Why Your Role as Sales Leader Isn’t to Motivate

MOTIVATION word cloud, business concept

Many people think “cheerleader” when they envision an effective sales leader.  Someone who gets the team fired up, screams and shouts, and sets everyone on a rah-rah march into the field to meet prospects.

The sales leader is expected to be a high-powered extrovert, charismatic, outspoken, aggressive, and perhaps even a bit shocking.  We have all worked for sales leaders that possess these characteristics and shall I dare say, some other, more wild ones to say the least.

Early in my career I worked for such a sales leader.  He’d stand on a chair or a table during sales meetings screaming at the top of his lungs, face beet red.  The hair on the back of your neck would stand on end.  You were pumped.  There was nothing you couldn’t do.  But when he finished his super-charged motivational speech, the result felt more like a tirade than an inspiration.  There’s an enormous distance between rallying a group with fear versus inspiration.

So what is the sales leaders responsibility as it relates to motivating a sales team?

Are you ready for the answer?  None.  You have no responsibility to motivate your team.  Each sales person on your team is responsible for motivating him, or herself.  So what is your job as the sales leader?  Provide vision and inspiration.

People want to follow a leader who demonstrates the confidence that he knows where he’s going, how he’s going to get there, and why getting there is so important and beneficial.  I’ve built a number of sales teams over the years.  I have worked hard to be an inspiration – doing this provides your team members with the “why” should they do what you’re asking them to do.  Inspiration transcends motivation.  You can motivate for an hour or a day but motivation is time constrained.  It lasts only as long as the instigator – you – are on duty.  But to inspire, creates a fire, that burns deep into desire.  The greater the fire you build the more insatiable the desire is to achieve the goals you’ve set – whether you’re around or not.

Your job is to find out what drives your team.  Is it money?  Is it recognition?  Is it invention or innovation?  Is it client engagement scores?  Once you know what drives each person on the team you will be able to create your inspiration roadmap.  That roadmap will provide a clear picture to:

  1. Where are we going?
  2. Why are we going there?
  3. What’s in it for us?
  4. What will we feel once we’ve arrived there?

Most organizations fail due to a lack of clarity around the vision. You’ve got to assemble a team that WANTS to a be a part of your vision.  Trying to convince someone they will be happy going to Buffalo in the winter probably won’t sell.  You can expend all your energy convincing or you can set out to find those who are interested or intrigued with going to Buffalo.  It’s the Good to Great philosophy of getting the right people on the bus and the right butts in the right seat.

Lead by example.  Walk the talk.  Model the behaviors.  Do these things and you’ll increase your ability to inspire your followers to achieve remarkable results.

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Why Generosity?

generosity

Lately I’ve been paying more attention to the actions, words, and behaviors of the business world.  Observing acts of kindness and generosity. Watching folks give their time, talent, ideas and coaching to others.  Providing insights and perspectives that make a positive impact in someone’s life.

The world of business can be difficult at times.  It may even be difficult most times.  We live in a hyper competitive environment where the rule of thumb has always been to outshine those around you.  If I can just outperform, over deliver, sell the most, build the coolest this-or-that, I’ll be vaulted to the top. That was then…

Today, the there’s another way to shine, be seen, rise to the top, and excel.  It’s a paradigm shift, and perhaps a shift some either don’t believe in or feel is too soft.  That shift revolves around being generous.

Generosity isn’t a weakness.  It’s not about being soft.  Being generous demonstrates the ultimate control.  You’re in control of your choices, actions and decisions.  You choose where to spend your time and where not to spend it.  Generosity is about both quality and quantity…the two MUST be tied together to be a generous act.  Giving someone a mountain of feedback without any guidance or coaching as to how they might use that feedback isn’t being generous.  It’s also not showing great leadership either but that’s for a different day.  Generosity comes from being “genuinely” concerned for another.

