Success tends to bring its own problems, and writing a successful book brings extra huge trouble – the biggest of which is that all the people who managed to get a piece of the action, then want you to repeat it.
Back in the early nineties I was humming along, oblivious of the coming storm, while a publisher found that he was missing a book on business from their portfolio of publications for the coming year. They found me and offered me wads of cash to write something for them, and, never one to refuse wads of cash, I wrote “Resistance is Useless” – a book into which I put everything I know about sales, customers, and psychology. To my complete astonishment, this magnum opus went mega and is now available around the world in every bizarre language imaginable (it has even been translated into American, where it is called “The Art and Science of Business Persuasion”). A little secret about best-sellers is that they tend to make far more money for the publisher than they do for the author, therefore should you acquire this success you get them at the door yelling, “Do us another one!” So thus followed, “Go It Alone”, and “Writing on the Wall”, but still they clamoured “and another!”
I decided that I wanted to write more about sales and selling. As a ‘guru’, I felt it my duty to immerse myself in the minutiae of the higher level sales process, but then I realized that great sales people are, well …great, but the majority of ordinary customer-facing folk struggle, and bosses just whinge that “you can’t get the people these days.”
That’s what I should write about! My publisher rang up. “Well, the money is here. Have you got a new idea?”
“Yes, send the money!”
“Not so fast! What’s the book about?!
“Well it’s about this guy who meets a wicked witch and she turns him into a dog and … hello …hello…”
The idea for “The Way of the Dog” came about from watching a machine making iced Bakewell tarts (you know the sort with a cherry in the middle – the tart, not the machine!). The engineers were making adjustments to this machine which sometimes produced failures; a cake with no cherry; no icing; no filling; no crust, and then the wrong way up. 50% were OK. They fiddled. 60% were OK – more fiddling. 90% OK. They wanted 100%, so they took the lid off this thing and watched what particular part of the process was going wrong. Some failures were right at the start so there was no point sticking a cherry on a duff cake, and some failed right at the end. This is almost entirely opposite to the way we manage our sales process. Typically the simple sale with unskilled staff is a numbers game, i.e. 100 calls = 2 sales, therefore 200 calls = 4 sales, but like the cake machine, lets look at the failures not the successes – some happen at the start and some at the end. So I created poor old Derek, the failed salesman who is turned into a sheepdog.
It is a book that purely by accident has worked on different levels. To the aspiring salesperson the herding of sheep can be seen as the customer journey from beginning to end. First lesson is, “No, you can’t have easier sheep. They are where they are and must be herded to where they need to be. That is the job.” We can’t frighten them but we must be firm. We would like to herd them again so we need a good relationship with them, and we must work until they are safely in the pen. But at the first farm, Derek is mistreated and learns nothing. It is not until he is teamed up with the superstar dog, ‘Shep’, that he learns. So, on the second level it shows how great management can turn a hopeless failure into a success. In the book this is the job of Shep the sheepdog who is the company top performer, and the shepherd who is the boss.
Take the example of Shep. What was your first day at work like? Were you expected? Did you get put with the star performer to showcase their talent and let some of the stardust rub off on you? I bet that didn’t happen. I bet you got, “Oh, you’re the new doo dah. I forgot you were starting today. Look, I’ve got a meeting to go to so let um … let me see … Terry, you gormless pillock, you aren’t doing anything. Show thingy here what to do!” So then you get, “You new, are you? It’s crap working here. If you ever want to nick anything, wait until after 3.00 p.m. when there’s no one about to see you!” A flying start, I’m sure you will agree!
Now for the shepherd. He is kind and rewarding in his behaviour. I know the ‘tough’ bosses out there will be fuming, but each day our hero makes a small step towards success and he feels valued and rewarded. When he makes mistakes he is not terrified of punishment but brings this to the team’s attention so the problem can be solved.
If you take the sheep herding thing to be a sales process, his first disaster comes when he approaches the sheep. He barks his head off and the sheep scatter. The sale is doomed at the start. As he progresses, the pieces fall into place and everything works like clockwork until he and the sheep reach the gate of the pen, and then he fails to get them through that last gate or in other words, close the sale.
We send out tender beginners (or our failing old timers) to make ten calls and they fail on nine. We tell them to improve or else. They go away on training courses, we motivate them, and we give them better leads and call plans. They visit ten and sell to two. Whoopee, a 100% increase in sales success.
But, if that was that cake machine, you would have the lid off it and find out where things went wrong. There is no point in having a great close if you rush in at the start barking. Plus, if it was a cake machine, you would not tolerate eight out of ten cakes being ruined. In truth only 100% perfect cakes would satisfy you. You are only able to correct the problem when you have taken it to bits and understood it and then only correct one piece at a time. So, think about this:
• Do you understand how rewarding behaviour can take failing people to success?
• Do you clearly see the customer journey from the first meeting right through all the obstacles to the happy end?
• Do you expect the relationship with the customer to last for all of their buying life? (You should!)
• Do you see the sales process as a machine that can be corrected at every small point of failure?
In conclusion, even the least able team member can be improved with a bit of tender care. Every customer can be sold to if we can find out at what point the sale went adrift, and we should keep it all as simple as possible.