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Gregariousness is Optional

excited business colleagues      Ah, those overly gregarious co-workers. You’re surrounded by them. Gregarious people are the ones who are highly sociable, highly outgoing, always seeking the company of others. Gregarious people, in other words, are the classic extroverts. And if you’re the classic introvert, your gregarious colleagues probably drive you nuts sometimes. Do they always have to be so — emotional? So up? Laughing so loud and so long? High-fiving each other incessantly? Don’t they ever calm down??!

Well…probably not. And I suspect there are times when that fills your introverted heart with a mixture of irritation and maybe just a bit of envy. Sometimes I’ll bet you’d like to cut loose a bit — or at least cut a little looser. But if that’s not your nature, the subtle pressure you might feel from the extroverts around you can be a bit daunting. So here’s some great news from an excellent book I’ve quoted from before, called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. She makes this profound statement: “Love is essential; gregariousness is optional.”

As we’ve pointed out before, our culture tends to idolize the extroverts. We somehow tend to equate being an extrovert with being strong, being a leader, being assertive and taking charge. But experience shows us that is assuredly not always the case! Some extroverts talk a good game but fail to demonstrate substance to match their style. And many introverts outshine their extroverted colleagues and become outstanding leaders in businesses and organizations large and small.

Sadly, in our overly-hyped, extroverted world, gregariousness doesn’t feel optional! While being the out-going one gets you noticed, all too often the introverts feel out-shouted as the clamoring extroverts vie for attention. That’s why I think Susan Cain’s statement is so profound. After she says that “Love is essential; gregariousness is optional,” she goes on to add this suggestion for introverts:

The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some it’s a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk. Use your natural powers — of persistence, concentration, insight, and sensitivity — to do work you love and work that matters. Solve problems, make art, think deeply…Spend your free time the way you like, not the way you think you’re supposed to.

Where do you shine best — in the glare of the Broadway spotlight, or in the soft glow of the lamplit desk? Each has its place. Each is of equal value.

This notion is even Biblical, by the way. There’s a New Testament verse in Peter’s first epistle that challenges the faithful to use the particular gifts God has given each one of us. In the New Living Translation, this passage says, “Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies.” Do you see the difference? That passage means that it doesn’t matter whether your God-given gift is public or private, out in the spotlight or behind the scenes — both are equally valuable and both are essential.

So, let the gregarious folks out there high five all they want to! Meanwhile you introverts can stop being intimidated. Just remember, “Love is essential; gregariousness is optional.”

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Posted by on July 21, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Am I the Only One Who Dislikes Internal Competition??!

Competition     Like you, I have worked for sales managers and general managers who get all excited about internal competition — you know, those annual Sales Contests where the top producer wins and everyone else loses. Typically they have names like “Spring Sales Sweepstakes” or “Las Vegas Extravaganza.” I guess these events are designed to get everyone fired up for sales success.

Well…maybe they do. But in my experience, one thing these contests don’t do is build teamwork. I don’t mean to sound contrarian, but I hate sales contests! I’m convinced they do more harm than good.

Now before you label me un-American, since we Americans love a winner and all that, let me add that a contest with multiple winners where everyone has a shot at winning the Big Prize is fine. Nothing wrong with incentives — I’ve spent most of my career in an incentive-focused environment. But incentive and competition are two different things. In an effort to get your sales team fired up, are you inadvertently sowing seeds of mistrust and an unhealthy competitive spirit between people who are supposed to be pulling together? Your poorly thought-out sales contest may end up with unfortunate unintended consequences.

In my experience with salespeople and sales teams I have always placed a high value on healthy teamwork. Having a bunch of hard-charging Lone Ranger types, each looking out for Number One, has NEVER been my preferred route to sales success with the teams I’ve led (which probably explains why I would last maybe thirty seconds working on Wall Street!). Teams support one another. Teams collaborate. Teams aren’t afraid to share ideas and leads. Teams build each member up when things are tough and challenge each member to work more effectively. In short, teamwork is a highly-prized value, so anything that undermines teamwork is probably a bad idea. Including most sales contests.

By the way, depending on your sales environment, well-crafted territories can also build teamwork. I once worked for a national firm in which each of the sales reps had a large, defined territory, resulting in a high level of collaboration. If I traced a lead to a home office in Chicago, I knew I would be passing that lead along to my colleague Mark in the Chicago sales office. I also knew if he found a lead and traced it to the Pacific Northwest, he would pass that lead along to me. We all watched out for each other and worked together for the good of the company. Later, however, after I left that firm, I heard that they had done away with territories, leaving each rep free to pursue leads wherever they were in the country. So guess what? Mark and I would have gone from being collaborators to competitors. Maybe I’m dumb, but that doesn’t sound smart.