Think of those who have helped you in life and your career.  Can you think of someone who helped you for no reason at all?  Perhaps someone who took an interest in you and at the time you couldn’t understand why?  It appeared then that they would have had nothing to gain by helping you but they did anyway…willingly giving their time and attention to you.

Can you think of a person like that?  I can.  Several.  And without exception, every one of them is super successful with reputations as strong leaders, mentors, confidants, and friends. They’ve filled their buckets by helping those around them and by doing so their successes multiplied.  We all know that one person at work who everyone loves.  They never have a bad word to say about anyone.  They are trusted by everyone and intimidated by no one. Without seeking power, they’ve acquired it through their generosity.  They use that power to help others, foster relationships, calm storms, and generate new ideas.

Think about how generous you are.  It’s not about money…it’s far more than that.  It’s about giving something much more valuable than money. It’s about giving some of yourself to others. Gandhi said, “Be the change you want the world to see.” Start small and see the difference it makes.

Sell Me This Pen. The Interview Question All Sales People Should Expect.

picture-of-quill-pen-ink-pot

Sell me this pen.  Pitch me as you would a prospect.  How would you sell our product if I was a buyer? Sound familiar? These questions, and more like them, are asked in most sales interviews. But should they be? If you’re the candidate being interviewed should you take the bait and answer? Or is there another way to respond that better showcases your critical thinking skills?

This question poses significant risk to the candidate.  Sure, you may have a perfect reply and wow the interviewer, however, there’s also a chance this question is a trap. Answer it and you could be perceived incorrectly.  Don’t answer it and you risk rubbing the interviewer the wrong way.  The problem with this question is that it doesn’t provide you, the candidate, with enough information to form an intelligent response.  You know nothing about the pen, and even less about the buyer.  Many companies sell pens, payroll, financial services, insurance, consumer products, accounting services, etc., but not all their buyers are attracted to that company for the same reason.  Every buyer is on his or her own journey.  Without understanding the motivations and behaviors of a specific buyer, your best response provides nothing but entertainment value for the interviewer. So how can you reply in a way that demonstrates intelligence and thoughtfulness rather than appearing aloof?

If you’re the candidate being interviewed I propose a different reaction to this question.  Instead of answering I would look at the person interviewing me and say, “Before I can sell you anything I need to understand your needs as a buyer. What’s important to you and why? Have you made purchases like this before? What happened?”. Turn the “sell me the pen” question into a dialogue to learn about your buyer.

Taking the bait and trying to sell the pen is risky.  Is it a Bic pen?  A Cross? A Mont Blanc? Or is it a new digital smart pen? A buyer who needs a pen to write down a quick grocery list has different buying needs than a buyer who attends a Board meeting and needs to record in detail everything that takes place in that meeting.  One buyer may need something simple, quick, cheap.  Another buyer may need something more sophisticated and advanced. Do you know what kind of pen it is?  Do you know the buyer?

For those conducting the interview I’d suggest asking a different question.  I understand the insight you’re attempting to gain by asking this question.  I’ve built many sales teams from the ground up and never asked this question.  Instead, I ask the candidate to tell me how they would educate themselves on the product we sell and the buyers who purchase it. Asking this question provides insight into the candidates critical thinking skills versus pure stage performance.  In some cases you may be selling a commodity where critical thinking skills are less important.  However, if that’s your belief I’d challenge it. Commodities can only go so far. At some point you will need a value differentiator to grow your business, and that differentiator won’t be found or identified by a performer.  It will be identified by someone whose interactions with your buyers are thoughtful and curious.

As buyers become more educated, knowledgeable, and aware of other options, an employers goal should be to fill their business with thinkers, while a modern sales professional should be focused on working for a company that demonstrates its commitment to understanding the customer and aligning value to the need.  Strong critical thinking skills will be essential as we continue our progress to a knowledge based society.

So will you take the bait and answer the question?

