When I first started out as a consultant and a trainer, I got invited to teach a stress management workshop to carpet sales men and women. The audience was polite but not overly responsive. Halfway through I realized that the sales people just wanted to sell carpet, and the seminar was mostly for their boss. She was totally overwhelmed and really needed one to one coaching. Nevertheless, when it was all done, a nice older sales person came up to me and shared that the essence of successful work and living was to “plan your work and then work your plan.” It was good advice 20+ years ago and it is still applicable today. The challenge for many this month is that they do not know the plan for 2011, or even have a plan for the next 90 days. The other challenge is that they are not making the right choices.
Having begun my career in the world of non-profits and education rather than sales, working with small and then larger for-profit companies was a steep learning curve. One day during my early adventures, I was talking with a woman sales executive about why her teams were struggling (mostly a problem with trust and role modeling related to conflict resolution) when she gave me a lecture on sales. “There are three initial variables to sales,” she explained. “They are price, time and quality. You, as the customer, only get to pick two of them. We as the sales organization control the third one. For example, if you pick low price and high quality, then we both know that I control the time element. If you choose fast and cheap, then quality may not be the best. If you want high quality and fast, then you will have to pay the price. They key is to know which variables the customer wants and which variables you can control. After that, the rest of the sales business is about building and maintaining a healthy relationship with the customer.”
Decades later and I still smile when I remember her comments. She was right then and she is right now. Knowing the variables and understanding the importance of maintaining healthy relationships with customers is pretty simple and very basic, but profoundly astute.
Based on my own experiences over the years, I would add to her formula one other element, the quality of the people who work for the company. William J. McEwen in his book, Married To The Brand: Why Consumers Bond With Some Brands For Life, Gallup Press, 2005, states that the initial relationship between a customer and a brand are typically influenced by the quality of the product plus the place, promotion and price. McEwen also notes, based on his research at the Gallup Organization, that the number one driver of customer intent to return to a specific brand is the level of employee engagement. As he writes, “engaged employees help produce engaged customers.”
Yet, if we dig deep into the subject of employee engagement, we always come back to the quality of the people in executive, management and front line supervisory positions. As Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman wrote so many years ago in their book First, Break All The Rules: What The World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, Simon & Schuster, 1999, people join companies for what they represent but they stay or leave based on their relationship with their supervisor. Healthy relationships between employees and their employers makes a profound impact on customer service and sales.
However, I am now seeing one problem start to surface in multiple organizations which worries me. Many people in these influential leadership positions do not know about the key variables related to sales and even fewer know what the plan is for 2011. And paraphrasing the carpet sales man I met many years ago, if you do not know the plan, it is hard to work the plan. Therefore, if we want to position our organizations for a strong first quarter in 2011, I recommend we spend the next couple of weeks helping people understand the variables, know what the plan is for 2011, and help them to build and maintain relationships with each other and their customers.
P.S. Thanks to all of you who recently signed up as followers of this blog. I appreciate your doing this. I also appreciate those of you who are sharing these blog entries with others. Again, thanks.
Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257