
You guessed it. The Board got antsy and issued a number that was sky-high for Q3. Presto...Regional VP is betrayed and feels like she's been lying to her peeps.
The RVP will get through this, yet with some amount of pain and adjustments to be made. First, there is no business on earth that doesn't go through this, especially fast/emerging growth companies. The lesson is to be careful how you communicate to your team and your recruits. Use words very carefully. But most importantly, be realistic about life. Sometimes the quarterly numbers make you smile, 'cuz you know "you got this"! Sometimes a ton of brick falls on your heads. It happens.
Communicate with your team even more now. Be honest, yet know that in the future you're going to have to be more measured in how you talk (and think) about your business. Don't lose your enthusiasm, just gain some perspective and humility.
Michael Hess is the Founder/Principal of Core 6 Management Advisors. Drawing on almost 3 decades of experience in Sales and Management, Michael shares his thoughts and opinions here for you.