So, sales managers, if you want to incentivize your team, go for it! But why not come up with a set of prizes or bonuses or whatever in which everyone can win? Set goals commensurate with each salesperson’s experience level and billing potential. Avoid the Darwinian “I win, you lose” approach that I fear is still too common in many sales environments. I predict your organization will reap the rewards as the spirit of teamwork is enhanced. And if you think I’m being a competition wimp — well, you may be right. Still, why not try it and see if it works? I’ll bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how well your team does when they really are working as a team!

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Extroverts, Introverts and Conflict

Workplace conflict     A friend of mine who owns his own business recently described a situation which perfectly illustrated how extroverts and introverts tend to handle conflict.

He was in the process of trying to counsel a salesperson whose style was creating a lot of conflict in the organization. This sales rep, only recently hired, had all the right credentials and was apparently bringing in lots of new business — but the style of this individual, hard-charging and abrasive, was causing major cultural problems. The boss explained how bad things had gotten. “When you come into a meeting,” he told the offending employee, “all the extroverts put up their dukes, and all the introverts head for the door!”

This idea that extroverts tend to wade into conflict while introverts are strongly conflict-avoidant is nothing new. But the idea bears some further scrutiny. In my work experience, just as (I suspect) in yours, I’ve had bosses who appeared to relish conflict, not only enduring group tension but (knowingly or otherwise) seeming to encourage it. Sales meetings with these bosses were a kind of Rorschach Test, bringing out the deep emotional baggage in the entire team. Some employees (the extroverts) almost literally rose to the occasion, the adrenaline pumping, while others (the introverts) looked like they wished they could crawl under the table, or disappear — anything to get out of the room!

At the other end of the spectrum, I recall a few conflict-avoidant managers, so prone to sidestep and evade that it drove the team crazy — introverts and extroverts alike. I probably fell into that avoidant trap too many times in my career. To all my former colleagues — sorry about that. When a conflict would arise, even when the solution was painfully obvious, the boss was nowhere to be found, and the problem would inevitably fester.

As I reflect back on those experiences, I think there’s a lesson for any of us who manage a team. If you’re a sales manager, a director of development, or the boss of any sort of group of colleagues where good, solid, productive relationships are paramount, be very aware of how you personally handle conflict. Be equally cognizant of how different members of your team handle it. If you’re the extroverted type who thinks plenty of conflict is healthy, beware of the effect all that workplace angst is having on your introverted colleagues who may think your red meat brand of conflict management borders on the hostile. Are they heading for the hills instead of engaging in the work of strengthening the team? At the same time, by encouraging conflict, you might be teaching your extroverted teammates an unhealthy lesson, showing them how to feed conflict and not how to resolve it productively and effectively.

Conflict-avoidant managers, you may be under the assumption that your team is free of angst, but I’ll bet my next commission check that it’s just not so. Peace, as the old saying goes, is more than the absence of conflict — much more. Peace implies emotional health and wholeness (which is the connotation of the Hebrew word “shalom”). Avoiding conflict in hopes that it will go away is like putting a Band-Aid on a splinter: it hides the problem without solving it.

Let’s help the extroverts on the team put down their dukes, and the introverts stop their mental exit. Let’s resolve conflict in appropriate ways so the team can function like a good team should. And, boss, if you have an employee who refuses to get on board, maybe you need to have the same chat my friend had with his salesperson. Good sales numbers are all well and good, but in a healthy organization, the culture matters. Once you lose that strong, healthy organizational culture, you’ll have a really hard time getting it back.

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Mismatch! When You and Your Job Collide

Job Stress   I was reflecting with a friend last weekend about some of the jobs each of us had previously had — jobs for which we were, to put it charitably, not well-suited. It got me thinking back on my first sales job, one I’ve alluded to before with an unnamed office products company.  I took this job not long after leaving the Navy because I wanted to succeed in selling. I lasted six months before moving on to something else.

Why was this job such a bad fit for me, and I for it? What could I have foreseen had I stopped to consider what I was getting into? Here are a few thoughts (with the benefit of hindsight) on how I could have known from the start that this job would turn out to be a mismatch. Maybe some of these points will help you if you’re considering a new job or a job change.

