My mother is a sales diva. Whether it is selling homes, furniture, vitamins, makeup or water filters she brings a wholehearted (almost evangelical) passion to her work, and a genuine caring for her customer, that allows her to excel at whatever she lays her hand to.
I didn’t always see this as a good thing. When I was in my teens she was bitten by the network marketing bug – several times. At first I was too young to really care. I just kept switching products as she did – using whatever face cleanser or vitamins she was selling at the time. When I became old enough to be a target for enrollment in her latest venture, I got caught up in her enthusiasm so much that, after graduating university with a psychology degree, I eagerly signed on the dotted line… to sell water filters.
That ultimately didn’t work out too well for either of us. I took my knocks and vowed never to do it again. Not so my mother. Over the years I questioned her integrity many times as I watched her switch from promoting one “business opportunity” to promoting the next with equal fervor. I couldn’t understand how she could do this. First I thought she must be lying to people just to make a sale. Then I figured she must be lying to herself. Eventually I came to realize that she always believed 100% that her latest product or venture was the greatest thing since sliced bread. When it turned out that it wasn’t, she was devastated. But part of what makes my mom a sales diva and allows her to always get back on the horse for the next ride with just as much passion as the first, is her ability to believe – in people, in products, in a company and in herself.
What I now get about my mom is that this desire to work for something or someone that was worth believing in is what caused her to change what and where she has sold so often over the years. I also saw this outside of her network marketing career in sales positions ranging from retail to real estate. As my own career in helping organizations inspire excellence in their people evolved, watching her in these positions allowed me to develop an even greater appreciation for her ability to work her sales magic. She performed despite the fact that many of the companies she worked for were woefully misguided, if not tragically toxic. From “cat fights” on the sales floor over commissions, to subtle backstabbing, and less than subtle power games, she has seen it all. Always she has gone in with a positive attitude, a passion for the product, a knowledge that rivals any of her associates and competitors, a willingness to learn, a solid work ethic, and a desire to make a difference. Most often she ends up leaving to take her talents elsewhere because many of these organizations are so mired in their sickness that they can’t see their way out. Unfortunately, I hear similar stories from sales and customer service people in a variety of industries that echo the same sentiment.
While money does help the world go ‘round, salespeople, just like everyone else, have this same need and desire to believe in the organization they work for and the products and services it represents. So the next time you are thinking that your sales team needs another motivational seminar or how to session on sales techniques to boost your company’s profits, think of how many frustrated sales “divas” you might have that are underperforming through no fault of their own. Is lack of knowledge and motivation on their part really the problem, or is the real issue a lack of integrity on the part of your organization?
I asked mom what she saw as the key causes of integrity lapses in the companies she had worked for and ironically, she identified that it was the old boys / old girls club that existed in many organizations between long-time employees and management that often made these workplaces toxic and ultimately caused her to leave. “In the best organizations I have worked with, management was able to keep their personal relationships with long term employees separate from their business role and responsibilities. When a new person came on board, especially a high performer, they welcomed it as an opportunity to shake things up and did not let a sense of “loyalty” or friendship with old employees allow them to be complacent about taking action on feedback from the new person. They also were careful to maintain confidentiality when staff came to them with complaints or feedback. In the toxic companies, you could never feel safe expressing your honest view to a manager as they might seem to agree with you to your face, but then when you got back on the sales floor, you would very soon recognize that they had been badmouthing you when they went out for drinks with their buddies the night before. Essentially, in smaller, privately-owned organizations the managers lacked management training and ability. They had often been promoted to management because they were good at sales and they had been able to survive in the role because of their social networks, despite the fact that their performance was less than stellar. When a new person came along to challenge the performance of the whole team, these managers were not willing to step out of their comfort zone and grow. Consequently, the peak performers were systematically squeezed out in a variety of creative ways so that the toxic core could remain in the comfort zone of under performing. To keep the best people and to be a leading organization, managers need to constantly embrace new blood and encourage people to provide honest feedback and instigate change.”
If you want better performance, more commitment, and higher sales from your sales team, you might be wise to look first at the performance of your management team.
But then again, you could just offer them more money…