Oh boy, have I got it wrong recently. Let me explain. I am billed on the conference circuit as the Alternative Business Guru, where I suppose my fame has come from taking the alternative view. Anyone who makes their living from public approval, is always paranoid that they will lose the plot and become a yesterday’s flavour, and never more than with the fickle game of business guru-ing. One by one they have fallen, Carnegie, Fenton, Tack, Goldman, and the other day I even heard someone describe Tom Peters as mad. I pester my agent with “Will this happen to me?” “No Geoff” he reassures, “You use observational humour to surf the very latest business trends”.
Well this time I have surfed the trend right up the creek along with a host of the world’s other business gurus.
Recently, I have told audiences that I started off by sales training. “Why train your sales people”, I cry.
“So they can sell” comes back the reply.
“Sell what” I shout
“Sell more” they call back.
Then, by being too clever for my own good, I say that we must be careful of simple single objectives. If one’s simple objective was to “Get more money”, then the best instructor would be a mugger. He would soon show us the best type of knife, the darkest alley, and the most likely victim. In moments we could start mugging and we would soon have “More money” as set down in our objective. Sure we would soon be arrested, but that wasn’t in the brief. I then go on to illustrate a few companies who do use the mugger style of sales training. In these companies, sales rise – a good thing. Complaints, arrests and prosecutions also rise – a bad thing. The HR department are set the task of putting this right and decide that the solution is a customer care course.
The result is a mugger that jumps out, holds a knife to your throat, and with a fixed smile says “I’m Derek, your mugger for this evening. Thank you for sharing your wallet with me, have a nice day and missing you already!”
I did this to try and see the reason for this awful robotic “Thank you for calling Cadavers, home of the happy funeral, I’m Janeece, how may I help you”, but what has happened is that I have been swept up in all this customer focus, fuzzy, relationship, human resource, spin doctor-y stuff.
Then it hit me like a thunderbolt. I haven’t been mugged for ages, not for years. People don’t try to sell me anything anymore. OK, you get the sad things on the phone now and then, but they are just canvassers with little hope of success. No, the salesman or woman is dead, or certainly a very endangered species. The ‘up and at ‘em’ sales conferences are a thing of the past. At one time the conference was put on by the sales director and the message was simple “Gee ‘em up lad, put some lead in their pencils, give them some good hints and tips that will fill their order books, send them out with a smile on their faces and a spring in their step”, but today the sales director doesn’t organise the conference. And even the phrase ‘Sales Conference’ has become ‘Focus Group’ or ‘Leadership for Customer Cuddly Bunnykins into the Cyber I.T. New Millennium Forum. The things are organised not by sales, but by the dreaded HR department or even worse, Finance (sales prevention division).
Now I am going to risk saying something dangerous. There is, out there in the land of political correctness and a view that starts from the opinion that all men are predators. They say it and say it and say it, until every man hangs his head and wants to apologise on behalf of any passing predator. Well it is wrong, and it is the same wrong thinking that says selling is wrong.
If you are a man reading this, are you a closet predator? No. If you are a salesperson, man or woman, do you lie, cheat, swindle, or be dishonest with your customers? The great majority of us salespeople value and respect our customers, and the ability to sell brings fresh, dynamic business into our companies. We are not the skulking muggers, but the knights in shining armour that gallop forth to slay the dragons of competition and bring back the damsels of profitable business.
The latest gripe concerns the dumbing down of everything and for businesses that fail to sell, the products are dumbing down. If you sell, for instance, houses over the internet, or on the phone direct, the customer looks only at the bottom line. “Thank you for calling homes direct, if you want a Midland home press one, for three bedrooms press three”.
The builder has to use plastic doors and cardboard walls in the ‘prestige deluxe’ to be competitive, but a good salesperson could soon show the benefit of solid oak doors, and best quality English brick. Triple profits for the company and absolute delight for the customer.
It isn’t just the salespeople either. We used to do a presentation entitled “Everyone can Sell” and the idea was that the service engineers, the factory workers, and the van drivers could all do good things for the company they worked for by helping to promote it by speaking positively of the products, and by introducing new customers wherever possible. In other words, a company with a hundred employees would have a hundred enthusiastic people promoting it.