  1. First problem: I did not care one iota about what I was selling. Does this mean you can never sell something you’re not excited about? Well, no, not necessarily…but if you’re making cold calls to talk about something in which you have zero interest, trying to gain the attention of prospects who don’t particularly want to talk about it either, you’re in for some frustrating sledding.
  2. Second problem: the position was 100% cold calls. Many people can thrive in a cold-call-based job. I am not one of them.
  3. Third problem: the company’s philosophy was 100% based on “getting past the secretary.” (Remember, all this was decades ago). In fact it was the secretary who was going to be the prime user of the product! By doing my best to circumvent her or him, I was turning a potential ally into a committed adversary. As I’ve said before, many people who lack the authority to say “yes” definitely have the influence to say “no,” as I found out the hard way with more than one lost sale. And the manipulation required felt like a bad fit for my relational personality.
  4. Fourth problem: the company insisted on flying me out for a week of training — on Christmas Day. That’s right, on Christmas afternoon I was on a plane for Los Angeles, checking into a hotel in Inglewood for a six-day training class. Ho, ho, ho. That should have been a clue that the company lacked a certain…sensitivity. Not a good fit, for me, anyway.
  5. Fifth problem: the company insisted I memorize the product demonstration. I’m a fairly intuitive person and I feel like I communicate pretty well. I like using my empathy to adjust my communication style. But, no — my sales presentation consisted of a memorized product demo (“Note the pistol-grip microphone for comfortable, stress free dictation.”) from which I was not supposed to deviate. Can you say “awkward”? Again, this approach is perfectly fine for many people, but it’s a bad fit for my personality.

There were more clues, but you get the idea. Was it a “bad” company or a “bad” job? Not at all! But it was a bad fit — wrong for me, my temperament, my learning style, my interests and my personality. In hindsight it’s almost like I took the job under false pretenses, and cost the company a lot of wasted training dollars. I should have known better. I suspect that when I left the boss was as relieved as I was.

In today’s economy, I realize, many people are holding on to jobs they may not love or even particularly like. I get that. But if you’re considering a different job (or a first job after college, the military or raising your kids) you may want to think long and hard about your gifts, talents, and internal wiring. If you have a choice, save yourself the grief of a job mismatch. You’ll be vastly happier in the long run, and so will your boss.

 
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Posted by on May 21, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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“The New Groupthink”

Brainstorm    Do your brainstorming groups look like this? Neither do the ones I’ve been in. My memory of brainstorming sessions usually involves several loud colleagues arguing (I was usually one of them) with several quieter colleagues sitting there looking anxious and disengaged. Years later, after having spent countless hours in the sort of “No Bad Ideas” brainstorming sessions we’re all familiar with, I’m becoming convinced they can be severely counter-productive, an exercise in group frustration where the ideas that tend to surface aren’t the best ideas at all.

This is the third post where I’ve quoted from the book by Susan Cain called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. It’s in these pages where I ran across the phrase “the New Groupthink,” and the idea immediately brought to mind images of those brainstorming sessions where the loudest and most eager team members — the Extroverts — always seemed to dominate. Their ideas were the ones that ended up on the gigantic flip chart sheets stuck here and there around the room — and since they always seemed to be the one chosen to summarize the team’s ideas, their ideas tended to get the most attention and affirmation. Meanwhile the Introverts in the group were sitting quietly on the fringes keeping their often-excellent ideas to themselves, reluctant to compete in the jostle of words and emotions.

I think the phrase “the New Groupthink” describes a kind of false consensus based on what all the Extroverts think would work. Sound familiar? But there’s a better way. Listen to how Susan Cain describes it: Remember the dangers of the New Groupthink. If it’s creativity you’re after, ask your employees to solve problems alone before sharing their ideas. If you want the wisdom of the crowd, gather it electronically or in writing, and make sure people can’t see each other’s ideas until everyone’s had a chance to contribute.  Wow — sounds to me like the exact opposite of typical brainstorming!

She goes on to explain why, if you want the best ideas to surface, this radically different approach is so important. Group dynamics contain unavoidable impediments to creative thinking, she writes. Don’t mistake assertiveness and eloquence for good ideas. Those words convict me. In the past I used to be the one who thought he had the best ideas, and because I loved to hear myself pontificate I would usually be the assertive one in the brainstorming group, proclaiming my ideas with volume to match my level of conviction. How much did I contribute to “Groupthink” by unknowingly stifling the ideas of my quieter colleagues? I suspect I did it a lot. Age does sometimes bring wisdom, or at least a bit of self-assessment, and I hope I’ve learned my lesson. Now I try to listen more than I used to, and it’s amazing the things I learn.

What about you? If you’re the leader of the group, maybe you need to try some of the approaches Susan Cain outlines above and seek the contribution of your team in a more private way. If you’re the Extrovert on the team and the boss convenes a brainstorming session, make sure you quiet your impulse to dominate and seek out those in your group who may be hesitant to contribute. And if you’re the Introvert with the Best Idea Ever, speak up. Borrow a whistle or an air horn, if you have to, just to get everyone’s attention! Then someday when your idea has saved the company billions, you’ll be able to smile quietly and say, “See? We quiet ones do have great ideas!”