Preparing to Fail is the First Step to Winning

Failure

Some of the most important lessons we learn in life are from our failures.  They serve as proof that we are trying new things, pushing new boundaries, and welcoming the unknown.  John Maxwell, the famous inspirational author, says the quality that distinguishes someone successful from one who is unsuccessful is his “capacity to manage disappointment and loss.” He goes on to say that while we all want to succeed, we should instead train for losses.

From our earliest days as children we learn to accept failure.  We fall while trying to learn how to walk, or ride a bike.  We don’t make the team we try out for, or we do make the team but as second string.  We get accepted by 4 of the 5 colleges we apply to, but that one declination stings.  Failure is everywhere.

Imagine if the world’s greatest inventors refused to fail.  Everything from the light bulb, to air travel, from the television, to the computer would be at risk.  When Thomas Edison was asked about how many times he tried for the light bulb and failed he said, “I didn’t have 1,000 failures.  It simply took 1,000 steps to make the light bulb.” Talk about an optimists attitude.

Our challenge is to rid our mind of the negative stigma associated with failure.  Human beings by nature are curious creatures.  Asking “why” leads to testing new thoughts, ideas, ways of doing things.  In the absence of curiosity we would have never discovered new lands, new civilizations, new technologies, or new medicines to treat and cure disease.  So why is it that people run from failure?

I would submit that some people believe failure shows weakness.  If you knew…you wouldn’t have failed.  Talk about an absurd viewpoint.  The famous management expert, Peter Drucker, said, “I would never promote a person into a high-level job who was not making mistakes…Otherwise he is sure to be mediocre.” Many organizations reward status-quo.  Companies that find themselves on a winning streak become complacent.  Their leadership sits back to relax and enjoy victory.  The problem is, that while you’re sitting back complimenting yourself for being so brilliant, your competition is working feverishly to disrupt your success and pass you by.  It happens every day.

So shift your thinking from having to be an expert at everything to one of a beginner…a learner.  When you’re in a learning mode your mind is open to everything that’s possible.  When you’ve decided you are an expert your subconscious shuts down your critical thinking skills creating tunnel vision.  So open your eyes, let your mind wander, and begin to think of new ways to do things.  As John Maxwell said, “Mistakes are acceptable as long as the damage isn’t too great. It doesn’t matter how much milk you spill as long as you don’t lose your cow!”

Embrace your failures…with each one you’re learning, growing, and becoming better at whatever you’re doing.

 

 

Be An Inspiration

Inspire

What inspires you?  Perhaps a better question is who inspires you?  Who do you look to for a pick-me-up?  Someone you can always count on for a kind word, a gentle smile, and a reassuring affirmation.  They are the first person you turn to when things go sideways.  So what is it about that person that inspires you?  What traits do they possess and can you yourself be an inspiration to others?

When I think of the people who inspire me, they all possess similar traits.  They are all good listeners, strong observers, and offer great insights.  They’re able to assess a situation without bias and provide a recommendation for how to adjust or modify my thinking in order to accomplish my goals.

Being an inspiration to others requires the ultimate in authenticity.  Have you ever met someone who said they wanted to help you but instead caused your antenna to go up?  Their words seemed empty, their time felt rushed, and most likely they were not very empathetic.  Empathy is a necessary ingredient for inspiration. It’s not about sympathy.  Inspiring others doesn’t mean you allow that person to wallow in their sorrow.  No.  Inspiring others begins with empathy.  Being able to identify with someone’s struggles or challenges allows you to connect with people, build rapport, gain trust, and finally inspire them.

I’ve coached hundreds of people throughout my career, as well as others closer to home.  I enjoy helping people sort through their challenges by listening and providing perspective.  I make sure that when I’m coaching someone they know they are my #1 priority at that moment.  I turn my phone off, close my laptop, and focus on that person entirely.

We live in an age of sound bites.  There is an infinite number of inspirational sayings that are posted to Facebook everyday.  Yet nothing takes the place of speaking to another human being  about your challenges.  That real time interaction with someone who genuinely cares about you and your future is what inspiring others is all about.