 
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Posted by on May 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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“What’s the Point?”

uncle_sam_pointing_finger       You’re a Sales Manager leading a sales meeting. Suddenly you notice that glazed look gradually forming in the eyes of your team. The longer you talk, the more you realize that you’ve lost them — they’re not paying attention. What happened?

Or you’re a parent lecturing — um, I mean communicating with your kids. But soon they’ve stopped listening to you, and you notice their attention drifting. Where did you get off track — and how do you get back on?

Your team, your kids, your spouse, your clients, your donors — any time you’re trying to communicate and you notice that you’ve lost your audience, it may be that you’ve failed to answer the one question that is uppermost in their minds. It’s the one question you and I ask when we’re listening to our boss, or our spouse, or a salesperson, especially when they’re sort of, you know, going on and on. It’s a 3-word question that, if we stop and ask it, can really make our communication more direct and more effective.

The question: “What’s the point?”

Nationally known author, speaker and learning styles expert Cynthia Tobias (www.applest.com) says that “What’s the point?” is the single most important question a parent needs to ask when trying to motivate a strong-willed child. I would add that it’s also the best question a boss can ask when dealing with employees who seem reluctant to get with the program — maybe the employees are tired of the boss’s long-winded abstractions and really want him or her to cut to the chase! “Don’t give me chapter and verse…or the entire 50-page strategic plan,” they cry. “Just tell me what you want me to do. What’s the point?

If you’re in sales or in fundraising, my suggestion is that during your presentation you frequently remind your client or your donor what the point of your presentation is. Otherwise they may become fearful that you’re going to go on talking indefinitely! Or if you’re leading a team in something complicated, like a planning session, it’s your responsibility to remind them frequently what the point of the whole exercise really is. Otherwise, especially when tension and fatigue begin to rise, people grow frustrated. “For crying out loud, what is the point?” they’ll ask — a question you don’t want to hear!

So take it from someone who has done it wrong more times than I can remember. Before you open your mouth to communicate something important, stop and ask yourself, “What’s the point I’m trying to make here?” If you can state it succinctly, and if you can answer that question in the minds of your listeners, it will go a long way toward preventing that glazed-over look of indifference and detachment that no boss, or parent, or spouse, or sales rep or fundraiser likes to see! You can even play a little game with yourself: pretend the words “What’s the point?” are emblazoned across the foreheads of the people you’re talking to. Or if you’re really daring, hand them a three-by-five card bearing the words “What’s the point?” and give them permission to hold it up if you wander off topic.

After all, it’s all about clear, concise, effective communication. That’s the point!

 

 
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Posted by on April 18, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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A Fresh Pair of Eyes

Gene Wilder       Back when I was a sales manager for a major metropolitan radio station, a rookie salesperson asked me one day to come on a call with him. “I feel like this client is really close,” he said, “but I’m not sure what to do next.” Of course I said I would go.

A few days later we met with the prospective client. It was clear to me that my sales rep had done a good job — there had been several face to face meetings during which the client’s budget and goals had been clearly determined. The rep had prepared and presented a workable radio schedule. My sales rep and the client went over all this stuff while I sat there mostly listening and nodding a lot. All the pieces were in place. The presentation concluded with smiles and words of agreement.

Then…nothing. For an awkward minute no one spoke. And in a flash of managerial brilliance it struck me: the sales rep had done everything except to ask for the order! So I cleared my throat managerially and said to the client, “Um, well, Karen, it sounds like this plan will work well for you. Would you like to start next Monday?” She beamed (with relief, I suspect) and said, “Sure, that would be great!” Sale closed, contract signed. We all smiled and shook hands and left the office.

In the car on the way back to the radio station the account rep thanked me profusely and sang my praises. I was brilliant! I was insightful! But no, I thought to myself…all I really brought to the table was a fresh pair of eyes. I was able to see something that was painfully obvious where my sales rep could not. The sale was 100% ready to close — all that was needed was the slightest nudge. Someone had to do the obvious and ask for the order.

Thinking back on that episode causes me to wonder: are there relationships I’m managing now where I can’t see the obvious? Are there donors who haven’t given simply because I haven’t asked? Maybe I need a fresh pair of eyes to help me see how to move those relationships forward. I know there are people in my worklife who would do that for me, just as I would for them. And I suspect that in no time at all I could come up with a list of several “stalled” relationships where some new insight would be in order.

Perhaps it’s time for me to overcome my hesitation, swallow my pride, and let someone else help me see more clearly with a fresh pair of eyes.

 

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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