There’s no class…no school to attend…no workshops that teach someone how to inspire others.  It takes time. It takes courage. It takes commitment to inspire others. Making a positive difference in someone else’s life is what inspires me to work hard to be an inspiration to others.  What inspires you?

 

Leader or Executive – Which Are You?

Washington

The dictionary defines an executive as someone who has administrative, or supervisory authority within an organization.  A leader is defined as simply one who leads.

I’ve been blessed throughout my career to have encountered some of the best leaders in the business world. Many of these leaders took a personal interest in me and my development. The coached me. Guided me. Taught me.  They invested in me. These same leaders who I once worked for have become mentors later in my career.  They are the same people I turn to for coaching and advice today who taught me years ago. They stood by my side then and they’re still with me today.

From them I learned the importance of kindness, and the power of paying it forward in the business world. And just how do you pay it forward in the business world?  By leading. Just as I had someone take an interest in developing me, I too have taken people under my wing to teach them.  Leadership is about giving not taking. Taking is easy.  Giving is tough.

Leaders inspire. They provide vision. They create excitement. Leaders instill trust. They stand firm in the face of adversity. They provide strength and confidence. Leaders create an environment where learning takes center stage.  They have a beginners attitude.  I’ve worked for plenty of executives who believe they know everything, yet I’ve never worked for a leader who behaved that way.  Leaders know that to continue leading they must continue to learn. When the learning stops, so does the leading.

The good news is that it’s a choice.  It’s a conscious choice to lead.  It takes time, courage, discipline, a sense of humor, and perhaps most importantly leadership takes commitment.  Commitment to keep learning, to keep teaching, to keep giving.  I’ll take a leader any day of the week over an executive.

Is it time to change?

The-Rol-of-Good-Communication-Skills-While-Introducing-Change

With nearly 200,000 books on “change” for sale at Amazon.com you can bet people are trying to understand change in their lives.  Whether it’s a new job, new boss, your first child, a different diet or a ruptured disc, chances are someone somewhere is trying to understand how it will affect their life.

Some companies spend years and countless resources to avoid change.  They operate under the “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” model.  This mindset stifles innovation and simultaneously sends a message to employees to not try new things.  Sure we can all agree that New Coke’s introduction in 1985 was a miss.  It resulted in a drop in market share and ultimately ended in 2002 as Coke brought back the “classic”.  New Coke however represented a change.  It represented innovation regardless of the outcome.  Think about it.  Steve Jobs introduced the first PDA, Newton, in 1993 and just 5 short years later it was discontinued.

So when should you change?  Is change mandated by a timeframe?  Does your competition drive when you change?  Does your boss require you to change, or a merger that results in a new management teams arrival force a change?  Is it a measure of market share?

There’s no one way to advise someone, or a company, when the right time is to change.  My belief is that it’s better to change before change is forced upon you.  However, if you have a change mindset chances are you view change as a learning experience.  A way to grow.  A chance to expand your horizons.

In the movie, The 100 Foot Journey, Helen Mirren’s character, the owner of a one-star French restaurant who is in relentless pursuit of her second star, asks Manish Dayal’s character, a chef, why he changed a 200 year old recipe.  His response? “Maybe 200 years was long enough.”

Don’t change for the sake of change.  That’s silly.  Change because the thing you are altering, modifying, or adjusting will become better as a result of the change.  Perhaps the true result indicates the change wasn’t worth it.  I’d suggest to reevaluate a few weeks, months, or even years later.  When Steve Jobs was asked why Newton flopped yet the iPod took off, Jobs said the world simply wasn’t ready for Newton.  The infrastructure, specifically referring to the iTunes store, wasn’t ready.  Sometimes a change made today doesn’t make sense today, tomorrow, or next month.  But with time, an open mind, and a beginners attitude we can learn from all of our changes.  They instruct us, inspire us, and lead us to better outcomes.  Without change we become stagnant, static, irrelevant.  And who wants that?